Lord of the Flies meets Heathers?
I name-checked the two tales referenced by the blurb on the very back of this book in part because I find myself quite pleased with how apt a choice these two are – the physical setting ends up being very Lord of the Flies, while the social landscape that ends up coloring what happens once that physical state is achieved is very much of the Heathers variety. I think it also ends up being a good choice since the tone of Limit is, to me, somewhere between the two – its actually a shade darker than Lord of the Flies (really) while not getting quite as twisted (so far) as Heathers ultimately is. Sure, the vicious children of Lord of the Flies eventually chase one of their weaker members off of a cliff, but stabbing with sharpened sticks is limited to actual pigs and not other people. Yet Limit also hasn’t quite gotten to the calculated yet joyful killing spree that Heathers gives us, either (“Dear Diary, My teen angst has a body count!”)
Put somewhat differently – Lord of the Flies has Serious Things to Say, while Heathers is a black comedy, so while Limit does have Serious Things to Say, it isn’t twisted to the extent that Heathers is.
Limit has a fairly simple set-up – a high school class trip goes horribly wrong when the bus the class is traveling in plunges off a cliff, killing almost everyone on board. Among those left alive is Mizuki Konno, a member of the popular crowd whose queen bee is one of those who doesn’t make it. Also left alive are the level-headed Chieko Kamiya, the meek Chikage Usui (whose leg has been broken in the accident), fellow queen bee hanger-on Haru Ichinose, and the unhinged outcast Arisa Morishige (called Mariko by some of the girls), who is thrilled at the deaths of most of her classmates as well as thrilled by the opportunity to finally be on top that is presented by their isolation and her ownership of a sickle that had been brought along on the trip by their homeroom teacher.
Konno is our POV in the story, and we learn fairly quickly that her willingness to support and help bully others in the story prior to the bus crash grew out a past experience – she stood up once for a friend of hers who was being bullied, only to end up as the target of choice instead, with the friend she defended even joining in. She decided afterward to never stick her neck out for anyone again, and while it doesn’t make her a noble character, one can appreciate why she is the way she is. It also sets her up as someone who isn’t weak-willed so much as very self-interested – she isn’t precisely afraid of being bullied herself, but instead unwilling to endure bad treatment on behalf of others who won’t stick up for her in return.
This first volume is fairly tightly plotted, and while we get to know Konno fairly decently, the others remains largely undefined. Usui suffers the most, as she’s immobilized by her broken leg and thus doesn’t seem to have a personality beyond being in pain and trying to not upset people so far. Morishige is just a formerly bullied girl gone mad, and her actions toward the end of the volume are what tip Limit into slightly darker territory than Lord of the Flies. Haru’s half-mad over the death of her queen bee, Sakura, and spends a good deal of the volume running around and shrieking to little end. Kamiya is definitely the most interesting of the other main characters; while the others show varying levels of dysfunction at some point in these chapters, Kamiya is clear-headed and calm despite their bad situation, to the point that it unnerves Konno – how can she be so calm in the face of something so awful?
While I did, on the whole, like this quite a bit (enough so that I just got back from buying volume two only a day after finishing volume one), things do get dramatically bad a bit more rapidly than I really liked – only a couple of days in and people are already getting sickles swung at them? And Morishige is so stereotypical from top-to-bottom – not only is she into drawing manga, but she’s into tarot cards AND she also draws manga of what her classmates will eventually suffer for their misdeeds and cruelties. I get that one of the big things in Limit is the reversal of fortunes, but Morishige is practically a caricature here; I hope she tones down a bit, but if we’ve already ramped up this much, its hard to see things getting made less extreme.
I’m surprised at the quality of Vertical’s release here – I’m assuming that the small page size is due to the Japanese release (American publishers have to work with what is available, after all – a good example is Girl Friends, which had surprisingly small page sizes as well), but the rest of the physical specifications here are entirely Vertical’s own choices. This is basically an extremely cheap paperback with fairly low quality paper and very soft covers – I can curl the volume up so much that I make a circle with the front cover before the book resists my efforts. It just flat-out feels flimsy. It isn’t even that I’m disappointed, exactly, but surprised, as I’ve never encountered such a cheap approach from a Vertical book before. I even compared it with other less fancy releases Vertical has done, such as Twin Spica, and with the of similar release vintage Flowers of Evil, and found that the cover is much softer and the pages are rougher. I can only conclude that Vertical felt Limit wasn’t going to perform as well, so they decided to cut costs when it came to the materials used in publishing.
That being said, Vertical remains ahead of the herd when it comes to the most important bit, which is the “translation”. I use quotes because that isn’t it, exactly, although it does encompass it – the volume reads smoothly, with no clunky sentences. There also isn’t a single mechanical error. And although the paper quality leaves a bit to be desired, the art is clearly reproduced; the art never looks fuzzy, and it never looks like the printing machine needed an ink replacement (which, admittedly, isn’t something you see very often in releases these days, although it had popped up in some of Kodansha USA’s releases in the past year).
I recommend Limit for anyone who likes shoujo but is tired of the dedication to carbon-copy romantic shenanigans that so much of the shoujo available in English is – or even people who are just tired of shoujo in English being all about romance, period. Also good for anyone who is sick of being told that all shoujo is crappy romance and who wants to prove to their friends (and enemies?) that there is more to the category than “does he hate me? does he love me?” tales (which, by the way, isn’t to slander shoujo romance itself but the badly-executed, unoriginal masses that unfortunately do make up a good chunk of the shoujo romance subcategory). All those folks aside, if you enjoy survival stories, Limit should scratch that itch ably… especially if, like me, Lord of the Flies was basically the Book of the Year to you when you read it for school when you were fifteen.
Oh, and, of course, this one’s perfect for disaffected Lost fans. Buy a copy for all your friends and neighbors who yowled at the conclusion of that show; they will thank you forever.