Why is Goodbye, Eri a comic?
Goodbye, Eri is a 200-page one-shot by Tatsuki Fujimoto, released digitally in English translation on the Shonen Jump app and website on April 10, 2022. A print edition has since followed in Japan, which will be available in English next year. The manga follows a young boy named Yuta, who films the lives of, first, his terminally ill mother, and then his new friend, the movie-obsessed Eri. From the very first panel, the story is presented from the point of view of Yuta’s camera. So why wasn’t this story filmed to begin with?
Fujimoto's layouts employ a fixed grid of four wide panels stacked vertically on each page for most of its 200 pages, echoing Japanese 4-koma gag strips and, of course, celluloid film strips. Fixed grids allow the cartoonist to control the pacing of the narrative in a different way than more experimental layout choices can, by repeating images and intercutting sequences together, much like a movie.
There’s a montage sequence 64 pages into the story that juxtaposes Eri choosing prepackaged meals at the grocery store and Eri choosing movies to rent with Eri and Yuta sitting and watching the movies together. By sequencing the scene the way he does (DVD rental -> watching movies -> grocery store -> watching movies -> grocery store -> watching movies -> DVD rental -> watching movies), Fujimoto creates a two-page spread with a balanced rhythm. In a movie, this sequence would require a linear juxtaposition, probably with a soundtrack behind it. In a comic, all of the individual moments of this wordless sequence can be viewed by the reader simultaneously, and the reader can choose whether to perceive them all at once or down each page, right to left.
The pages where the grid is broken are the most important moments of the story: the film about Yuta’s mother being screened at his school; the first time he meets Eri; the first movie they watch together. Having a rhythm to break makes these splash pages and larger panels more impactful, telling the reader “this is where you really need to pay attention.” When Yuta first meets Eri, there are a number of these grid-breaking pages close together, indicating that this new friendship is going to be the most important part of the story from this point forward. Film, on the other hand, is predominantly limited to a fixed size and shape for all its images.
Film and comics also differ in how they portray dialogue: the former through recorded audio, the latter through speech balloons. Fujimoto uses the placement and size of his speech balloons to control the pacing of the comic even more than the panel grid, breaking up short lines of text into multiple balloon shapes to add a pause, and framing centered images with Yuta’s narration. Comics often use different balloon shapes for narration and dialogue to distinguish the two, but since Yuta is often behind a camera in this comic, filming movies, his narration is also spoken; Fujimoto conveys that Yuta is behind the camera by relegating his dialogue to the top right and bottom left corners of panels, the borders of his narrative bubbles 'cut out' so that the white of the balloon combines with the panel gutter.
In other scenes, the ever-present camera appears to have been placed on a shelf or chair. When Eri is sick in the hospital, the camera points at Eri’s IV drip instead of her or Yuta. Neither character is visible, but the balloon placement and context clues from the dialogue make it clear which of them is speaking in each panel. These lettering choices combine with the panel choices to create a seamless, steady reading experience - a rhythm that’s easy for the reader to follow.
In film, the delivery of dialogue and the speed and timing at which it's read is set by the movie. In a comic, these decisions are left to the discretion of the reader, though balloon shape and placement guide them. Letting the reader decide how exactly characters sound in their universe gives readers control over the flow of the carefully paced out narrative - and more effectively blends fantasy and reality.
The manga format allows Fujimoto to play with the boundaries of fantasy and reality in a way that would be impossible in movie form. Throughout Goodbye, Eri, Fujimoto uses a digital doubling effect on his lines to imitate motion blur from filming, as the action of the comic is supposed to be 'filmed' by Yuta. But it’s not all filmed in the same way: first we’re viewing his POV documentary about his mother; then the camera pulls out into a school auditorium where Yuta and his classmates are watching that documentary about his mother; then he meets Eri, and after we spend a significant chunk of pages getting used to their new dynamic, Eri asks him to make another movie - which, toward the end of the comic, is then revealed to have been everything we had been reading prior to that. In one scene, the two characters film a seemingly real conversation between Eri and Yuta’s father, but then the camera 'keeps rolling' to show Yuta’s father breaking character, revealing that their interaction was entirely scripted for the movie Yuta is trying to make.
“You have the power to decide for yourself how you’ll remember someone,” Yuta’s father says. So when Yuta makes his film about Eri, he makes Eri’s character a vampire, to add “a pinch of fantasy,” but also films her actual illness and death and the other “behind the scenes” moments, which he blends into the movie. He portrays himself and Eri as a couple, though they were never together in real life, and does not shoot her wearing her glasses or retainer, at her request. His point of view does not depict the objective truth of the events that happen, but tells a story.
The final scene of Goodbye, Eri, in which an adult Yuta reunites with Eri, who is unexpectedly still alive and still young, is the only scene where it’s ambiguous whether or not Yuta is filming what’s happening. There’s no motion blur on the characters, and the panels transition between Eri’s face and Yuta’s face too quickly to have been captured by Yuta’s handheld camera. The reader is left wondering if this is all just a fantasy of a broken man, or if Eri really is immortal, because the same page layout scheme is employed. If Goodbye, Eri was a movie, that ambiguity would collapse; this final scene would obviously have been filmed by someone else, some mysterious director hitherto unseen in the story, with a different camera that the one ostensibly used by Yuta.
So, why make a comic about making movies? Because Fujimoto’s clever applications of the comics medium make the story more effective than it could ever be as a film.