Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol. 1 and 2

ikigami vol 1

“Shit Gets Real: The Manga”

Every time I tried to look up volumes of Keiko Tsuenobu’s manga Limit on RightStuf, I kept having to wade through the listings for this manga, something which I must confess irritated me each and every time. But perhaps the repetition was a good thing, as the title itself ended up sticking in my head, even if I knew absolutely nothing about it beyond that. So when I saw a review of it pop up on one of the manga blogs, I decided to check the review out, and thought it sounded intriguing, which in turn meant that when I discovered that Viz has been releasing it in digital, well, here I am.

Fujimoto is something like a government-sanctioned angel of death, a Messenger who is a governmental employee whose job it is is to deliver “ikigami” (“death papers”) to citizens who have been marked for death by their very own government. It is a Japan of the National Welfare Act, a piece of legislation that decrees that not only must every person in Japan receive immunizations while they are in school, but that one out of every thousand of these immunizations contains a capsule designed to rupture on a pre-determined date between the eighteenth and twenty-fourth birthdays of the recipient, causing heart failure and killing the recipient almost immediately. All of this is in the name of promoting the value of life to the general public, as it will serve as a reminder of how precious and fragile life is – in theory.

Over the course of these two volumes, Fujimoto delivers four ikigami, and we are witness to the stories of those marked for death and of those around them. Fujimoto shifts around a bit himself during this time, from a young man unsure of his ability to do his job, to a more jaded individual whose concern for being the perfect worker has begun to slip (he stops to return a video to avoid late fees on his way to delivering one of the ikigami even though it means he’s late on his delivery). And while he displays some misgivings about the law that gave him his occupation in the first place, there’s little sign that he’s got deeper concerns about the policy itself, although he expresses disappointment at the effect his job has on his love life. I quite like this about Fujimoto – protagonists in these sorts of dystopian tales are often shown to us from the get-go as either people who intend to change things right away, or as bright-eyed innocents who then realize the true ugliness of the system with which they’re involved and move into the gung-ho “this must change!” phase. Fujimoto, though, simply comes across as a much more believable type – he’s not a bad person, but he’s also not terribly worried about the underlying policy that let’s him put food on his table every night. He’s a little doubtful about the use of the law, he’s a little dismayed at the inefficiencies of his office, but he hasn’t moved toward a more active questioning of circumstances.

As for the specific stories themselves, I felt like it all settled down quite a bit after the first tale, which featured rape, traumatic amputation of a couple of fingers, someone being burned with cigarettes, and another sexual assault. The first story feels like its just trying too hard to be edgy. The subsequent three stories felt much more carefully developed, such that I felt a real tension in the second and third stories when races against the clock occurred.

Ikigami is definitely a curious manga, as while I find the National Welfare Act itself horrifying, I can’t deny that two of the stories felt uplifting, ultimately. My favorite was the fourth story, which followed a clumsy young man working in a nursing home who finally finds his purpose in life. Its far and away the best story in the two volumes.

As for downsides… well, like I indicated before, the first story felt a bit on the cheap side – as if the author was trying very hard to insist to us that we need to take his manga seriously and it is not at all for the kids. I also was disappointed when the only story concerning a female victim of the National Welfare Act opted to focus on her boyfriend instead of herself; I’m sure someone will point out that it was an act of misdirection, I must note that the three male victims were the ones their stories focused on.

One other thing I wish to touch on quickly – this is a pretty American-looking title when it comes to the visuals. You won’t find any of the stereotypical features of manga-style art here, as author Mase Motoro wholly eschews the likes of large eyes, oversized boobs, and over-the-top hairstyles. I can’t help but wonder if this is part of why its had fairly low sales, since it doesn’t “look” the part.

Viz’s work here is fine, which is pretty much what I expect from them at this point – competent but not terribly flashy. I read these volumes in their digital editions, and I found the images and text crisp throughout. Unlike with some of Viz’s other earlier digital releases, Ikigami manages to avoid the chopping up of its full-page spreads, as it was released in right-to-left format.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit and am glad I picked it up. While I have been on a slight bit of a shoujo romance spree over the past year or so, I’m always on the look-out for titles targeted to an adult audience, and this hit the spot. I really hope more people will give it a try, as I’d like to see Viz licensing more manga like this.

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One Response to Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol. 1 and 2

  1. Kathryn says:

    I’m reading Ikigami right now too! I really like this series. I think the work is especially interesting when you consider two things: First, that it started serializing in 2005, a year in which there was a lot of public discourse concerning how Japan’s lack of an economic recovery was totally the fault of underprivileged young people; and second, that the “ikigami” death notices seem to function as an allusion to the “akagami” draft notices delivered to families during the Pacific War. The art reminds me of the style used in 20th Century Boys (except maybe not as charming, but then again not everyone can be Urasawa Naoki, I guess), and I appreciate the detailed backgrounds. I wish Viz would release more series like this too! And also do a better job of promoting them. It’s such a shame that the Viz Sig IKKI line has all but disappeared…

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