Ikigami 1

Motoro Mase – Viz – 2009 – 8+ volumes

Of all the series I wanted to go back to the beginning with, this is the one that needed it the least.  All the volumes of this series stand really well by themselves, and as long as you read the back of the book and know the premise, the two stories per volume are basically one-shots.

The advantage to reading volume one is that we see where Fujimoto began to doubt his job and the worth of the Ikigami system.  He is relatively ambivalent about it in the first story, but after a coworker is executed for expressing his disgust with the system, he is frightened by his job.  It also doesn’t help that his first case wound up being a young man who decided he would get revenge on those who bullied him in high school, one of those cases where the person gets the Ikigami and goes crazy.  To be fair, he had every reason to do so.  Points to Ikigami for pointing out that he should have done it years ago, when something like that would have mattered and the bullies would have remembered him.  That was the moral of the story, actually.

The second story is more sentimental, about a young man served with an Ikigami after ditching his musical partner in an attempt to get famous quickly.  His career move was a lousy one, and he struggles, but he winds up going out with a bang in one of the most ridiculously sentimental scenes in this admittedly schmaltzy series.  I usually like it, but not even I could really enjoy this second story by the end.

All the same, I do like this series.  The release pace is just right for it too, since I don’t think I could do more than one volume at a time.  It has an excellent premise, and I almost always enjoy the stories, but too much together will make me begin to doubt its raging sentimentality and probably ruin it.


Ikigami 4

Motoro Mase – Viz – 2010 – 7+ volumes

The overarching plot seems to continue to be a “live and let live” attitude towards the ikigami by the delivery man Fujimoto.  He seems to continue to weigh the pros and cons of the system, and investigates its past and the history of the public outcry and possible changing public perception.  Most of this volume weighs the cons, admittedly, as Fujimoto considers how children might be more well-behaved without the system and the stories themselves contain a lot of destruction and horrible crimes.  The moral of the survivors valuing life more after the incidents always comes through in the end though, and it was sweet in both stories.

The first story in the volume, “The Last Lesson,” has been my favorite in the series so far, but also made me feel horrible while reading it.  It’s essentially a story of a teacher with faith in his students being set up and disgraced as a pervert solely for having faith in the student.  And even then, he still has faith.  Don’t worry, this nice man will get an Ikigami.  I wasn’t sure where it was going at first, because I thought the kid doing the setup was too young and the teacher was too old.  I still didn’t quite understand, because… I mean, what a nice guy.  I suppose that’s the point of the random death, but still.  Of course, the nice man snapped and went on a rampage, but even then, he still had complete faith in the goodness of the students.  There was some seriously disturbing and scary stuff wrapped up in here that I don’t really want to talk about for fear of spoiling it, but it was an excellent read, and there were some great dynamic and tense art moments to help the action along.

The second story was a little less exciting, about a young mother and deadbeat dad having to deal with an ikigami.  I did see this ikigami coming, though the direction the story takes from there made it more interesting than it first seemed.  Even as one of the less exciting stories so far (and I say this only because the setup is pretty traditional), it still has a lot of good things going for it.  In addition to being hard to predict, it was also hard for me to completely give up on the family since it was clear that they were relatively happy aside from money problems and the little girl loved both parents.  And for as much of a deadbeat as the father is, he does care for his wife and daughter.

The first story alone is very much worth the price of admission.  I’m not a terribly big fan of episodic series, but each Ikigami chapter feels like it has something to say, and I’m continually drawn into the stories.  They appear mundane at first, but they always grow out of control and manage to wind up bittersweet every time.  It’s a pretty incredible read.  I also like the slower release schedule the series seems to be sticking to, since it really isn’t the type of story that can be enjoyed in a multi-volume reading session.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Ikigami 3

Motoro Mase – Viz – 2009 – 7+ volumes

I’m still enjoying this series immensely.  This volume again contains two stories.  “Life Out of Control” is about the neglected son of a campaigning politician who sees his death as a way to get revenge, and “The Loveliest Lie,” about a man who lost his parents in a car accident and has been trying his whole life to get into a situation where he can adopt his blind sister and give her a better life.  He is into crooked money-making schemes, so he lies to her continuously, even about his own death.

