TL;DR: I hated it.
I had high hopes, I’ll admit, when I picked up Start With a Happy Ending’s first volume. I’d heard a few folks give it praise, and it had an intriguing premise that also, delightfully, fell outside of the usual box of manga we get in North America. While I may be on an extreme shoujo kick now, I still itch for quirkier, more mature fare as well, my only limiter, it seems, being my own wallet. So Start With a Happy Ending seemed quite promising.
Wow, was I ever wrong.
I hated it. Loathed it. Found it completely repulsive. In fact, I didn’t even finish reading it, I was so repelled by it. I did take a second stab at it months later, as it seemed like everyone except myself loved it, but it stuck no better the second go-round than my first try. It was an odiously shallow book of knee-jerk conservatism, and I hated every page of it.
SWaHE is about people who have died who are given the chance to live for one more week, with the caveat that they are stuck as a cat. Each installment is quite short, averaging less than fifteen pages. And this is really the big issue with the entire thing – each story is much too short to have any depth. WHAM! Someone dies, they get the entire cat thing explained to them (which unnecessarily sucks up page space), are some variation of pissy or annoyed by their situation, and then over the course of the week they magically realize that they went about life TOTALLY WRONG. And, invariably, they went about it TOTALLY WRONG by not being keen on hewing to traditional, conservative ideals when it came to their behavior, aspirations, and choice in life paths. Unsurprisingly, most of the characters who feature are female. One of them dies because she trips while wearing heels. Really.
So, yes, I frigging despised this stupid manga, and I will be so happy to be rid of it.
On the technical side of things, the art is pretty simplistic, although I don’t think this is a bad thing. If the stories themselves weren’t such tripe, if they actually approached the central conceit with any sort of depth and weren’t addicted to ideas of propriety circa 1915, then I think the art would work perfectly well. The release itself comes from Digital Manga Press, and its a fairly standard release from them; nothing fancy, but perfectly competent.
But, ugh, I recommend this to absolutely nobody. The summary on the back of the volume may sound tempting to folks like me who want to read something other than High Schoolers Have Dramatics Involving Romance or High Schooler Is Actually Savior of the Known Universe, but the incredible shallowness to the proceedings ruins any good favor that was culled simply by going with something a bit out of the ordinary. There are so many other options for good, mature manga out there that its hardly worth it to waste your money on this clunker.