Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (2010), vol.4 is written and illustrated by Motoro Mase. It is rated M: Mature readers. List price is $12.99USA. Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit was originally serialized in Young Sunday manga magazine. After reading four volumes, this series is still captivating to me for several reasons 1)character driven stories and 2) often suspenseful and moving 3) interesting world/society
“If you have any objections, I’ll hear them in hell.” – Ikigami recipient on the war path
The basic premise of this graphic novel revolves around a social program in Japan called The National Welfare Act. The Act is suppose to make citizens appreciate life by making everyone confront their mortality. The National Welfare Act dictates that every child entering the first grade must be immunized with a nanocapsule that causes the recipient’s death between the ages of 18 and 24. Each child immunized has a 1:1000 chance of receiving the “Ikigami” or “death papers” that gives them the time and date of their death. Their death is labeled as “honorary” and is required for the social health of the nation.
In each volume we are introduced to the people whose lives are impacted by the Ikigami. Some characters use their last 24 hours to do some act of kindness while others are moved to act in a violent manner. Each of the stories thus far have been rather moving. As usual, we are given two great stories. The first one, “The Last Lesson” is about a teacher who believes that it is the fault of the parents and teacher’s that kids behave poorly. He’s always saying that “children can do no harm.” Yet he is the victim of a prank pulled by one of his students that unfortunately gets him fired.
The second story titled, “A Place of Peace” follows a couple who married young and had a kid against their parent’s wishes. The young father is a car geek who is badly in debt and lacks maturity for his age. His wife struggles with raising their asthmatic daughter, the debt and competing with a car for her husband’s attentions. Things go downhill further when an Ikigami lands at their doorstep.
The Ikigami seems so cruel and it takes it toll on Fujimoto, one of the few recurring characters in this series. He works at the Ward Office and hand delivers the death papers to the recipients. He sees first hand how the Ikigami diminishes people’s hopes and dreams. After being on the job for several months, he’s learned to live with it but at the same time, he is unconvinced that the Welfare Act does anything to make people value life.
Each story is a morality tale and yes, I enjoy them. This volume goes into a little of the backstory behind The National Welfare Act and explains it’s origins. Also, we get to see a little more dissent but as we are reminded it is difficult to escape this law or even speak publicly about it in a negative way. We do learn that there might be dissent but it is quietly building up. The Japanese government likes to manipulate facts in order to paint a positive picture that society is still loyal to the Welfare Act when it actuality it is not.
The stories are character driven and the artwork is great. This is one of the few graphic novel series I’ve enjoyed reading and plan to continue to keep up with. If you’re looking for gritty, captivating and often moving stories set up in a world where people are slowly but surely trying to combat government oppression, then you should read Ikigami. It is excellent reading. B+.
Note: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, vol.5 should be out in stores now…off to find my copy.