Tatsuki Fujimoto’s one-shots of Look Back and Goodbye, Eri prove why he’s one of the best manga writers of this generation.
The following article contains discussion of suicide and self-harm.
Though he’s best known for his mega-popular manga Chainsaw Man, two of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s recently published one-shots have also gained much attention. Look Back was published in July 2021, around the anniversary of the Kyoto Animation arson attack, while Goodbye, Eri was published in April 2022. Both stories have cemented Fujimoto as one of the greatest storytellers out there, with his ability to construct heart-wrenching tales and characters who feel like real people.
At first glance, Look Back and Goodbye, Eri aren’t particularly special. They have nothing to do with the fantastical or any epic battles between good or evil. The stories are slice-of-life tales about the most ordinary people in the most ordinary situations — but there is something special about Fujimoto’s writing that is able to connect everyone.
Look Back and Goodbye, Eri feature two young characters as they navigate through life. The protagonist of Look Back is a young girl named Fujino, while Goodbye, Eri features a young boy named Yuta who is asked by his mother to film her as she dies from a terminal illness. They both live ordinary lives and are ordinary people with ordinary dreams: Fujino dreams of becoming a manga artist and Yuta wants to make a film.
It wasn’t until Fujino met Kyomoto and Yuta met Eri that their world perspectives shifted. Initially in Look Back, Fujino was jealous of Kyomoto because she was much better at drawing. After meeting Kyomoto, who rarely leaves her home, the two quickly struck up a friendship and worked together on their first manga series. In Goodbye, Eri, Yuta had been bullied for creating a film where an explosion killed his mother. It got so bad to the point that he even tried to commit suicide; it was only because he met Eri that he didn’t kill himself.
Both of these one-shots’ turning points focus on the singular moment when the two protagonists met their friends and found joy, understanding and a kindred spirit. It was like life suddenly took on a magical quality. Fujino and Yuta both suffered a loss so profound that it cut across to the readers — their grief also became the readers’.
Both of Fujimoto’s one-shots feature characters who are deeply immersed in art mediums like manga writing and film, and are essentially homages to those in the manga and film industries. In Look Back, Fujimoto takes the readers through the process of slowly growing an artist’s craft. Fujino’s artwork in middle school was juvenile in comparison to Kyomoto, but she worked hard.
There are several double-page spreads that show Fujino practicing in her room through all four seasons; this eventually transitions to Kyomoto joining her in her room. Fujimoto conveys so much emotion through scenes where the characters don’t say anything. Even with her back to the readers, it’s easy to tell exactly what the adult Fujino was feeling as she sat at her desk drawing — and how different those feelings were compared to when she was a child.
The clearest example of this is in Goodbye, Eri. The one-shot begins in medias res, where the readers are thrown into the middle of Yuta’s film about his mother’s death without realizing it. This technique is used twice more with Eri’s death and the last time with Yuta’s explosive finale, at which point it’s difficult to discern what’s real and what’s not. To imitate Yuta holding his phone to film, there are shots where the drawings are deliberately shaky to fully immerse readers in the experience.
Fujimoto uses a unique style where he repeats the same panels over and over again to mimic a film reel. The characters are hardly moving until, on closer examination, there are subtle changes in their expressions. The scene in the hospital conveys silence in such an uncomfortable way because there’s nothing else to distract readers from the notion that they’re watching Eri die. Afterward, there are two double-page spreads where the panels are evenly divided into eight rectangles — but all are black save for the last panel to convey both the passage of time and Yuta’s grief. This is reminiscent of the film technique of fading to black.
Fujimoto conveys much care and attention in how he draws that shows just how much he loves art. It isn’t just the fact that the characters are immersed in manga or film — the story is told through the very medium it’s about, and that makes them so much more powerful.
What makes Fujimoto’s works so poignant is that the characters have all lost the one person who brought color to their lives. Look Back‘s Kyomoto was killed in a massacre, while Goodbye Eri‘s titular character lost her life to a terminal illness. Later on, Yuta’s family gets killed in a car crash; he twice considered committing suicide as he was unable to bear so much grief.
It almost feels uncomfortable to read these one-shots because the storytelling is unabashedly and unashamedly vulnerable. In Look Back, Fujino’s guilt weighs heavily on her as she believes that, in bringing Kyomoto out into the world, she had caused her death. All these “What-if” and “If-only” scenarios keep playing through her head as she struggles with her pain. Yuta’s grief comes out acutely through his films and explodes, quite literally, in people’s faces. That was the only way for him to express the pain he was feeling. Readers could see themselves through Fujino and Yuta in some shape or form.
Both of Fujimoto’s one-shots take readers through the natural progression of growing up. Look Back followed Fujino and Kyomoto from middle school to adulthood — when the two drifted apart as they went their separate ways — and going back full circle when Fujino returned to Kyomoto’s room where it all started. Most of Goodbye Eri takes place while the protagonist is still in school and does a time skip where Yuta is now a grown married man. In the blink of an eye, Fujino and Yuta have grown up — and Fujimoto subtly conveys the inescapable feeling of loss through this transition of child to adult.
While Look Back and Goodbye, Eri are dark and show the protagonists at one of the lowest points of their lives, Fujimoto still somehow weaves humor throughout. It isn’t just found in the beginning parts, either: Fujino imagines herself doing a flying karate-kick to save Kyomoto during her “What-if” scenario, and Yuta walks away as the building behind him explodes — just like what happened in his first film.
The humor alleviates some of the tension and also offers a light at the end of what feels like an endless darkness. In the end, the two of them meet their friends one last time to allow them to say one final goodbye. Fujino realized that Kyomoto’s death was not her fault, while Yuta was reminded by Eri of the power of art to remember those who have died. In saying goodbye, Fujino and Yuta found hope and a way to continue moving forward in life while still keeping the memories of their friends close.
Anime Features Writer for CBR. Loves anything with a good anime OST. Always eager to chat about anything anime/manga/donghua-related.