Manga-ka: Keiko Suenobu
Publisher: Vertical Inc
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2012
Synopsis: “Mizuki Konno is your typical high school junior at Yanno Prefectural High School. Like many teens her age, she is studying hard for college and when she has some downtime she likes to fuss over fashion and make-up. While she may not be one of the class elites, Mizuki is fortunate to be on the right side of her class’s idols. But that might not settle well with those who are in a similar academic status but not so lucky with their social lives.
Mizuki has determined in her diary who is a “have” and who is a “have not.” The diary is discovered before a class fieldtrip and tensions are now at new heights. Fights may soon break out – and ironically they will come from those “meek and helpless” figures who supposedly have no friends or future. But all this is supplanted when tragedy strikes in the form of a traffic accident and the class is split into two new groups: the living and the dead!”
The Limit is an unsettling and disturbing shoujo manga that looks past the sparkling wonderland of fashionable gals and pretty boys. It takes a cruel, hard look at high school life without the gloss normally painted over it in most manga. The story is told from the perspective of a seemingly cute, peppy girl named Konno, but even before the tragic incident that fuels the plot, one is given a feeling of the fierce hierarchy these girls live in. After a horrific bus accident, the survivors are left stranded in the wilderness, with nary a magical fairy or giant robot in sight.
This is a world where boys exist on the periphery. Where the most popular girl in school is both the main character’s best friend and an absolute psychopath. It’s a fragile world held aloft by bullying, cruelty and Konno avoiding adult choices, symbolized by the traffic light she visualizes in her head indicating whether or not she should “go”. This is contrasted against her classmate Arisa, whose name she can’t remember when she witnesses her helping an old drunk on the way to school. Konno’s reaction to this event is one that would of been expected of her by her pressuring peers, yet is also one that may of helped lead to their predicament.
Many manga are tales of students caught in disasters, yet unlike Dragon Head or Drifting Classroom, The Limit’s setting isn’t fantastical. There are no cliches, there’s no fanservice. Just the entirely real possiblility of being stranded alone in the wilderness, and of losing your friends, teachers and loved ones in an accident. Grief, despair and survival fuel all the characters of The Limit in different ways. Konno faces the decisions she made as part of her clique that led her to abandon her beliefs, while Moriko descends into a fantasy fueled by the dreams of vengeance againster her tormentors.
Some may find the tone of the book deeply unsettling. Teens may be unsettled by events in the book that despite the horrific setting, mirror their lives. Older readers will reflect back on their time in high school, and the choices they made, as well as those of their classmates. Yet this is also a great strength, as these are topics rarely discussed in manga like this. The Limit is very much so in the realm of serious young adult fiction, the kind of books kids love to read that deal with subjects that mean a lot to them but may offend some overly protective moms. It’s fantastic in this sense, and in terms of the kind of discussion it could cause among readers. This isn’t a pleasant side distraction, it’s a main course, something to take in even if it’s unpleasant, and I look forward to reading more of Konno, Arisa and Moriko’s story.
Keiko Suenobu has had some exposure in the North American manga market with her series Life published by Tokyopop. It was similar in tone, dealing with a variety of societal issues, but her art has taken on a more polished look that serves some of the more action oriented scenes of this series. Konno looks like the usual shoujo lead with her cute hair and wide eyes, yet this is contrasted with her inner turmoil. This helps to push the books themes, grounded in reality, a situation that’s entirely possible in the real world. Suenobu’s art has more realistic approach, with supporting chartacters looking more like something out of an Urusawa book, particarly the mad cartoonist Moriko. Suenobu also manages an odd balance, making you feel sympathetic of the characters yet also cringe at them, something reflected in both the writing and the cold occasionally sinister expressions that surface on their school girls’ faces. The series never goes over the top, keeping itself grounded, but still leaving one in awe at the situation these girls are facing.
Vertical has packaged the book in the usual small shoujo format, in a trade dress that matches it’s japanese release and a tad shorter than the usual VIZ or Yen Press book, but in a way that makes for a more intimate read, and compliments the layout of the original. The stark cover design makes for a bold statement, and will make the set look quite nice once all 6 volumes are released. While at a more standard price and format than their other releases, their high production values nevertheless elevate it above other manga releases, with an excellent translation that doesn’t mind using occasionally domestic slang that suits its teens, rather than drowing us in attempts to slavishly mirror the literal translation. Honorifics being used less often also adds to the atmosphere, lending to the isolated aspect of the setting.
To help ensure this excellent work doesn’t escape, make sure to pick up a copy as quickly as possible. The Limit is one of those series you’ll regret not collecting as a change of pace from most overly dramatic, nonsensical shoujo manga.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures