By Julie Opipari
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit is a thought-provoking series set in a dystopian Japan, where one in a thousand citizens is chosen by lottery to die. Upon entering elementary school, all citizens are forced to take part in the National Welfare Immunization. A nanocapsule is injected into each child, and one lucky recipient out of every one thousand will die between the ages of 18 and 25. Sounds like a great place to live, huh?
The reason for this death by lottery is to instill a fear of death in everyone, so that they value life more. It also helps to keep the peace, because anyone who speaks out against the National Welfare Act is branded a social miscreant, and bad, bad things happen to them. They are brainwashed or injected with a nanocapsule themselves. What a wonderful way to scare the crap out of the populace and keep them in line!
The series is told through episodic chapters that follow the lucky recipients of the ikigami, or death papers. There are a few reoccurring characters, the most important being Fujimoto. Fujimoto is a delivery man by trade; it’s his job to deliver the ikigami to those citizens who have been injected with the death capsules. He can only deliver the papers 24 hours prior to the scheduled time of death, and his job quickly begins to take a toll on him. Think about it – how could you keep getting up and heading to the office if you knew that you would be telling some young person that they were going to die within 24 hours? Ugh! I wouldn’t just hate Mondays. I would pretty much hate every day I had to do that.
At the start of the series, Fujimoto is idealistic and eager to contribute to society. As each day goes by, however, he begins to develop very dangerous thoughts. He begins to question the National Welfare Act, and begins to wonder what good it really does. Nobody is happier, the crime rate hasn’t decreased, and nothing much has changed. The only difference is that some young people, who haven’t had a chance to live life or make their dreams come true, are dying. That’s it.
I don’t usually like series that are presented in such an episodic manner, but the stories about the individuals who receive the ikigamis are full of emotion and suspense. I always wonder how they are going to react, because I know how I would feel if I were to receive one. It would not be a happy day in my life, and I wouldn’t be grateful for serving the government. A death shouldn’t benefit anyone, especially not the repressive government depicted in this series.
In addition to the tense vignettes, the art makes this series shine. Motoro Mase is master of capturing facial expressions. The illustrations give the emotional depth necessary to make this such a compelling series. Shock, anger, dismay, fear. There is a gamut of emotions that surges through each page of this comic, and you can’t help but get caught up in the rush of feelings.
Clocking in at 7 volumes, the series isn’t overwhelmingly long. The books are part of Viz’s Signature line, which means that they have a larger trim size and each volume weighs in at about 230 pages. The books are attractively put together, and the dialog flows naturally and just sucks you into each volume. If you are looking for an intelligent read that will give you something to think about, this might be just what you are looking for.
When Julie Opipari isn’t mucking around the barn, she can be found trying to make a dent in the massive pile of manga that keeps following her home from the bookstore. Not wiling to admit she has a problem, she blissfully continues to anticipate the latest releases despite the cries of agony from her credit card. She cheerfully blames her addiction on the stresses of college and post traumatic work disorder, and is grateful that her family grumbles only occasionally about the amount of time she spends buried in her books. In addition to reading Your Manga Minute every Wednesday, you can read more of Julie’s work on her blog, Manga Maniac Cafe.