Every story needs a pinch of fantasy.
Oftentimes, that’s what really hooks me. Many of my favorite stories from manga, movies, games, anime, and other formats are compelling because they deal with real human emotions—because you can see yourself in the characters and empathize with their struggles and successes. But the stories that I like the best are the ones that pair those feelings with impossibilities like incredible powers, strange worlds, terrifying monsters and so on. A fantastic element can make the emotions involved seem incredible, too.
Tatsuki Fujimoto, author of the one-shot manga Goodbye, Eri and—more famously—Chainsaw Man, has a talent for this combination of reality and fantasy. You can see it in all of his works. Alongside the craziness of superpowers, demons, or immortal vampires is a desire to depict people as they really are. Fujimoto’s characters are often awkward. Their goals may not pan out, and their dedication waxes and wanes. Even in a world of the supernatural, these characters are easy to identify with.
Goodbye Eri is the story of a middle school boy named Yuta who makes a film about his mother’s death using real footage from their lives. The film’s surprising twist ending is poorly received, causing him to be mocked by his classmates. From there, spurred on by Eri, a pushy girl who saw a spark of promise in his film, he sets out to learn more about filmmaking and create a movie that will blow his class away.
Every panel of the manga represents a shot taken by Yuta’s smartphone. Fujimoto uses the framing device of a documentary film to constantly play with the reader’s expectations, making it unclear what’s real, what’s staged, and what’s been left out. This story’s pinch of fantasy is given to us in the form of this uncertain truth, with characters—who have usually “watched” the movie up to the point that the reader has at that point in time—correcting the sequence of events or adding additional information that reframes what we’ve seen. In the wake of these constant shifts in the established facts, the audience is generally forced to take everything they’re told at face value, making for one heck of a roller coaster ride.
Frankly, because Goodbye, Eri was released not long after Fujimoto’s other recently well-received one-shot, Look Back, I didn’t expect too much from it. Look Back struck such a chord with me that I thought it would be impossible for Fujimoto to make lightning strike twice in a row. But I was mistaken—even when rereading it to write this review, I found myself just as emotional as I had been the first time I read it. It’s interesting, touching, heartwrenching and in the end—to steal the manga’s own words—cathartic. Fujimoto has an incredible talent for short stories, and I hope he continues to make more one-shots even with Part 2 of Chainsaw Man on the horizon.
Even if he’s destined to continue making serialized comics, his talent won’t go to waste. Goodbye, Eri, though mimicking a film, makes great use of the medium of comics. Not afraid to spend several pages on simply boxed panels of a boring scene or even a few of complete darkness, Fujimoto is willing to take the time and space necessary to give his story a sense of timing—which is part of what makes it work so well. Fujimoto gives you just enough time to chew on what you’ve seen before moving along, which is something that can be difficult to do in a medium where the speed is controlled entirely by the reader. As an obvious lover of film, Fujimoto knows the value of timing, and has managed to squeeze it into a normally inert medium to great effect.
While this is intended to be a review, it might read more like an advertisement. That’s because I honestly cannot think of a single negative thing to say about Goodbye, Eri. In the modern era, “meta” stories that mess with continuity and push against the fourth wall can sometimes feel a bit trite. It’s been a long time since the world at large realized those sorts of stories are popular. But Goodbye, Eri manages to avoid the feeling that its shifting narrative is a gimmick, and instead genuinely feels like nothing I’ve ever read before. It hooked me almost immediately and didn’t let me go until I finished it.
I highly recommend Goodbye, Eri to any fan of manga as a medium. There are few stories out there that feel as unique as this one, and I’m incredibly glad that Fujimoto got a chance to stretch his muscles as an auteur before he returns to syndication. If he can put out stories as good as Look Back and Goodbye, Eri back to back, I’ll happily read anything he wants to make from here on.
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