REVIEW: ‘To Strip the Flesh’

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To Strip the Flesh

To Strip the Flesh is a collection of six short stories of varying lengths that explore a singular theme: stripping away what’s on the outside to find the truth within. To Strip the Flesh is written by Oto Toda, features art from Toda, and is published and localized in English by VIZ Media.

While the anthology features quite a few stories, they don’t all get the same treatment. Some of the stories are just a couple of pages long, while others take up the majority of the book. For example, most of the pages are taken up by a story about a trans man who finally begins transitioning. And with so few stories out there about trans people, I’m not complaining. This particular story features Chiaki Ogawa, who feels like he can’t transition due to his mother’s dying wish that Chiaki becomes a bride. Add on his ailing father’s expectations, and Chiaki feels trapped.

This is a story about a trans person through and through so trans-specific acronyms such as GID and SRS (which stand for gender identity disorder and sexual reassignment surgery, respectively) are used accordingly. While these may certainly be jarring for people outside the community (and even outside of Japan), notes at the end of the manga do a good job of not only explaining the acronyms themselves but how they are used in a very different way in Japan than how they’re used in western areas like the United States and the United Kingdom. With this added context, To Strip the Flesh highlights the struggles of trans people in Japan who have to overcome both medical and political hurdles. Knowing this, all the emotion Toda weaves into Chiaki himself makes the entire story more moving.

What Chiaki goes through is not only easy for trans people to empathize with, but Toda makes Chiaki’s plight one that even people outside looking in will understand. For many trans people, the pain of trying to live up to your parent’s expectations when it goes against everything you are is very familiar. Even some of the dialogue, like, “will surgery really make you happy?” is so spot on that it hurts to read. And for cis people, the emotions Toda expertly crafts on Chiaki’s face, and the dreams that dance on the border of body horror are just so well done it’s hard not to put yourself in Chiaki’s shoes. The pain of not being yourself is something anyone can understand, and it’s not just this story but others in this anthology that celebrate embracing who you are.

The other stories follow this same theme but are so different that it’s easy to read them all in one sitting because they shake up the formula repeatedly. And Toda adds some more flavor of body horror that’s just the right amount of unsettling without becoming too gruesome. Again, the art is fantastic and effortlessly flutters between weird, cute, unsettling, and funny without feeling like a case of whiplash.

While not many of the stories hit the same emotional highs as the first, they each have their place in this collection, such as adding some light-hearted fun. Unfortunately, it does feel like some of the jokes get a bit lost in translation, likely due to cultural differences. Nevertheless, there’s a good amount of humor to appreciate and keep the collection balanced.

In To Strip the Flesh, some of the stories hit harder than others. And with the asymmetric story lengths, there are definitely some stories that are better than others. Nevertheless, the collection has some great emotional intensity and humor to balance it out.

To Strip the Flesh is available June 21st wherever books are sold.

Edited after publishing to correct the inclusion of footnotes.


To Strip the Flesh
4.5

TL;DR

In To Strip the Flesh, some of the stories hit harder than others. And with the asymmetric story lengths, there are definitely some stories that are better than others. Nevertheless, the collection has some great emotional intensity and humor to balance it out.