Shiroyama, the heroine of Okamoto Kazuhiro's shoujo manga Translucent (Dark Horse), is a girl with a problem. Afflicted with a mysterious condition called Translucent Syndrome, the middle schoolgirl regularly turns invisible. It's a gradual process, occurring every four weeks or so ("about the same cycle as my period," Shiroyama says). The first parts of her body to be affected are her lower arms and legs; when she bends and retrieves a fallen eraser in class, we see it seemingly floating as she holds it up before her.
Nobody knows the degree to which Translucent Syndrome will effect each of its sufferers, though some eventually remain fully and irrevocably invisible. We meet one such figure in volume one, a woman named Keiko Haruna, who runs her own glass studio ("Even though they're transparent, you can see 'em," she tells Shiroyama) and is visually distinguished through her clothes, eyeglasses and an ever-present cigarette dangling from her invisible mouth. Keiko has retreated into her studio, where the life of a solitary artist largely suits her condition. ("People like us," she tells our heroine, "are better off just alone.") But for Shiroyama, who has dreams of becoming a stage actress, her syndrome is particularly troublesome.
With the aid of her artist boyfriend Tadami, our heroine attempts to cover up her budding transparency with foundation, but her eyes and mouth prove especially problematic. "If I go completely transparent," she asks Tadami at one point, "don't forget what I look like, okay?" Tadami, who already has her visage captured in his artist's memory, promises to do so. Later, when the girl has gone fully invisible for what seems to be the first time, he is able to demonstrate his commitment to that promise.
Reading Translucent, I found myself more than once thinking back to a first season episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which centered on a mousy Sunnydale High Schooler who became an invisible killer after years of being ignored by her classmates. Though the cause of Translucent Syndrome is still unknown at the end of the first book, at some level, it seems to work much the same way. But where Marcie, the invisible femme in Joss Whedon's teenaged horror series, predictably turned psycho killer, the heroine in Translucent strives to accept her fate with good grace. While she dreams of being an actress, Shiroyama is at heart an introvert who has largely gone through life not being noticed. "Sometimes I don't even know," she tells Tadami, "whether I'm really here or not." It's her transparency, ironically, that's made her more noticed among her schoolmates, including the class' popular golden girl Okouchi, who envies Shiroyama's seeming ability to walk down the hall unseen.