French artist travels the world in search of her inner lightness

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterSince the July 18 arson attack at Kyoto Animation Co., I can’t help feeling restless and troubled. It was a violent attack, and it should be called a massacre. This incident, in which a group of artists and creators who only wished to entertain others were murdered en masse, must be significant in modern world history.

Until the attack on Kyoto Animation, the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015, was considered the worst such incident in terms of the number of victims. Eleven caricature artists/journalists and a security guard were killed in that case.

Two French brothers who were Islamic extremists forced their way into the headquarters of the weekly political satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo and attacked with rifles and other weapons.

I realize that these two incidents should not be considered similar. However, I had good reasons for desperately wanting to read “La Legerete,” the Japanese title of which translates “Until I retrieved my lightness — Surviving Charlie Hebdo.”

The author of this bande dessinee (French graphic novel) is Catherine Meurisse, a manga artist who worked for Charlie Hebdo for 10 years. She describes the day of the attack, when she just happened to be late to work and so escaped the disaster. Meurisse joins in putting together the edition for Jan. 14, when Charlie Hebdo issued its first paper after the incident, but discovers she can’t draw anymore. “I clearly felt that a part of my brain was damaged,” she said.

After the final proofs are finished, she finds that her memory is frequently interrupted, and the doctor diagnoses her with a dissociative disorder resulting from extreme stress.

On Jan. 11, demonstrations protesting the incident were held all over France. Meurisse also goes out to participate, but finds that she can’t endure the tsunami-like wave of support, which smothers her soon after being overwhelmed by tsunami-like violence.

She leaves France to travel around the world, in search of beauty that will make her faint, in order to recover the “lightness” she was robbed of.

I think the “lightness” refers to Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” but it must also refer to her interpretation of the Charlie spirit, “laugh away life’s stupidity, and do not fear anything.” The scene from Meurisse’s band dessinee that moved me most is the scene in which her deceased former colleagues appear in front of her and start cracking vulgar jokes about the two culprit brothers, making Meurisse laugh out loud.

It’s hard to imagine just how much she must have struggled before she was able to draw this. Meurisse’s “lightness” now has more “weight” and significance due to her being subjected to this ordeal.

Abhorrent massacres not only end the lives of the people who were killed, but also damage the lives of the survivors. Animation is a medium that displays “lightness,” just like manga. Kyoto Animation has been expressing this lightness at the highest possible level of skill, technique and imagination. I sincerely don’t want this studio to lose its lightness. As a fan myself, I can only pray and hope.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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