“Just So Happens” by Fumio Obata
Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel
Page Length: 160 pages (paperback edition)
Yumiko was born in Japan but has made a life in London, losing herself in its cosmopolitan bustle. She has a gallery show of her art, a good job, and a good guy she plans to marry. The culture she grew up in seems very far away—until her brother phones with the news that their father has died. Yumiko returns to Tokyo and finds herself immersed in the rituals of death while also plunged into the rituals of life—fish bars, bullet trains, pagodas—as she confronts the question of where her future really lies. Just So Happens deals both gently and powerfully with grief, identity, and the pressure not to disappoint one’s parents, even after they’re gone, in a look at the relationships that build the foundation of our lives. (description from Goodreads)
Just So Happens is a beautifully written and drawn graphic novel about grief and finding yourself. I loved Obata’s attention to detail in his artwork and the vibrant watercolors he uses to make the story picturesque, but realistic.
The story follows Yumiko as she returns home to Japan for her dad’s funeral. It shows readers how one deals with grief, but also illustrates a deeper look into the funeral ceremonies of Japanese culture. Yumiko has assimilated herself so deeply in London’s culture and in doing so she has separated herself from her heritage. She doesn’t talk about her culture or her home life much and tries to avoid it whenever it comes up in conversation. This creates a bit of an identity crisis for Yumiko and going back home allows her to sort things out.
Although readers are introduced to Yumiko for a short time, I really appreciate how she develops over the course of the story and readers get to know her intimately in such short period of time. Going back home seems to be a therapeutic process for Yumiko to accept and acknowledge her roots, but also to come to peace with her father’s death.
The thing I most enjoyed about this book is that it offers an immigrants perspective of living in a place separate from your native home. On top of that, I also learned about some cultural aspects of Japan that I hadn’t studied in my previous Japanese language and culture classes that I’ve had in the past.
Overall, this graphic novel was short, but it said a great deal in the span of 160 pages. I admired its message of “home is where the heart is” and how it tackles the issues of cultural identity. I learned a lot from reading this book and thoroughly enjoyed the artwork and the characters as well.