Even if no one’s a straight-up villain, life can still give you a chance to be a hero.

Recently, a long-simmering controversy boiled to the surface when an 18-year-old Osaka resident brought a lawsuit against the prefectural government over schools forcing her to dye her naturally brown hair black in order to conform with dress codes. While Japan is, in certain ways, a conformist society, the schools’ policies have been loudly condemned by some critics in Japan.

One such critic is Japanese Twitter user @niichi021, an illustrator and manga artist who publishes his work under the name Niichi. Inspired by the real-life plight of the woman, Niichi decided to pen a short manga about how difficult and painful it must be to face such pressure from educational authority figures, in which we see a series of brief yet important moments in the life of schoolgirl Yukari (translations below each page).

Teacher: “Hey, you, there, girl! The school year’s just started, and you’ve already dyed your hair? Come with me!”

Yukari: “…okay.”

Yukari (thinking): “This sort of thing has happened to me so many times, so now I’m just like ‘Ugh, again.’”

Teacher (looking at certificate of Yurika’s natural hair color): “Hmmm…”

Teacher: “…Is that really your natural hair?”

Yukari: “…It’s natural. Can you see how it comes out like this?”

Teacher: “That’s okay. I’m really sorry. It’s just that…how should we handle this… If we let you keep your hair like that, other students might use it as an excuse to dye their hair the same color, and then things will start to get out of hand. I mean, we’re a private school, and we’ve got a reputation to protect…you know? So…we’re not going to force you, but if you could dye your hair a more normal shade….”

Yukari: “Teacher…”

Yukari (thinking): “What is ‘normal?’”

Yukari: “…I understand.”

Girl: “‘morning, Yurika!”

Yukari: “Good morning.”

Girl: “…So did they say something to you about your hair?”

Yukari: “Yeah. I guess it really stands out.”

Yukari (thinking): “I understand.”

Yukari (thinking): “A lot of people spend their days together at school, so to maintain order it’s necessary to draw a line somewhere. Your hair has to be black. Your skirt has to come down to your knees, your collar has to be nice and straight. You have to pretend to be a ‘normal person.’”

Boy: “…Huh?”

Boy: “Your hair, it’s black!”

Yukari: “Do you know each other?”

Boy: “You know, you seemed a lot more cheerful at the start of the school year welcome ceremony. Did you dye your hair?”

Yukari: “Yeah, I did. Is that your natural color?”

Boy: “Huh…so you dyed it. That’s too bad.”

Yukari: “What do you mean, ‘too bad?’”

Boy: “You know what I mean. Your hair was really beautiful. It was really beautiful on the day of the ceremony. I was in the row behind you, and I watched your hair blowing in the breeze and shining in the sun.”

Boy: “The way it sparkled was so beautiful. I was jealous. No matter how much I dye my hair -”

Teacher: “Hey, you, there, boy!”

Boy: “Uh oh! Catch you later.”

Yukari: “Yeah.”

Teacher: “You there, no running in the halls!”

Yukari: “Hey…”

Deliveryman: “Ms. Tachibana? This is the last box. Where should I put it?”

Yukari: “Oh, thanks. Right over here, please.”

Yukari (thinking): “That ended up being the last time that boy and I ever talked to each other. We didn’t have any classes together for all three years we were at that school. We never had another conversation, so I don’t know where he is now or even his name. ’Beautiful.’ I bet he doesn’t even remember saying that to me. He probably doesn’t even remember the girl with the light-colored hair.”

Yukari (thinking): “But I haven’t forgotten. Every time I open the curtain in the morning, I remember.”

Yukari: “Okay, guess I’ll start by unpacking these boxes.”

Yukari (thinking): “Every time the sun shines through my bangs, I remember the words you said.”

At just eight pages long, Niichi’s touching story has an emotional complexity that belies its short length. While she doesn’t want to dye her hair, Yukari is empathetic enough to at least partially understand the school’s position, even while yearning for the teacher to have a better understanding that, in this case, “normal” is a relative concept that doesn’t directly apply to her in the same way it would to her classmates. And most powerfully of all, it shows that sometimes a simple kind gesture can have a huge effect on someone’s life, and that it’s important to take the opportunity to do so when a chance presents itself.

Source: Twitter/@niichi021 via Jin
Images: Twitter/@niichi021 (1, 2)

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he never really though about dying his hair because it changed color on its own twice while he was growing up.