You basically never find what you were expecting to

Girl on the ShoreA Girl on the Shore
by Inio Asano
translated from Japanese by Jocelyne Allen

I picked up this manga because it sounded sweet from the plot synopsis – a tale of teenage romance – and the cover art is beautiful. I somehow missed the significance of the cellophane wrapper, not to mention the small label “Ages 18+”.

In some ways my first instinct was right. It’s a good story, often a sweet one, with truly incredible artwork throughout. I frequently paused to show Tim a page that moved me in its beauty, often dialogue-free.

Koume Sato is in her final year of junior high (ages 14–15). She likes pretty boy Misaki, but he uses her and then ignores her, so she runs to Keisuke Isobe, who she knows has a crush on her because he has previously confessed as much. They strike up a relationship, but keep it secret because at school Koume is popular, while Keisuke is considered a weird loner. In public Koume hangs out with a group of girls, gossiping, while at Keisuke’s house she discovers manga and indie music. She is clearly using Keisuke, but it isn’t clear whether or not he minds. Sure, she ignores him most of the time, but then so does everyone, especially since his brother’s suicide.

So far, so right up my alley. There are side characters who in some cases become significant, there are issues about school and studying, and always the gorgeous seaside town setting. But…this is sexually explicit manga, and the two people we repeatedly see having sex are Koume and Keisuke. We learn early on that Misaki demanded that Koume give him a blowjob before telling her he’s not interested, and that her reaction was to run to Keisuke and ask him to sleep with her. Their relationship is almost entirely about sex, and sexual experimentation.

Girl on the Shore

I know that 14 and 15 year olds have sex. I think this story describes the discovery of sex, and the naivety of teenage relationships, very truthfully. But I couldn’t help but find it wrong that there were very graphic pictures of these children having sex – lots of erect penises, close-ups of groins, and so on. If the art had treated the sex the way most films do – cropping out the key body parts while making it clear sex is happening, including the dialogue (Keisuke has a great many asshole teenage boy lines when it comes to sex) – then I think I would have loved this book unreservedly. I’m not sure how I feel about erotic manga about grown-ups, but I know I don’t want to see it about kids this young.

Apparently this book was greatly lauded in Japan for its honesty – about teenagers and about body hair. But there is a line between depicting the reality of the world and encouraging adults to see minors in a sexual light. For me, this book crossed that line.

Umibe no Onnakono serialized 2009–2013 by Ohta Publishing.
This translation published 2016 by Vertical Comics.

Source: Forbidden Planet.