My Solo Exchange Diary
My Solo Exchange Diary by Nagata Kabi is an intensely raw look into her life and continued struggles with her mental health, independence, and acceptance of her sexuality. Nagata’s second work published and translated into English continues with themes laid out in its predecessor, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, while revolving more around the realization of her destructive cycles and the difficulty in breaking them to become an objectively better, more functional person.
Outside of being an anxious and depressed queer, I don’t have many similarities to Nagata Kabi herself. Yet, My Solo Exchange Diary was infinitely relatable to me, and I expect to many other readers. I have two pages of notes from my first read through, and they’re almost all “xx—so relatable!!” Nagata realizing the difference between her actual abilities and the abilities of the imaginary Nagata who could magically do more was like looking into a mirror; I was in the middle of a month of working about 110 hours per week because past me thought I could definitely do it. This was an extra hard read that took me a long time to consume and digest. It was devastating to watch as Nagata’s mother reads MLEWL and scolds her for her life and the choices in it. Nagata goes in and doesn’t skip over any details of her depression and anxiety. Everything feels so real. Thinking about Nagata Kabi’s life made me think too hard about my own.
It is such a different take on the usual personal non-fiction narrative, and that is refreshing but abrasive at times. You can tell Nagata has grown as both a writer and a person since her first book, and she doesn’t waste time getting to the heavy emotional stuff. Shouts out to Jocelyn Allen’s stellar translation work; conveying emotions is hard and this book is all emotions.
There’s more narrative structure to this than MLEWL. This is, in part, due to it being a more chronological series. Originally published online, a diary was posted about once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less, but the regularity really helps the stories stay connected and move along. Comparing the two now, MLEWL is more of an analysis of her past, while My Solo Exchange Diary is much more concurrent with Nagata’s life. The “wounds” are much fresher, making the book as a whole a step up on the emotional intensity scale.
On top of her raw story-telling, her simple yet captivating art really punches the point home. While more and more two-tone comics are gaining notoriety, the pink and grey color scheme is really unique. Nagata uses hatch marks very purposefully to elicit a sense of anxiety, and when blending with the pink creates a sense of emotion that could be lost in black and white. The simplicity of her lines and anatomy makes you focus on characters’ expressions and emotions making the subtle facial features and oft pupil-less eyes more effective at conveying emotions. Most characters are drawn almost blob-like, so when Nagata chooses to focus on detail it really draws attention to the action taking place.
While I would absolutely recommend reading My Solo Exchange Diary, it does not have the lovely “anyways I’ve figured out my depression, and I’m living a great life now” ending that similar personal narratives follow. There is no big cathartic release at the end. Nagata has come a long way with herself, but still has a long and arduous path of healing ahead of her, and the reader is not left with much confidence that she’ll be able to succeed. You want her to succeed so badly. “If Nagata Kabi can overcome her mental health than surely I can too.” But Nagata has done these comics in the midst of feeling her depression and anxiety so intensely that these comics are obviously a form of therapy and relief for her. Each diary entry is very cyclical, and while she makes small personal triumphs, each entry begins or ends with Nagata being just as depressed as before, just over something different. Her comics consist primarily of struggle, and readers are not left with much hope that she’ll eventually figure her stuff out. Her problems are too real to know for sure that she’s going to be okay. Anyone who’s ever struggled with depression can probably relate, and the reader can tell just how hard Nagata is going to have to work to succeed in her struggles.
Each read through left me more hopeful for her (and my) future, though. I found myself focusing more on her healing and her small personal triumphs in each story as I began focusing on the same things in my life. It’s obvious that Nagata is putting in the work and starting to love and accept herself for who she is, and she begins recognizing her own bad behaviors and trying to fix them. The final diary entries in the series hold so much hope and potential for growth, with Nagata recognizing her accomplishments and actively trying.
I can’t wait to continue this healing journey with Nagata Kabi. I know she can do it.