I know I shouldn’t be that impressed, but I was fascinated by the fact that these two stories offered two very different and not-exactly-0pposite takes on how to spend one’s last day.  I think I was more impressed with this volume because one of the stories last time, the one about the girlfriend dying, is more of what I would expect in these types of stories.  Revenge, and acting out an elaborate crime, is not a reaction I would expect from an ikigami, especially acting out against a family member, but that’s just me being completely uncreative.  Similarly, the scenario where the boy who’s worked hard to re-adopt his sister is surprising because I can’t imagine spending my last day hiding my death from my only family member.  Both situations are quite fascinating, and I enjoyed them immensely since I had no clue how they would resolve themselves, aside from the character’s deaths.

There’s still the over-arching narrative.  I’m probably missing out on some of this by not having read the first volume, but I was surprised that the National Welfare System (the reason the characters are dying is in an attempt to get people to realize the value of life) is quite popular among the citizens in the series, though to be fair it’s rather apparent that you aren’t allowed to speak out against it, too.  The main character of the series, the one who delivers the Ikigami papers, is having doubts about the rightness of the system, though he’s getting more and more comfortable with his job, too.  I liked that the last story involved him directly, though he wound up breaking several policies to help out.

It’s fascinating.  I could do with several more volumes of just these stories, if they continue to be as different from one another as these last two volumes.  I’m still not all that interested in the delivery man or his thoughts, but seeing him struggle with his job is interesting, and puts the deaths in context since, especially in this volume, everyone else always seems to be okay with the randomness of them.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Ikigami 2

Motoro Mase – Viz – 2009 – 7+ volumes

Wow, this was fantastic.  Much better than I thought it was going to be.  For some reason, I caught a supernatural detective vibe from it, even knowing it was about a society where a person is randomly selected to die in order to act as an example of why life is precious.  I think I naturally assumed the plot would run to the main character (who is the bearer of bad news for the unlucky) helping the victims to escape and live.  It’s not that at all.  It’s about how different characters in the one-shot episodes value their lives and how they choose to live their last day (the notice comes 24 hours before they will expire due to a drug in their system, injected during childhood into the entire population but only actually killing 1 in 1,000).

I was sold by the time I finished this volume.  There are two episodes, and while the first one was fascinating, I nearly teared up at the second episode.  The first was about a young man who had been working his way up from the bottom of the food chain for the chance to be a director.  When he finally gets his chance, he gets into a fight with his girlfriend, who is upset over his drug use.  Then the death notice comes, and the young man begins to appreciate all the things his girlfriend has been nagging him about over the years.  It had more of a taste of the cautionary tale than I like, but there was a little twist in the middle that I did not see coming, and the relationship between the girlfriend and the young man, along with all the fights and feelings they had together, were spot-on.  I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t quite sell me on the series.

The second episode features a younger boy who dropped out of public school after junior high and decided to be a nurse at a nursing home.  Everyone there constantly scolds him, and he can’t seem to do anything right, but he feels that he is doing something worthwhile with his life, especially when one of the problem patients starts opening up to him.  Then his death notice comes.  The difference between the two stories was probably that this was a more sympathetic character, a young boy who felt he was finally touching lives when the old woman started talking to him versus a drug-addicted young man who wants to direct films.  Both are dreams in a way, I suppose.  The other difference is that the young boy didn’t have a girlfriend or anyone else to depend on, so the story took a look at the counseling the government provides for victims.  The counseling had a strong impact on the main character of the series, the man who delivers the death notices, but the method of counseling someone who will be dead the next day didn’t really strike me until the end of the story, where the counselor admits to her true methods.

I loved it.  I’m curious to see the paths that all these stories will take, and how many different types of people will work their way through the last day of life.  It’s an interesting premise, and I’m happy to see that it sticks to the main theme instead of trying to overthrow the system or something like that.

It also reminded me a lot of The Embalmer, by Mitsukazu Mihara.  I like both for different reasons… but then again, part of The Embalmer takes place in Pittsburgh, so I think I have to give the “series with a main character who works in death used as a framing device for short stories about coping with death” award to that one, for now.  But the short stories in Ikigami are a bit more developed and emotionally striking.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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