Ikigami Vol. #03 (Mania.com)

By:Greg Hackmann
Review Date: Friday, November 13, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The first story is uncannily like one we've seen before, and the second has the series branching out a bit; but neither approach works quite well enough.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Motoro Mase
Translation: John Werry
Adaptation: Kristina Blachere

What They Say
Congratulations! You have been randomly selected by the government...to DIE in 24 hours! R to L (Japanese Style). Sometimes people do "shoot the messenger": Featuring Episode 5: Life Out of Control & Episode 6: The Loveliest Lie Dear Citizen: Thank you for your loyalty. You've no doubt noticed that the world is a troubled place. People are apathetic, lazy, unmotivated. You've probably asked yourself Why isn't anything being done to stop this systematic decline? Rest assured that measures are being taken. Beginning today, we will randomly select a different citizen who will be killed within 24 hours of notification. We believe this will help remind all people how precious life is and how important it is to be a productive, active member of society. Thank you for your continued attention and your cooperation and participation...

The Review!
It's rarely a good sign when, just three volumes in, a series starts repeating basic storylines.  That's the situation with this volume's opening story, "Life Out of Control": like in Ikigami's very first story arc, "Life" tracks a shut-in ikigami recipient who spends his last day alive trying to get revenge on his perceived tormenters.  While the circumstances surrounding the protagonists' withdrawals from society are fairly different -- "Life"'s Naoki Takimoto snaps after being used as a pawn in his mother's political career -- they otherwise follow reasonably similar trajectories, right down to Fujimoto being informed that his former clients are roaming the city with a stolen weapon.  (To be fair, Mase doesn't try to hide that he's repeating story elements: Fujimoto's inner monologue explicitly references the former ikigami delivery at one point.)

Unfortunately, the repeated plot points aren't this arc's only problem.  Where the series's opening act at least had the benefit of novelty, "Life"'s predictable storyline just doesn't pack enough real content to justify its length.  From the moment that Naoki receives his ikigami, it's obvious that his mother is going to continue using his life to her own political ends; so a large part of the arc has the reader simply waiting for Naoki to make his inevitable move, which gets dull before long.  "Life"'s coda is probably its only real surprise -- after some heavy-handed moralizing, Mase teases at a "hero" who may try to interfere with Fujimoto's career in the long term.  At this point, it's anybody's guess whether he intends to actually follow through on this twist.

The follow-up story "The Loveliest Lie" is a little bit better, though it has issues of its own.  In "Loveliest", the protagonist Satoshi agrees to take in his blind sister, pending an operation that will restore her eyesight.  After Fujimoto hands Satoshi an ikigami, he decides to speed up the process by donating his own corneas to his little sister, intending to keep his death (and the source of her new corneas) a secret until after the operation.  The way the story progresses from this point is kind of interesting, because Fujimoto actually plays an active part in the story: he first trips up by letting Satoshi's sister find out about the ikigami, and then enlists the hospital staff to cover up his mistake until the operation is over.

Most of this story's problems stem from this cover-up scheme, which reads like a bad sitcom plot; the silliness of Satoshi's plan demands a major suspension of disbelief from the reader, and it's not interesting enough to be stretched out as long as it is.  The writing also suffers from being excessively saccharine, to the point that I effectively tuned out of the ending.  But despite "Loveliest"'s significant flaws, there's some welcome growth here too: Satoshi has a particularly well-developed back story which adds some weight that's been lacking in the series until this point.  I also have to give Mase credit for trying to involve Fujimoto more directly in the plot; the execution needs work, but at least it gives some hope that Mase will try to mix things up a bit more in later volumes.

In Summary:
With another pair of mediocre stories, I'm starting to wonder if Ikigami already wore out its welcome at the end of the first chapter.  That's not to imply that Ikigami is an awful series -- I've read far, far worse -- though it is among the most frustrating I've ever read, if only because its debut chapter showed a lot of promise in the basic concept.  Even with the (relatively minor) improvements in this book's second half, both of the included stories were disappointingly bland; what should be simple high-concept plots are overextended to multi-act acts that too often dull the narrative focus by resorting to cheap sentimentalism.  As much as I want to like this series, this volume only demonstrates how badly it could use some tightening up.

Mania Grade: C
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translation Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 and Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 12.99
Pages: 210
ISBN: 978-1421526805
Size: A5
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Ikigami