Life Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B

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  • Art Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 216
  • ISBN: 1-59532-931-5
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Life Vol. #01

By Sakura Eries     May 02, 2006
Release Date: April 01, 2006

Life Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Keiko Suenobu
Translated by:Michelle Kobayashi
Adapted by:

What They Say

The Review
Because this is a review of an "Advance Uncorrected Proof" I won't provide a formal grade on packaging or text/ translation. However, I will make one comment. My copy includes a 1-page epilogue written by a clinical psychologist on the nature of "cutting," and how those struggling with self-injury can get help. It's reminiscent of postscripts TV shows have following episodes spotlighting weighty issues (i.e., homelessness, eating disorders, suicide, etc.) While I found those TV spots somewhat cheesy (I'm old enough to remember Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" spots-- ugh...), I do commend TOKYOPOP for including it into this title considering Ayumu's problems don't look like they'll be wrapped up neatly in one 30 minute episode.

Suenobu's story is more about Ayumu's emotional response to the events around her rather than the actual activity in her life. As such, she uses 26 pages to describe events that span several weeks (from Ayumu's decision to try to get into Nishidate to taking the actual exam), but she uses 15 pages to depict Ayumu's anguish after her final rejection by Shi-chan. And by the way, those 15 pages are rather intense. Suenobu does an effective job of conveying the depth of Ayumu's anguish through a combination of distorted images and flashbacks, screentones, and symbolic action sequences (the most eerie of which is where Ayumu is depicted as the blood coming out her wound). She also does a good job of intensifying the tension between Ayumu and Shi-chan by using screentones and minimizing detail to gradually make the other people around them seem like so much background static. Suenobu uses the same technique later on to convey Ayumu's isolation in her new school. However, she uses the bangs-completely-covering-her-character's-eyes-because-the-emotion-of-the-scene-is-too-overwhelming technique a little too much for my taste.

Emotional illustrations aside, her character designs are mediocre. The only difference between Shi-chan and Ayumu, it seems, is that Shi-chan's hair is shaded slightly lighter than Ayumu's. There's a picture of the two of them taken together at the beginning of the manga, and they look almost identical in the photo. There is also an intense action sequence at the very end of the manga that, while it conveyed the chaos of the moment, the detail of the action was unclear.


Ayumu is a junior high school student who is struggling academically. When she learns that her best friend Shi-chan, who is at the top of their class, is aiming to get into the prestigious Nishidate High, she's unwilling to be separated from Shi-chan and decides to apply for the same school. Ayumu studies like crazy for the entrance exam, even resorting to stabbing her hand with a compass to stay awake through the night. When the results come back however, it is Ayumu and not Shi-chan that makes the cut. Shi-chan is incensed and resentful and makes it clear to Ayumu that she blames Ayumu for her failure and their friendship is over. Overwhelmed by feelings of rejection and guilt, Ayumu resorts to cutting herself to deal with the confusion inside her.

Ayumu begins school at Nishidate and keeps to herself, unwilling to risk the pain of another friendship gone sour. However, a classmate, Manami, all but crashes though the barriers that Ayumu has set up and becomes her friend. At first, it appears as if Manami is what Ayumu needs to help her out of her shell, but soon her relationship with Manami seems to become the very thing preventing her from breaking out of isolation. Then, to make things worse, Manami suffers a rejection of her own, a breakup with her boyfriend that puts her on the verge of desperate measures.

"Life" deals with some very tricky, complex issues, and for that, I commend Suenobu. The main characters are definitely not your genki, forever optimistic high school girls. Having said that though, I do have some problems with how Suenobu sets up her story. The schism between Shi-chan and Ayumu is due to the fact that Shi-chan does not get into the school of her choice and Ayumu does. The reason for Ayumu's better grades is obvious, but Shi-chan's drop is never really explained. Also, for Shi-chan to blame Ayumu for dragging her grades down because Ayumu asked for her help is really lame (to know a topic well enough to explain it to someone else means you really understand the subject matter-- this I know from experience. I was the class brain in high school AND university, and EVERYONE was asking me for help).

It's very difficult for me to relate to Ayumu. At the beginning of the story, she doesn't seem to be the sort that only has one friend in the entire world, but after Shi-chan's rejection, she certainly acts like it. While I can see that she would be deeply affected, I find it odd that she doesn't try to talk to other friends, especially since she makes the attempt to talk to her mother (Wow! Not a whole lot of American teens would do that!) about her problem! I must say though, that Suenobu's portrayal of Ayumu's mother is right on (which is probably a sad social commentary). Mom's so wrapped up with the academic problems of her younger daughter, she doesn't see Ayumu's cry for help. Hers is the "Well, she's doing great academically so that means nothing can possibly be wrong!" attitude.

Manami is difficult to figure out. It's not clear why she approaches Ayumu and then makes Ayumu more approachable to their classmates only to wind up isolating Ayumu again. It's hard to tell if she's doing it on purpose or not. At any rate, she has got a hold on Ayumu, and it doesn't look like it's a relationship for the better. The way Manami looks at the end of Volume 1 makes me think that at least one person will be dead by the time the this series ends.

This manga is rated 16+ for graphically disturbing images and mature themes including self-mutilation, teen sex, and attempted suicide.


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