Manga-ka: Motoro Mase
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: May 2009
Synopsis: “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… Congratulations! You have been randomly selected by the government… to die in 24 hours!”
It was the unconventional summary on the back of Ikigami volume one that spurred me into buying it. I’m a sucker for dystopian fiction, anything from 1984 to Battle Royal. From the two stories in this volume, Ikigami looks to be a fine addition to the genre.
Ikigami does a nice job of blending its episodic stories with the bigger picture. Each story arc focuses on a person who has just received an ikigami, a notice telling them that the nano chip implanted in them as a child will explode in 24 hours, killing them. Not everyone has a chip. The process is completely random and a complex, bureaucratic system is in place so that only a few people know where the nano chips are.
Just as there’s no way of knowing who has the chip, there’s no way of knowing how someone will react when told that they have one day to live. The first story features a young man named Yosuke who was bullied in high school and hasn’t done much since then. After receiving his ikigami, Yosuke decides to use his final hours to track down the people who made his life miserable back in high school. As expected, the story goes to some very dark places. What’s unexpected is that it somehow manages to end on a twisted yet hopeful note, even becoming inspiring in a morbid sort of way.
Luckily, there’s more to Ikigami than just bad people doing nasty things. The second story involves a young up-and-coming pop star called Torio Tanabe. Torio is the guitarist and back-up singer in a j-pop duo, but before that he sung songs on the street corner with his friend Hidekazu. Hidekazu and Torio broke off their friendship when Torio decided to sign with a major label (and in Hidekazu’s opinion, sell out). Now that Torio only has 24 hours to live, he wonders if maybe Hidekazu had been right after all. Torio has to decide how he can use his remaining time to set things right.
The one thing that connects these two very different stories is the manga’s main character, Fujimoto. Fujimoto is a messenger, meaning that it’s his job to personally deliver the ikigami to its recipient. Fujimoto is past the age where he has to worry about being killed by the government (the nano chips are set to detonate between the ages of 18 and 24) however he still has some personal misgivings about the job. It’s through him that we learn more about the system and the logic behind it. I already want to keep reading just to see where Fujimoto’s doubts and concerns lead him.
The art in Ikigami is solid and interesting. I really love a manga-ka who knows how to use a splash page, and Motoro Mase doesn’t disappoint (the splash page showing rows of children getting their vaccinations [and possibly a lethal nano chip] is chilling). The layouts are great for building suspense, something vital in a thriller like this. For the most part the character designs are interesting and varied, though Hidekazu and Fujimoto appear a bit too much alike for my liking. There are very few pretty people in this series, giving it a nice sense of realism.
Ikigami is a series that already has hooked me. If you like your speculative fiction dark and gritty, then this is the manga for you.