Shishunki Bitter Change and Consequences

Shishunki Bitter Change is not currently licensed in English.

With the utter deluge of new stories coming at us these days in the forms of television-style series, films, games, books, and the like, it’s entirely too easy to spot out patterns in the various moments they hit along the way, and even whole plot structures that get retread.

“Body swap” stories have made the rounds in this way dozens times. Freaky Friday wrote the literal book on it in 1972 (and then again in 1976… and 2003), and after that it’s continued to turn up as one-off episodes in cartoons, as the up-front story hook in anime darling Your Name, and as the entire gimmick of a long-running series of Scholastic children’s books. Wikipedia even has a curated list of places where the idea has been used.

The thing is, almost universally, this is relatively harmless in the end, usually being reversed inside of a day or two, with some Aesop about empathy learned along the way so that the plot can be closed out cleanly.

Well-worn and seemingly-predictable contrivances like this are what can make subversions so desperately fun – or, in the case of Shishunki Bitter Change, anywhere between curious and heartrending.

SBC only gives us the split-second before the conventional switch happens, which oddly leaves us with no context for how the character’s lives before the shift. Instead, we’re left to slowly fill that in as dual protagonists Yui and Yuuta come to terms themselves with the dramatic and very necessary changes to their lives.

And it’s got plenty of time to do that, because as of the time of writing, the series followed the two over the course of six years, with still no solid signs that the two will ever switch back.

sbcyui.png
Low-level anxiety is their new normal.

While most of the time you can get away with some goofy fish-out-of-water hijinks and call it a day for these stories, SBC shoots that attitude down almost immediately and attaches very real consequences to how well the two can adapt to each other’s lives.

Can’t laugh off Yuuta not being able to handle Yui’s strict parents; all of a sudden, he’s got to live up to some serious standards.

Pretty much impossible to confess to that cute boy now that you have the outward appearance of his best buddy.

And now, your social reputation is fully at the mercy of someone else’s good behavior, in case the constant uncertainty of your entire existence wasn’t enough for chronic anxiety.

Oh, and worse yet, the inciting incident happened while the characters were in elementary school, meaning that at this point they’ve spent most of their conscious lives outside of the bodies they were born in.

Which, by extension, means that Yui and Yuuta have to deal with the full brunt of puberty despite being woefully unprepared to handle their new bodies to begin with, and potentially being on the wrong side of health class to boot. And while the manga doesn’t show it explicitly, it’s still perfectly clear that puberty is a doubly confounding and terrifying experience when you’re entirely in the dark about the process.

That reaches forward, too – with the pair currently entering high school with no resolution to their situation in sight, there’s the question of how to plan for the entire rest of their lives given the very serious possibility that they’re terminally stuck in each other’s bodies.

Again, not that it would be that different at this point. After spending most of their formative years in each other’s bodies, the two are almost entirely different characters. Yuuta has predictably gone down the path of the headstrong and energetic tomboy, whereas Yui’s cemented her new status as a quiet, withdrawn boy.

It’s not hard to guess which one the stress of it all is getting to more.

There’s a ton more to unpack here – much of it issues of gender identity that are too hot to touch without a dedicated conversation or that I’m just unequipped to make an even-handed comment on – but suffice to say it’s refreshing to see a series tackle the long-term implications of what other series would make as a one-off joke, even if it is frequently distressing.

It’s what a lot of us nerd-types like about Star Trek: the unafraid dive into hypotheticals and willingness to follow them to their logical conclusions, even and especially when that takes us somewhere uncomfortable.

Feeling like you’re stuck in a person where you don’t belong happens to an awful lot of people over the course of their lives, after all – albeit usually metaphorically rather than literally. SBC takes that feeling, throws it headlong into the trickiest of situations to navigate, and lets the circumstances just twist a knife into these characters.

And twist and twist.

Here’s hoping the manga version of Shishunki Bitter Change ends on less of a bleak note than the original webcomic.

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