The Girl on the Shore

"In town, there's a tiny beach that's never busy, not even in the summer. I used to like walking there, looking for stuff. Like old fireworks.. or kelp. A hat knocked off someone's head by the wind. You basically never find what you were expecting to. And maybe you weren't expecting to find anything right from the start..." —Koume Sato

In a seaside town where very little happens, middle school students Keisuke Isobe and Koume Sato live a rather dull life. But when Koume's crush breaks her heart, their situation becomes quite unordinary. She starts a "no-strings-attached" relationship with Keisuke, whom she had previously rejected, both finding solace in the other in order to fill the emotional voids in their lives. However, being "friends with benefits" becomes complicated when real feelings begin to develop, as the consequences of their relationship start to take their toll on those around them and themselves.


While saying sex is a theme in A Girl on the Shore would be a complete disservice to the point Asano is making, I would like to clarify the use of sex in this manga. Constantly, people online accuse this manga of being child pornography due to the depictions of sex between these two middle schoolers. But the point of seeing Isobe and Sato having sex isn’t for reader gratification. It’s awkward, silly, and sometimes gross. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable because it’s realistic. There is nothing sexually gratifying about two middle schoolers trying to find connection in eachother through sex.

Especially at the beginning, when I started making manga, I thought about sexually related descriptions as completely normal, a natural part of our day-to-day life where we might get into sexual situations. For me, the most natural way to portray reality is to lean on these sexual characterizations, so someone can appear having lunch in one scene, and then appear later having sex just as naturally.. -Inio Asano

Middle schoolers have sex. They do. Reducing A Girl on the Shore to just sex scenes not only debases the author’s work, but is also extremely stupid if you know at least any other of his previous works. Could Asano have expressed the same concepts without resorting to explicit sex scenes? Probably. But it would have taken away so much from the story and would have left us with less of a profound reaction to the work itself. Asano depicted them so candidly to really send home how raw and personal sex is, and how close the main characters were despite their emotional distance. Without these explicit scenes, the story wouldn't have as much as an impact.


Sato’s character begins with that of a normal highschool girl. She has a quiet family, is on good terms with her parents, and has a healthy love/hate relationship with her sister. She is well integrated into society and has good friends and good grades in school. Sato, disillusioned with the life she leads in the sleepy Japanese seaside town, humiliated by the rejection of the local playboy and desperately masking her true desires from her friends, secretly seeks the company of Isobe, a boy who has a crush on her, asking him to take her virginity. This begins Sato’s struggle of sexuality. She wants to experiment, wants to engage sexually with Isobe, but is scared of being seen as a ‘bad girl’ for doing so. The two begin their relationship in secret per Sato’s request.

Slowly, we see Sato’s true character emerge. She is not the sweet, quiet, kindhearted character that Isobe had a crush on at the start of the story. Sato is selfish. She is insensitive and complains constantly, but doesn’t do anything to change. She only shows this side to Isobe. But even if she shows Isobe her true nature, she cannot show him her true feelings. What they have is confusing and humiliating for Sato; her biggest secret is him. Their pride, their shame and their lust shrouds any honest connection the two could make with one another. But Sato's most miserable self, and her stark duality, is exposed in these intimate scenes with Isobe


Isobe, running his late brothers' blog, skipping school, loathing his classmates whilst severely depressed, carries his own heavy burdens. He has a difficult family situation to say the least. His parents are separated. Isobe lives with his father and his mother is no where in sight. His brother dies of suicide as a result of bullying, a situation that leads Isobe to develop a strong asociality. He spends his days alone in his room reading manga, playing video games and trying to keep his brother’s memory alive by updating his blog.

His true nature emerges much quicker than Sato’s. While in the beginning of the story, Isobe is shown as a lonely kid with a crush on Sato, he very quickly turns into a more dismissive and sad character. He shuts in on himself, refusing to open up even to a stranger online who is asking him about his brother's blog. He heads straight into a downward spiral, bringing others down with him.


In a 2013 interview, Inio Asano cites learning the phrase “chunibyo” as an inspiration for A Girl on the Shore. A Japanese meme, “chunibyo” translates roughly to “Eighth Grader Syndrome,” and describes an early adolescent’s tendency to aspire to and imitate the adult behaviors that they are too young to understand.

