A short graphic novella about Ben Tanaka, a cynical antihero Japanese-American. He is not very likable and has quite a few issues which leads to a deteriorating relationship with his long term girlfriend Miko. The novella looks at racial issues, stereotypes, and the breakdown of a relationship. It also touches on the issue of sexual identity, conformity, and fear of change. While Ben is often hypocritical, Miko is not free of hypocrisy or shortcomings either. While their relationship breaks down, they seem to be more sides of the same coin. A realistic portrayal of an ending relationship where both people are not necessarily in the right. The illustration is all in black and white, but poignant in its simplicity. Coupled with good dialogue, the experience is more akin to watching a movie rather than reading a book.

On a more personal note, I can understand a lot of these stereotypes. I don’t find the characters extreme in their discussion of the issues. Ben has insecurity problems with his racial identity and society’s perceptions of it. I definitely think there are Asian guys like Ben out there. Those who see Asian women dating Caucasian men as not necessarily right or a betrayal of their culture while also seeing other Asian men with Asian women as “good for them both”. He himself denies being attracted to white, blond girls. A good quotation in the book concerning this is said by Meredith:

“Look…if you dig, deep enough into anyone’s sexuality, you’re bound to find something you’d rather not examine too closely. But what’s the point in picking it apart? It is what it is.”

Ben’s drunken answers to this are to talk about rapists, pedophilia, etc. In a Dan Savage podcast, a caller asked if their attraction to a certain type of ethnicity is racist. He conceded that it could be taken as a bit racist, but “so what?” as long as the person is not hurting their partner and making blanket statements and assumptions about others as a result. There is a grey area, and Meredith is right that one shouldm’t take a simplistic view of it especially based on Ben’s wounded ego at the demise of his relationship with Miko.

This graphic novel also used the term Rice King which is the first time I’d ever seen it employed. Asian girls in the West all know about Yellow Fever, but I’d never heard of Rice King. I guess it’s a good thing too.

Funnily, this quotation from Korean-American Alice in the novel is glaringly true:

“All Asians might look the same to you, but my family would spot your Japanese ass a mile away.”

A Caucasian friend and I once joked about that because non-Asians (and those Asians such as Ben who are out of lapse with Asian culture or upbringing) can not tell the difference between the various Asian ethnicities/ nationalities. Most Asians can though based on appearances and on further acquaintance.

A short but reflective graphic novel that is realistic in its portrayal of relationship breakdown. This graphic novel was considered a NY Times Notable book for 2007: New York Times Review.

3 thoughts on “Shortcomings

  • dew

    I got my husband this book for Christmas; I found a list somewhere of the top five graphic novels of the year and basically just bought them for him blind. Anyway, he read this one and immediately put it in my side of our bookcase headboard, which is where I keep my TBRASAP pile. I also have the book you review above in my list for the graphic novel challenge. Isn’t it great what fast reads they are? Looks like you’ll have finished the challenge by Valentine’s Day! 😉

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