Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Manga Review: Life (volume one)

I remember seeing this title in the back of some Tokyopop books before and thought it looked a bit out of place, like it was much more serious than TP's normal fare. But I do like reading books with a more serious plotline so I was curious to see how a shojo manga (as opposed to a josei manga, stories aimed at girls versus stories aimed at women) would handle themes such as bullying and cutting.

Life by Keiko Suenobu

Summary: It’s time for the high school entrance exams and Ayumu doesn’t think she’ll do that well but asks her super smart friend for help studying anyway. Lo and behold she gets in and, because of the time she spent tutoring instead of studying,  her friend does not and blames her for it. Ayumu, already feeling guilty about this, begins to crack under the pressure and finds that cutting releases her from the pain for a little bit and the story spirals downwards from there.

The Good: Wow, now that’s a realistic shojo there, I can’t remember the last time I came across any story that really dealt with the character cutting themselves to ease depression, usually a character will do it once, freak out, and never do it again. It’s also done in a very sympathetic manner so the audience, instead of being grossed out or outright dismissing the character, really does understand why they are in so much mental pain/self doubt and it’s impressive that the manga-ka manages to make that connection in just the first volume.

The Bad: I do question how Ayumu was able to go from a below-average student to getting into a semi-exclusive high school (there were hints of her being a slacker and that she just scrapped by but still) yet her friend couldn’t. Mainly, her friend stops tutoring her a month in advance to focus more on her own studies and, even knowing that these exams are super tough, it was said earlier in the series that she could’ve gotten into a school that was implied to be even more exclusive academic wise. It therefore sounds like she already had all the skills/knowledge to pass the tests so why didn’t she? I doubt that will ever be addressed within the story but it does bug me. I also question how Ayumu keeps getting involved with people who will end up hurting her, just questioning the odds of it, and I found it hard to sympathize with her newer friend, since that goes into spoilers I’m going to put it in a foot note*. Also worried that any future friends of Ayumu will fill the same role, pretending to be nice but really just dragging her deeper into this mess.

The Art: The art makes this look like a standard shojo which I think adds a shock factor to the manga (you expect these girls to be talking about guys, not being mentally broken) and I did like that. Flowed well and looked consistent for the rest of the story, Ayumu looks a bit too stocky to me compared to the other girls but that’s more of an atheistic choice than anything else, so both the art and story are solid here.

I'd like to read more of this series but this is a Kodansha title, ie, back in 2009 Kodansha canceled their contract with TP and only nine out of the twenty volumes have been published so far with no indication that the rest will be anytime soon. Kodansha is starting to publish books on their own now (like the Sailor Moon reprints I believe) so fingers crossed that they finish the rest of their series as well!

*Essentially her friend tries to commit suicide (and probably will again) because she got dumped and her dream was to marry this guy and, as an upper-middle class girl in the US, I just have a hard time sympathizing. This is more of a cultural difference than anything else (again) but it’s still so alien for me to think of girls going to a semi-exclusive, academically competitive school having no greater desire in life than to be married and be a housewife, makes it very hard to sympathize with her, even if she hadn’t been as obviously manipulative and fake as she was.


  1. what is the japanese title of this book?Where can i read this manga?
    please reply :)
    I'm waiting for it!

  2. In Japanese it's Raifu (ライフ) and if you want to read it you can go online or to a brick and mortar store and buy it or you can do what I did and see if your local library has a copy.