Just So Happens by Fumio Obata surrenders to reflection as a Japanese Londoner travels back to Japan for her father’s funeral. Yumiko lives with the dichotomy of two communities; one into which she was born and one she made her home. Yumiko feels division with her background, her present, her own values and opinions as the family proceedings with the death ceremonies. Her returning home leads her to introspection on her decisions and identity. The realistic fiction analyzes family expectation and individual identity.
Self-aware Yumiko runs a design firm in London, estranged from her family in Japan. She is successful and in a fulfilling relationship. You get a sense that she defied the convention of her father’s ideals and a difficult–but right–decision for herself. Yumiko’s identity appears to balance respect for traditional views with a healthy dose of modern ideology and social norms. She chose to pursue a career away from her family and home country. She dominates in her field with the support of great friends and a loving fiancé, but continues in a state of reflection. Upon her father’s death, Yumiko is forced to evaluate her feelings towards him and his beliefs and how that coincides with herself. Even self-assured as she is in her pursuit and accomplishments the precursor of family expectations is a powerful deterrent. Personal aspiration and cultural relativism shrouded in family obligations.
In any other story, Yumiko establishing her sense of self would be the climax; creating fruition, independence, and leading to the freedom to pursue her goals without limitations or the weight of disproval. In this honest narrative Yumiko has already challenged what we believe to be her father’s traditional standards: she’s career-driven, studied abroad, and also happens to be in a stable loving relationship. However, she also re-evaluates her choices. Perhaps it is subconscious guilt at her gentle defiance and how she differentiates from her family and her friends. There seems to be a duality in her mind, and we get the sense Yumiko doesn’t fully belong in either place. Seemingly an entity unto herself, she seems lost regardless of her choices and defiant decisions. This designer encompasses two cultures and the responsibilities of both.
Vibrant Yumiko has established connections and bonds in both worlds but presents as isolated. Her actions voice her values from both worlds, but she continues to feel restricted by family obligations and traditions her father once wished for her. Does she have guilt towards her decision to leave her family, study abroad, and follow her ambitions? A stranger in both places, did she defy her father’s ideals only to replace them with her mother’s dreams? Or is she the sum of all these different parts? It is my experience that identity changes and transforms but is founded in your background while the cause and effect of individual origins results in self-construction.
Haunted by the heavy burden she feels towards charting her own destiny and identity away from the traditional, we get a sense that Yumiko conquering is not black and white but more a range of gray areas in life. Defining and creating self regardless of influences is difficult. Does Yumiko have insecurities in regard for her decision or toward an individual who never accepted them? Is she an outsider in both her homes? Did she make the right choices? Deep down does she just wanted her father’s approval? These are the questions the audience has to ask about the protagonist. She is many things to many people but needs to be more to herself. She’s created an identity but hasn’t yet mastered it.
Honoring the point of view popularized by Will Eisner, Just So Happens, embodies sequential illustration in its purest form. Defining graphic novels as an approach to a storyline that seamlessly establishes illustration and literature. The imagery only solidifies the theme of duality. Watercolor and other mediums such as digital art show the elements of the story, as the watercolor and digital arts superbly represent both Yumiko’s concrete world and spiritual manifestations. Her ongoing contemplation is depicted in a well-formed composition as Obata establishes the environments she encounters to reflect the feelings Yumiko is processing. Surreal sequences show the capabilities of the art and story representing the complex internal struggle Yumiko is digesting.
Just So Happens by Fumio Obata is an impeccable yet quiet force of intelligence and astounding observation with an intimate understanding of a universal feeling through the lens of personal culture and heritage. The serious tone of this graphic novel explores the gravitas of identity, which doesn’t offer solid answers, if any. Some may find the intense narrative or Japanese imagery hard to associate with. Personally, I found the raw realistic approach to family dynamics very relatable. Perhaps it was my own experience as an Italian woman with similar family expectations. I believe Just So Happens showcases the universal concept of family expectation, responsibility, individual revelations and personal acceptance in an honest and truthful resolve that is never cut and dry.