Confidential Confessions, Volume 1

Confidential Confessions, Volume 1 - Reiko Momochi aka, TRIGGER WARNING: THE SERIES.

There's no way to get around it: CONFIDENTAL CONFESSIONS is dark as all hell, and the first volume of the series has no problem sucker punching the reader in the gut without warning. Aimed at addressing then-current problems faced by Japanese teenagers, CONFIDENTIAL CONFESSIONS touches on serious topics like suicide, depression, prostitution, and bullying frequently and without patronizing its audience.

The first story is "The Door," which tells the tale of two suicidal young girls and their attempts to finally end it all. The main character can't seem to catch a break: she has no friends, her family is utterly dysfunctional, and everything seems to get worse by the day. Of course, a lot of that is teenage angst-- thanks to an unexpected kitchen accident, she's introduced to a fellow student nicknamed "Asparagus," a girl who has it much, much worse than she does. After a few more chance meetings, the girls become friends and decide to make a suicide pact together. From there on, they seem to try everything humanly possible to try to die.

The strengths of the first story is that it takes great care to dispel the idea that suicide is an easy way out, and it takes self-harm even more seriously. The girls take a lot of time and consideration for how they want to go-- sometimes, they do petty things, like take gorgeous photos for people to use at their funeral, but sometimes they teeter on the edge of actually going through with it. While one of the girls clearly just needs help and doesn't actually want to die, her choices and desires aren't taken any less seriously for it. It's an immensely effective, if somewhat dated (a stand-in of the death of hide from X Japan actually factors into the plot at one point), story and showcases exactly what's in store for the rest of the series.

Speaking of which, the second story is less powerful, if only because it has the misfortune of coming right after such a dark and somber piece. "Mistakes" is the relatively-speaking straightforward tale of a prostitute who falls in love with a budding musician. When the girl realizes she's done him wrong and tries to clean herself up, she makes one last mistake that could ruin everything...

If it isn't obvious from the short summary, this story is much simpler than the one that came before it. As it's much shorter than "The Door," it has much less time to examine the characters in question. It does make an effort to explain how she became a prostitute, which involves joining a gang and being molested as a child, and despite feeling a bit exploitative, those are probably the best part of the story. I'm not sure whether it's a result of Tokyopop's translation team or what, but the dialogue in the "current" timeline just feels cartoonish and unrealistic. Much of the resulting drama and the bittersweet conclusion feels dark for the sake of dark. Furthermore, while I have no idea what the Japanese prison system is like, the depiction of jail in this story doesn't feel remotely realistic. It's not a bad story by any stretch of the imagination, but its flaws are very easy to notice.

I fully admit that part of my love for this series is because I discovered it when I was a pre-teen/young teenager; the clear demographic for this material. Much of the enjoyment, if it can be called that, from this volume comes from identifying with and understanding the lead characters and their struggles, which may be difficult for someone that isn't a teenage girl. Furthermore, the art style and setting are dated and very Japanese, so someone not familiar with the cultural differences between modern America and late 90s/early 00s Japan might not relate to the material as well.

That said, the serious consideration for "taboo" topics and non-preachy nature of the stories therein are exceptional, and stand out despite the minor flaws present in this volume. While not my favorite volume in the series, it's a great starting point for new readers.