give her back to me cover
Give Her Back to Me, Glacier Bay Books, 2023

Give Her Back to Me

Writer & Artist: Hana Chatani
Book & Cover Design: Hana Chatani & Emuh Ruh
Publisher: Glacier Bay Books (print)
Publication Date: June 2023
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Manga (Japan), Horror

When judged by the cover, Hana Chatani‘s Give Her Back To Me is one of the brightest and most fun-looking works among the June 2023 releases from Glacier Bay Books. I was mesmerized by the sweet lime background, beautiful flowers blooming as if spring, and two lovely young women smiling warmly back at me on the cover. The classic shojo manga cover design sparked my interest as well, but all of these details didn’t prepare me for the emotional journey that I was about to embark on.

give her back to me hana chatani
“Where things become truly difficult and unbearable, we find ourselves in a place already very close to its transformation.” – Reiner Maria Rilke, The Dark Interval

The story opens up with Kyoko and her little daughter Mitsuki returning from a visit to a shrine. When they arrive home, Mitsuki’s grandmother walks them to the living room, where there’s an old mirror. Kyoko’s terror upon seeing the mirror that her mother-in-law found in the storage closet at first rewinds them to a past filled with fond memories but quickly descends into the eerie.

I am fond of fiction with subsequent generations in a family, specifically women. On the macro scale, it becomes possible to trace the changes in the political, social, and economic landscape of that particular period of time. On the other hand, one can examine how the passage of time affects individuals and their personal beliefs or values and how members can or fail to coexist. What shifts and transforms? What remains the same? What is passed down from one generation and inherited by the next, intentionally preserved or involuntarily carried on? Give Her Back To Me focuses on the personal and, using these questions as stepping stones, crafts a stirring narrative where three generations of women are connected through the inherited mirror—and grief.

Rich and dynamic storytelling in Give Her Back to Me

There’s a flow to this manga that’s beautifully rich and dynamic. Instead of staying strictly inside the lines that make up the panels, characters, movements, and instances overlap or intertwine. The lettering works in tandem with the paneling and strengthens the impact when the situation calls for it. As a result, the narration visually flows or curls on itself and overflows with energy instead of being contained or compartmentalized. Chatani uses space to their advantage and warps, extends, crowds, or empties the field around characters to perfectly convey the feeling of absence, fear, warmth, or nostalgia.

As heavy as the themes at hand may be, the playful intimacy between Mitsu, Kyoko’s mother, and Mitsu’s older sister, Sachi, constitutes the hearty core of the story that holds everything together. Miku and Sachi sharing slices of castella cake in secret, alert at the slightest sounds coming from outside, and the thrill of if that’s evident on their faces, is one of the many affectionate moments they share. Only through that strong affection and loving bond can the intensity of Miku’s longing come across. Their relationship took me back to times when my brother and I, like the sisters, would snack away to our heart’s content while our parents were away. 

give her back to me hana chatani
Glacier Bay Books, 2023

Terror management manga

The passing of a loved one forces us to face our own finitude and reckon with the fact that there’s an end to our connection to the world. Upon this startling encounter, some choose to stare back just as firmly. Others run or are too terrified even to flinch. The towering mirror covered with a cloth with crane motifs, representing longevity and good fortune in Japanese culture, is the heirloom passed down from the mother to the daughter. It functions as a memento, a bond carried through time, and also as a storage vessel for grief and yearning itself.

However, storage is exactly that: storage. One way to look at it would be that you only move your mess from one place to another, only to forget and not actually deal with it. Or it does what it needs to: store away the unwanted clutter. Without putting dichotomous labels that could potentially oversimplify a complex, private experience, Give Her Back to Me portrays a hauntingly tender story of heartache in just under 60 pages.

If I had to nitpick, I’d add we could do without the certain explanatory sentences added to clarify the story towards the end. The insinuations and parallels up until that point were enough to grasp the mystery surrounding the mirror. Having things spelled out would normally dampen my experience; thankfully, that wasn’t the case this time.

If you’re looking for an evocative volume that will have you under its spell, Chatani’s Give Her Back to Me is the perfect fit for you. If all of these paragraphs fail to convince you, I say do it for Micchan’s cute, puffy cheeks that no panel border can contain! Note that Glacier Bay Book’s X account (formerly Twitter) has been suspended recently, so watch for their releases on Instagram.

give her back to me hana chatani
Glacier Bay Books, 2023

Hana Chatani’s Give Her Back to Me is available on Glacier Bay Books’ website and certain bookstores/online retailers.