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A Life Turned Upside Down My Dad's an Alcoholic Manga Review

A Life Turned Upside Down My Dad's an Alcoholic Manga Review

-Written by: Will

I’m a very lucky person. My family has never dealt with alcoholism, and I thank whatever forces that dictate this universe that my body can handle alcohol. My exposure to alcoholism has been through media, mostly in fiction, so I only have a filtered view of the medical condition. I’ve seen the statistics, but that only allows you to see numbers, not the people behind them. That’s what made A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad's an Alcoholic such an eye-opening experience for me.

Mariko (left) coralls her drunk Dad (right) at a chery blossom viewing"(A Life Turned Upside Down, Ch. 1).

This manga’s title is an apt description of this memoir by Mariko Kikuchi. From her earliest memories, Mariko has only known her father as an alcoholic. Whether it was late at night or at a cherry blossom viewing, her father was always drinking. This of course leads to great strain on the family. For Mariko’s mother, it became too much; in a shocking end to the first chapter, she commits suicide. Still a child, Mariko and her sister now have to grow up on their own and become parents to an alcoholic. Through adulthood, Mariko has to deal with the trauma and how it affects her personality, relationships, and worldview. This complicated story was told through an honest voice that dived into the author’s mind.

What got me was how open the author was about her life. For her, these heavy subjects and themes were just part of her daily life. While other books have tackled similar issues, it’s the details she’s willing to express both in word and image that set it apart for me. One example is how having an alcoholic father normalized his toxic behavior. When she grows into adulthood, she tolerates similar behavior in romance. She goes into detail about these romances that can take real courage. Having to dig up those old memories and then share them with potentially billions of people is hard to do. Especially when those memories bring out feelings that are so complicated.

Her attitude towards her father runs from guilt to anger to sympathy to everything in between. This emotional journey can’t be summarized in a review like this and should be read in full instead. Her story is very specific to her, yet it is easy to emphasize with her on some level. Adding more details as she does allows you to better understand people, and in turn, relate to them. The art also contributes to this relatability, but by going in a more general direction.


Mariko deals with her emotions by balling them up inside (A Life Turned Upside Down, Ch. 2).

Mariko Kikuchi’s characters have a cartoon design to them. They remind me a bit of Girls’ Last Tour, but without the saucer-plate-sized eyes. The characters have wide faces with basic features, usually missing a nose. You might think that such a look could take away from the seriousness of the manga’s subject matter, but I disagree. In fact, I think this is to the book’s benefit. This simplicity gives the reader the ability to see more of themselves in the characters or others. It gives the impression that you could walk past these characters on the street.

The simple faces strengthen the facial expressions. As the author has to depict situations that readers might not have experienced, having a simple face allows for clearer emotions. You can better connect with the characters on an emotional level. The settings are also basic, using the furniture you can find in just about any Japanese home. The story is Mariko’s, but you can imagine it happening anywhere.

The manga’s ability to connect the reader with the author makes this a strong read. The simple art innocently invites you into Mariko’s life. Then, she pairs it up with an emotional story only she can tell. Together, the art and story perform a delicate dance. While they seem like an odd pair, they both step in tandem to reach the same goal, one of connection. That’s the ultimate goal of any author. To do it with such a personal story is an accomplishment to be proud of.

A Life Turned Upside Down My Dad's an Alcoholic Manga

A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad's an Alcoholic Manga features story and art by Mariko Kikuchi.

Mariko Kikuchi tells the painful story of her father’s alcoholism and her own journey through guilt to understanding her father’s illness. She rejects the common belief that family members can and should be forgiven for anything they do, no matter how much harm they cause. This powerful, self-contained autobiographical manga began as a web series that went viral, and inspired a critically acclaimed 2019 film in Japan.

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