It's rare that I run across a book that can shift so quickly from clever to nauseatingly saccharine.
Writer/Artist: Motoro Mase
Translation: John Werry
What They Say
Congratulations! You have been randomly selected by the governmentto DIE in 24 hours! Please enjoy your final day and take pride in the fact that your death will inspire others to live life to the fullest! Welcome to the world of Ikigami, the Death Notice, where to keep citizens on the straight and narrow path of productivity and prosperity, each day a different citizen is selected for termination! View the last 24 hours through the very eyes of the people slated to die for their country with no hope of reprieve! What people do when they have no hope of survival will shock you to your core in this frightening, dark series of stories!
Dear Citizen: Youve no doubt noticed that the world is a troubled place. People are apathetic, lazy, unmotivated. Youve probably asked yourself: Why isnt anything being done to stop this systematic decline? Well, youll be happy to know measures are being taken. We, your government, have decided society needs a wake-up call. So 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 productive, active members of society. Thank you for your attention and your cooperation and participation in this new program.
Since this is one of Viz's premium-priced releases, the print quality is unsurprisingly a notch above most standard-priced manga volumes. (Like some of Viz's more recent "mature" releases, it's even an improvement on some of the earlier efforts coming out of their premium line.) I like to pick on contrast and black levels since those are the two areas where cheaper releases typically show some kind of visible flaw; no such problems with Ikigami, which has nice solid black tones throughout the book.
Disappointingly, there are no extras after the story.
The art has that typical middle-of-the-ground quality you see in most recent manga that makes it neither exceptionally good nor objectionably bad. It's consistently on-model and you can point to some fine detailing (like miniscule print on most of the syringes and documents in the art), but nothing blew me away as being fantastic.
The translation reads fine. Honorifics have been removed from the dialogue; Japanese SFX and signs are replaced with English lettering, with the exception of some small type on cards and forms that has been left untouched.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
In Ikigami, Mase presents a version of Japan where the government has found an unorthodox solution to its stagnant economy and plummeting birthrate: one in every 10,000 of the immunization shots required for first-grade is randomly contaminated with a capsule that will kill its recipient sometime between the ages of 18 and 24. The system of manufacturing and administering the injections has been carefully designed so that no one person knows who's received the capsules until just before they're scheduled to activate. 24 hours before activation, the government delivers the victim an ikigami (death paper) that informs them of their impending death and the subsequent compensation that their surviving family will receive. Though cruel, this system has managed to reinvigorate the Japanese economy, since young adults now enter society with the expectation that they literally might die tomorrow.
But that backstory isn't really the main drive of the narrative in this book; neither is the series's nominal protagonist, a government messenger named Yamazaki. The point of this exposition is to set up an elaborate excuse for having able-bodied adults who know that they have 24 hours to live; the main drive of the series comes from watching how they deal with their imminent deaths. The first -- and better-written -- of these two stories follows Yosuke Kamoi, who blames his shut-in lifestyle on the bullies who tormented him during high school. Yosuke spends the remaining 24 hours of his life carrying out a violent rampage against these bullies, despite the harsh legal penalties that his surviving family will face after he dies. What struck me about this story was that Make lets Yosuke's revenge plan stay in a morally grey region. Flashbacks to Yosuke's high-school experience clearly condemn how the bullies treated him; and yet there's an obvious futility to Yosuke spending his last 24 hours revisiting something that happened years ago, much less letting his high-school experience keep him from living a full life as an adult.
Unfortunately, the most compelling part of the book's second episode is the brief part where Yamazaki attends a lecture about how the tainted shots are manufactured, administered, and recorded. From that point on, things go downhill as the narrative shifts to Torio Tanabe, the backup guitarist for a trendy rock duo.
After Torio receives his ikigami, Mase dedicates most of the rest of the story to repeatedly beating the reader over the head with a sermon on The Value of True Friendship capped off with an insultingly sentimental ending. Harsh words, maybe, but not a bit of this story worked for me.
Ikigami clearly shows promise: I love the idea of exploring the last day in the life of a person who knows that he's going to die, and the first half of the book did a solid job of following through on that premise. On the other hand, the second half of the book is a big step down from the first part -- there's way too much Z-grade schmaltz mixed in there for my tastes. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the second half totally nullifies the interesting stuff going on in the first half; but since these two halves present such radically different directions for the series to take, I hesitate to recommend the series as a whole without first seeing which way Mase plans on taking later volumes.