Dialogue between Isobe and Sato is often stilted. Sato speaks in' likes' and 'stuffs', discusses shallow concerns of a teenager whilst longing to engage in something she barely understands herself. Meanwhile, Isobe is unable to talk anything more than spitefully. His secret weighs on him constantly and yet between the two, his desires are more frank, more depraved. We are witnessing an immature exchange between two children desperate to be perceived as grown. They look young, they sound young and have no understanding of what they are seeking.

In Sato’s case for chunibyo, she is desperately trying to reach adulthood through sex and connection. She acts jealous when she finds the girl on the shore on Isobe’s SD card, even if he didn’t take the pictures. The girl on the shore is older, she has a more mature figure and fits societies ideals of what a woman ‘should’ look like. Sato still looks like a young girl because she is one, no matter how much sex she has with Isobe and the older highschool boy.

Isobe shows chunibyo through idealizing his brother. He keeps up the blog without disclosing the new owner, he smokes a cigarette that his dad throws away, he even taser guns some older boys to get revenge for his late brother. He is continuously acting older, more ‘mature’ than the other boys at his school in a desperete attempt to seem better than the other people in the small town. But in the end, he is still a young boy. He is still insecure and looking for meaning in life.

The feeling of Anguish

This manga is mundane, almost lacking a plot as we watch these two teenagers navigate their sexual relationship. But I think that’s what makes it so unique. There is no intense action, no horrific moments like in Asano’s other work. It’s slow. It’s realistic. It’s beautiful, but what’s the point?

The one consistent feeling from this work is Anguish. The Girl on the Shore is not a comfortable read (nor is any of Asano’s works…) it feels almost as if the sea swallows you while you read, washing you over with anguish. We all remember how it felt to be a teenager, the confusion and deep sadness of wanting to grow up, but not knowing what that means, and that feeling is portrayed so well through The Girl on the Shore.

The end of chapter 14 is an excellent example of this. The chapter begins with Sato and Isobe having sex, of course, but this time it’s a bit more grotesque. There is no emotion attached as they preform this act, and by the end, they are laying on Isobe’s floor, his room a mess. They discuss how Isobe used to like Sato, how he thought she had a small voice and seemed serious. Sato apologizes, as that is not who she is. But the apology is lifeless, she isn’t truly sorry.

Isobe discusses how one day, Sato will forget about their situation together. She will fall inlove with a random boy, pretend that she’s a virgin, and satisfy her moments of loneliness. He is trying to distance himself from her, knows that she won’t love him the way he wants. But Sato also tells Isobe that ‘the Isobe before was a normal kid.’ They both agree that they’ve changed.

Then, Sato states: ‘Isobe, you just hate everyone, don’t you… Idn’t there someone you like?’. Isobe simply replies: ‘Kind people.’

While these scenes seem like simple conversations, it is truly the only time they have talked to eachother in a serious way for more than a moment. Even here, they can’t connect. Isobe talks about dying, how he should be better off dead, how he is convinced that he is already decided. And as Sato replies with: ‘If you died, it wouldn’t really matter to me but… definitely… don’t talk about dying. Sorry that’s selfish of me.’ they reach out to eachother, holding hands as they fall asleep. They want so desperately for the other to be there for them, but neither of them are willing to connect on a deeper level.

They are stuck within their own Anguish, which many teenagers often are. They are selfish and can’t get out of their own head. And they wont, until they grow and learn as they grow up.

The Sea.

The story itself evolves slowly, almost painfully so. It stretches on and on, tension rising, until everything suddenly snaps. The release, however, is as anticlimactic as Sato and Isobe’s relationship. The end isn’t really an end: they’re growing and moving on. They learn some things and they don’t learn others. But hopefully—for them as well as for any of us—there’s healing along the way. And maybe someday, happiness.

While Isobe’s final scene is a lot more direct and climactic, the actual final scene is the climax for Sato’s character. Throughout the manga, she is searching for something. She doesn’t know what it is, but she is desperately trying to find it. Through boys like Isobe, through sex, through pretending to be someone she is not, she can’t stop searching.

The final panel shows Sato standing at the same beach the story opened with. She is shown talking with Kashima, her old classmate, about the future and how uncertain everything is. Here, Sato is shown to fully understand what she has been looking for. She has finally found the grandscope of the world. In front of her is a sea of opportunities, even if she had to leave people behind to reach it. We see that she has finally grown up.

”Ah! I found it!” “Were you even listening to me?” “Of course! But, in the end there is something bigger than everything else… The sea!!” -Sato

that's all folks
Angel Wing Heart