To Strip the Flesh is a collection of short stories by Ota Toda.

To Strip the Flesh
Written by: Ota Toda
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: June 21, 2022

“To Strip the Flesh” is the first short story included in this collection, and it’s in two parts: “To Strip the Flesh” and “To Strip the Flesh, Continued.” This story focuses on a character named Chiaki Ogawa, who was born a girl but identifies as a boy. Chiaki, who was raised by a single father after the death of Chiaki’s mother, kept trying to vocalize this preference, but the father refused to listen. Chiaki stopped saying anything after being involved in an accident during one of the father’s hunting trips.

The story sees Chiaki struggling with whether or not to have surgery to finish transitioning. Chiaki’s father has been diagnosed with cancer and only has a year to live, and Chiaki doesn’t want to do anything to upset him before he dies. However, Chiaki’s mind is changed after being angered by something the father does. Another important character in this story is Chiaki’s best friend, Takato, a boy who has always been there for Chiaki and supports Chiaki’s desire to transition.

I thought both parts of “To Strip the Flesh” told a very compelling story and shows one person’s journey as they try to navigate the world while finding their true identity. While this story isn’t indicative of what all transgender individuals go through, it still provides a window into some of the thoughts and realities that occur. Art-wise, there are a couple of spots where it might seem a little graphic, but those panels and scenes had to be that way to make the story realistic.

At the end of the volume, there is a conversation between Ota Toda and Motigi, a former gay sex worker and gay bar employee who is also a content creator known for a Twitter essay manga. The conversation between them is on “To Strip the Flesh,” and it was interesting to read Toda’s thoughts behind creating “To Strip the Flesh,” as well as to read Motigi’s thoughts on the story. This section at the back of the volume is worth reading, because it helps the reader to understand the story even better.

The next story in the volume is “I Just Love My Fave,” and it shows a fan of an idol group meeting the grandmother of one of the group members and forming a friendship. The story also sees the grandmother meeting up with her grandson and giving him words of encouragement. I thought this was a sweet story and that it worked well in this short length.

“David in Love” is about a small replica of the Statue of David that’s given to a girl as a souvenir from her father’s business trip. However, she’s grossed out by it and hides it away in a drawer. But the Statue of David falls in love with the girl and keeps coming out of the drawer at night so the girl will find him in the morning. However, everything changes one night when a burglar breaks into the girl’s room. Personally, I found this story to be a little on the odd side, but it ended up not being the story I liked the least in this collection. It turns out that “David in Love” was Toda’s debut and that it won the highest award at the ITAN 14th Super Character Comic Awards.

“Hot Watermelon” sees a young man who has trouble communicating with his mother after his father left. One day, he hears about a spell on the internet and it’s supposed to convey your feelings to the person you’re trying to reach. The spell involves swallowing 10 watermelon seeds and holding the person you’re trying to reach in your mind. We see the spell being used, but the person using the spell isn’t who the story leads you to believe. In the end, mother and son are able to communicate again, and the son changes his attitude. While I like what the story ultimately accomplished at the end, I thought the whole idea of the spell and the watermelon seeds was strange. It was even stranger to see the effects of the spell as it was actually happening. While the intention here was good, the execution didn’t work for me. Because of that, “Hot Watermelon” was my least favorite story in this collection.

This is then followed by seven manga stories that are each told in two pages, and these short manga work for what they are. In fact, these manga wouldn’t have worked if they had been any longer in length. It’s revealed a little later that these two-page manga stories were projects that Toda turned in for the Kozuki Foundation’s creator training program. The foundation supports young people working toward their dreams, and the program was a lifesaver for Toda at the time.

I really liked Toda’s art style in this collection. The characters in each story have very distinct looks from each other, which helped me feel like these were each separate stories. It was refreshing to see that Toda doesn’t have generic character designs or utilize designs that are recycled throughout the volume.

Even with the two short stories that didn’t appeal to me as much, I still found To Strip the Flesh to be a strong collection overall. If you are a manga reader who has an appreciation for short story collections, To Strip the Flesh is worth giving a read.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media