Confidential Confessions 1-4
Chad Clayton rates it:
(Reviewer’s Note: Confidential Confessions contains some very intense subject matter to which some people may react badly and/or positions on some issues that some people may find controversial, disturbing, or distasteful. For this reason, I very much recommend that readers and parents exercise discretion before reading this or showing it to more impressionable kids.)
I’ve always had a strange fascination with a certain kind of tale – the “after-school special” story. It’s not so much that I enjoy entertainment that preaches to me, I just think it’s interesting to see the varying levels of success with which people try to teach with these things. For every well-made story of this kind, there seems to be gobs of others that are little more than poorly written snuff stories with a “moral” that usually boils down to “if you do drugs or sleep around, you will die.” Not that I particularly disagree with statements against drugs or sexual promiscuity, but I really do think there are better ways to get these messages across than driving them into the heads of youths with all the subtlety and grace of a ball-peen hammer.
Therefore, I was skeptical when I approached Confidential Confessions, which TOKYOPOP was pushing as a series that addressed “hot-button issues” facing teens today. I didn’t quite know what to make of a series being advertised this way, or the fact that the cover has words like “rape” or “sexual harrassment” emblazoned on the cover. I initially feared the comic would be just like any number of such stories, consisting of either angsty pandering to teens or hardcore ideological propaganda from adults. After spending some time with the first couple of volumes, however, I was happy to discover one of the most refreshing “social commentary” stories I’ve read in… well, ever.
Despite a series title that’s vaguely reminiscent of a low-rent hentai flick, Confidential Confessions is a collection of stand-alone short manga stories by Reiko Momochi. Each story follows a young girl as she goes through a difficult (or even disastrous) period in her life, be the cause of her difficulties as simple as a dissolving teenage relationship or as gruesome as drug addiction. While each story takes on a specific socially relevant “theme of the day” such as suicide or abuse, they also address more personal issues such as alienation, lust, greed, and the problematic relationships teens have with their parents and teachers.
The first thing that strikes me about Confidential Confessions is its honesty. Unlike many less-skillful stories of this kind, these stories don’t make any attempt to create some alternate universe where the parents and teachers are always right, everyone gets what they deserve, and actions don’t have consequences. The heroines of these stories aren’t squeaky-clean middle-class kids who are unwittingly dragged into some lurid underground of debauchery; they’re everyday teens just trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. The emotional honesty with which these kids are portrayed is outstanding. Just like real teens, they don’t always make the right choices, nor do they always want to do the right thing – but they always have reasons for their actions. Because of this, even when the heroines behaved in ways I that I don’t approve of in any way, I could still relate to and sympathize with them on some level. I don’t think anyone with a heart could read all of these stories and not find one character they can’t identify or empathize with in one way or another. The fact that Momochi can make such strong characters is truly a credit to her writing skill.
Another aspect that sets this series apart is its handling of its themes. Momochi tells her stories in a brutally frank, matter-of-fact way and doesn’t shy away from putting the characters through hell, but she doesn’t pile on excessive profanity or overly dark themes in a cheap attempt to be more “realistic.” The comic doesn’t sugarcoat or shy away from cultural taboos such as homosexuality, incest, rape, self-mutilation, or other such things, but they’re treated with restraint and respect. Momochi clearly did her homework instead of just deciding what she thinks a suicidal or obsessive person should act like. There’s moments where her portrayals are so close to truth that it actually hurts to read about them.
But for all the darkness in these stories, there is still light. Unlike many authors of “problem novels,” Momochi doesn’t make it a point to punish her characters for their choices. While the characters do suffer the consequences of their actions, these stories aren’t a bunch of slow, painful slides into the grave. All the stories in the series thus far end with the possibility of redemption for the heroines. We aren’t always told if this redemption is won or lost, but the fact that it’s a possibility is an encouraging thought for readers. The endings offer some vestige of hope, rather than condemnation, to those of us who have screwed up or found ourselves in terrible situations.
I realize that Confidential Confessions can garner all sorts of criticism, such as: it’s unrealistic, it’s melodramatic, it’s preachy, it’s inconsistent in quality, it’s more message than story at times, and so on. These are all valid complaints, and even partially true – the manga is all of these things at one point or another, which is why I can’t give this comic my highest recommendation. However, I think dwelling too much on issues such as melodrama or unrealism is asides the point. I don’t think this series was meant to be a collection of hyper-realistic case studies. It’s a collection of well-crafted shoujo manga stories that strive to make a point, not slavish attempts to reconstruct a certain view of reality (and, thank goodness, they don’t purport to be true stories). I like this approach; not being too concerned about being “realistic” frees up the manga to make its point and tell a good story without dragging such unnecessary baggage around.
Although stories of this nature live and die by their writing, Momochi certainly doesn’t slouch on the artwork side of things. While her style is reminiscent of a lot of the shoujo manga currently floating around (especially Kodocha), her artwork sports a lot of attention to detail, as well as some of the most graceful linework I’ve seen in a long time. This is especially evident during the many facial close-ups in the manga; the work on the hair and eyes is particularly meticulous.
Did I really enjoy Confidential Confessions? I don’t know. Was I supposed to? Is “enjoyment” really an appropriate response to stories that are so closely linked to real issues of human suffering? I can tell you that I found these stories riveting, discomforting, and infuriating, which I imagine is more to the point. After all, what good is a socially relevant tale if it doesn’t even have the power to pull you out of your comfort zone? However, intellectual and moral discomfort isn’t enough to make a good story. Confidential Confessions succeeds so well because it gives a certain humanity to its stories. At its heart, it realizes that we’re all human, sinner and saint alike.
That’s where Momochi’s creations succeed where so many of their peers fail: they aren’t so much about instruction or agenda promotion as they are about compassion. They’re not lofty, self-righteous sermons from on high, but plaintive reflections of life as it is for many people. The ultimate message of this comic isn’t “do this” or “don’t do that,” it’s merely asking us to pay attention to what’s going on around us, stand up for what we believe in, help each other as much as we’re able, and maybe be a little nicer to those who need it. This message is one that all people would do well to heed, but I can’t help but wonder if most of the people whom this message will reach are the same people who are already all too aware of these problems.
Added: Saturday, July 17, 2004
Related Link: TOKYOPOP