Imperfect Girl

I love what Imperfect Girl is trying to be.

I'm a bit disappointed with what it actually is.

It's a distinctly odd story about a college student who witnesses a girl be run over, and is disturbed when he sees the girl's friend turn off her Game Boy, put it away, and then run over wailing to her dead friend. He doesn't do anything about this feeling, though, just heading home while his ten-years-in-the-future self keeps rambling at the audience about how, essentially, he didn't think of himself as being a good writer.

Then when he sits down to start working on his novel, the creepy girl stabs him from under his desk, and from there forces him at carefully-hidden knifepoint (Well, it's a box cutter, but whatever) to come to her home and then be locked in a storage closet.

Yeah, I wasn't expecting that either.

This is when the story really starts, and it takes a surprisingly long time to get here, in no small part because so much panel space is spent on the future-self author rambling at us, largely reiterating the same points for no clear reason. And even once the story has arrived here, it takes a bit for the shape of the story to start being obvious; a fairly lengthy period is spent on the psychological experience of being locked up, feeling helpless and confused, etc, with the future-self author periodically explaining why his past self didn't do one thing or another that readers are probably wanting to scream at his past self. (eg 'call the cops already, you have a cell phone!')

None of that is terribly relevant.

The actual story starts with it dawning on the protagonist that the girl isn't simply odd, messed up in the head. When he asks for food, she brings him what he eventually figures out is her school lunch. Even after several days pass, her parents never show up. She has weird tics about ritualistic behavior, such as completely freaking out when he fails to say 'itadakimasu' before starting to eat. (Itadakimasu gets translated as, for example, 'thank you for the food', but the relevant bit here is that it's a minor ritual of politeness to say it before eating; not doing so is rude, but is normally the sort of thing that gets you glared at. The girl throws her box cutter at him while yelling angrily that you always say itadakimasu before eating)

Eventually the need to go to the bathroom pushes him to sufficient desperation to start looking in earnest for a way out of his prison when the girl is at school. Turns out the sliding door to the closet, for all that it locks, is pretty trivial to simply lift up and out of its track. He does consider simply fleeing at that point, but now he wants to know what's going on; he looks around for food, and there is none. Some parts of the building are neat and clean, some parts are an utter mess. This leads to a scene where he tries to convince the girl to take a large bill he had on hand to go buy supplies for a week. Getting her to go along with this plan is hard, and when she does eventually get back she apparently took his list of suggestions bizarrely literally, carrying all of it back at once even though a week's worth of supplies is way too much for a child to carry on foot any kind of distance.

He continues to investigate the home. He finds the corpses of the parents, who apparently managed to simultaneously strangle each other not long before the girl's friend was run over, hence why the house's supplies are running out; the girl hasn't been independently living alone. She was living a reasonably normal kid life up until very recently, and doesn't have the ability to cope with surviving on her own. He checks what he believes to be an old journal of the girl's, and that's when everything comes together; it's not an old journal. It's a series of rules, written by her parents, and apparently drilled into her by abuse. This is why she's so odd, and it explains everything we've seen up to this point; she kidnapped him because one of the instructions is to never reveal 'who she really is' to anyone. She turned off her Game Boy before running to her friend while wailing because the instruction to never leave a game running when you're not actually playing it was placed before the instruction to always care about her friends, and apparently she goes down this list in order.

Finally the protagonist being an aspiring novelist matters; events play out such that the kidnapper/kidnappee relationship breaks down, he ends up asking her if there's anything he can do for her, and she asks him to tell him stories, like her parents did when she would go to sleep. One of the rules in her booklet was about always paying attention to stories, and the protagonist makes a conscious decision; he's not going to tell her a normal sort of fairy tell story where the righteous and just prevail against evil yadda yadda yadda. Instead, he tells a series of stories about people who are less-than-perfect managing to make their way through life to something resembling happiness., imperfection or no.

Shortly after that, the situation unravels; the police get involved, our protagonist is fortunate enough to not end up in jail (It's not like the obvious conclusion is that an adult man was kidnapped by an elementary school kid when you find a strange man in a house with a girl containing her dead parents), and the protagonist waxes on about how he doesn't know what happened to the girl after that but the experience lead to him writing completely different stories that are the basis of his modern success etc. His old editor is moving on in their life, and he's going to meet his new editor.

It's a young woman who's firmly formally polite even as she excitedly tells him she's always loved his stories ever since she was a little girl.


And that's where it ends, our protagonist apparently clueless that he's ended up reunited with his once-kidnapper and that her life has apparently managed to work out, possibly in part due to his attempts to instill ideas healthier for her into her.

I did like the story, but at the same time I wanted to see how the girl's life went. She's the most compelling part of the story, and a vague promise of hope that even someone who has serious problems can one day lead a successful life is... a nice sentiment. But for people who have these kinds of problems, sentiment and sympathy aren't what they need; knowing there are people who managed to overcome the hurdles you are currently struggling with can push away despair, make it easier to endure the process of finding an answer, but it doesn't point the way to an answer or help model how to find answers yourself.

At times, the insistence that it can be okay or will be okay can be a negative. Having someone tell you you're going to be alright and then get back on with their life instead of spending five seconds actually helping you is the opposite of reassuring, particularly if your situation is anchored in no small part by dire social problems. It signals almost the exact opposite of the claimed intent, indicating that even when people notice you have problems you could use help with they're not going to bother to lift a finger to actually help.

So though I genuinely like the sentiment behind the story... I still wanted to see the rest of the girl's story. Not just end with it implied that she got through somehow or another.

Thus: I like what the story is trying to be, but am a bit disappointed with what it actually is.


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