“It’s so good to learn that from right here, the view goes on forever.”
– The Mountain Goats
A Girl on the Shore’s second half opens with more of its slow, wide-open panels, images of Sato and Isobe’s empty town shot from the distance it’s experienced. Sato’s tedium comes across in long sequences of repeated shots, as she slumps at her desk or stares out the window. Isobe’s self-hatred clutters pannels together, as the teacher reaches out to him and he slaps her hand away. The contrast of intimate cuts and wide-open spaces suits these characters; Sato sees herself as a willowy non-presence, whereas Isobe is claustrophobic, labeling himself unlovable and struggling to breathe.
The manga is an exercise in minimalism in many ways. Its naturalistic dialogue sticks to the base lines of kids who can’t really talk to each other, while its story moves slowly towards large single moments. But it’s in the framing and paneling that A Girl on the Shore truly shines, like in the second chapter here, where an online confession by Isobe is framed against Sato being treated by like an object by the boy she once liked. Isobe is accused of being an imposter by a blog commenter, and this is actually true – Isobe is merely filling in for his brother, who committed suicide on Isobe’s birthday. Isobe blames both the bullies who tormented his brother and himself, and the still-sharp pain of his experience comes through clearly in panels that focus not on his own expressions, but on the faceless words he’s typing. As Sato’s isolation in a crowd moves towards a crescendo, Isobe bleeds blank-faced into the screen. But he deletes his message, and we cut to Sato alone at the bus stop. Unable to reach out, the two can only be alone together.
Sato returns to Isobe, but it doesn’t help. As Sato says, “we just do it and do it, but I keep feeling like it’s not enough.” Isobe seems to see their relationship as a last fireworks display at the end of the world. He bitterly complains that when Sato moves into high school, she’ll forget all about their trash intimacy – but he can’t see any kind of future for himself. Isobe sees himself as unlovable, and craves forgiveness – from his brother, from his family, from anyone. Sato feels like a paper bag in the wind, like she’s a disposable thing that could just disappear. Though they press against each other, it’s only when they accuse each other of selfishness that they get any closer; only when they lie fully clothed, hands lightly touching in sleep, that they achieve anything like intimacy.
But one moment of connection can’t fix your life. Isobe’s problems run too deep; the self-loathing that made him a toy to Sato only consumes him more and more, and his desire to make amends to his brother eventually leads him to strike back against the kids who bullied him. Isobe’s plan is perfect; not only will attacking those bullies destroy their lives, but it will also destroy his own. Isobe will get his brother’s revenge on them and himself, blotting himself out in the way he’s sure he deserves. With his brother gone and parents away at work, Isobe can’t truly trust anyone to stick around for him; when Sato promises to stay, he mumbles that that only gets his hopes up, and it’s depressing.
Sato is broken too, but her feelings are not irreparable. Her heart is like Kashima, who loses his baseball dreams when his leg is broken, but whose wounds eventually mend. The manga’s last chapters see her gathering the pieces of Isobe as she moves forward – listening to the record he didn’t buy, reading the manga he didn’t finish, and finally chasing after his ghost in a typhoon, her passion and pain contrasted against the cheering kids of the school festival. In the manga’s climax, the minimalism that defines the work takes hold of the storytelling entirely, as dialogue is replaced by scattered lyrics set between isolated, defiant frames. Sato screams into the wind as the clouds break, and finds herself staring at the sea, a vast plane extending towards the future. Hats and memories lie scattered in the sand, only to be buried and found again. Time moves on, washing new remnants up towards the shore.
Isobe successfully erases himself by the end of the manga, taking on a new personality and making an ugly, wrenching break from Sato. He smiles and tells her of his plans for high school, but doesn’t let her see him being taken in by the police. It’s unfair that Isobe gets away with this emotional suicide; unfair that Sato scorched her heart with this emotional labor and was left with nothing. It’s unfair that she wasn’t able to save him; but again, time moves on. Sato finds a new boyfriend, and this one also feels insecure about what he means to her. Kashima finds his path to nationals, not as a player, as a team manager. Things don’t turn out the way we planned, but as Kashima says, “you have to believe in your own future.” We are small and alive, skipping rocks on the surface of the sea.
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