Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
Author: Motoro Mase
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Ikigami takes place in a not too distant future, in a country where the government has created the National Welfare Act: a law that means that one in one thousand of its citizens will die to help the rest to see the value in life. This is done through an injection given to every child, most of which are harmless but one contains a nanocapsule that is set to give the recipient a heart attack when they are between eighteen and twenty-four. The process is done so nobody knows which syringe contains a capsule until twenty-four hours before it kills them. The story follows Fujimoto, a civil servant who delivers this news by giving them an ikigami (or death papers), and shows us what happens to the young people that receive them.
Highly Emotional Short Stories - Ikigami is split into sections each containing three chapters. Each of these vignettes starts by going into the life a young person: showing us their current situation, their problems and often their aspirations. These are regular people, often with dreams or troubles that an audience can directly relate to and Mase manages to get a lot of character into them in that short amount of time. This means that when the ikigami is delivered at the end of the first chapter the reader can really empathise.
Next comes a reaction. This is where we get to see how Mase imagines real life would be with the emotion turned up to ten. Thanks to the great set ups, anyone can understand why the characters react the way they do, whether it be good or bad and thankfully it can go either way. This means when the story concludes we see something really tragic, heart-warming or bittersweet that is made more so because it's so easy to see ourselves in their position.
Art - A story containing so much emotion at its most extreme needs art to match, and luckily the art in Ikigami nails this. The art is fantastic in most aspects, but his facial expressions are what makes it. He's restrained when needed but when things get really crazy you won't see more insane expression this side of Death Note. Not to mention how clean and three dimensional the art feels, both character-wise and for the backgrounds.
Overarching Story - Though the main chunk of Ikigami is the lives of the victims, there is another story: that of Fujimoto who delivers them. This usually comes into play when Fujimoto receives the ikigami to deliver, and as he reads the file on the victim, we see his thoughts on what is to come. For the vast majority of the stories, all he does is deliver them and give his feelings or perhaps come into the story in some small way or another. This works well for the most part as this slowly and naturally builds up his character: an everyman who wants to do his best but struggles with his job morally.
Later on Fujimoto becomes more active in the tales and there are a larger events that directly happen to him. Although I really took to his character and the amount of development he went through (though it was obvious as to where it was leading), I felt that more could have happened with him. He is a fantastic and deep character, he just felt underutilised.
It's also worth noting that 1984 is clearly a big influence on Ikigami and some of the later events seem to be taken directly from it. If you don't know that story, then obviously this won't affect you but if you have it becomes increasingly obvious.
Repetition - The short story format of Ikigami leads to a lot of repetition and predictability. After the first two or three of these you are going to be able to guess exactly where most the stories are going due to the formula they all follow. Like I've said above, the stories themselves are very good which takes the edge of this quite a bit, so I only really noticed this towards the end. It does nothing to dampen the emotional impact of each of the Ikigami victims situations and doesn't take much away from the manga, it's just not for those who crave intricate plots, twists or unpredictability. This is more of a character based manga with a higher value on how it makes the reader feel than on story.
Ikigami is a manga that will hit hard for readers who like character-based short stories, frenzied levels of emotion and tales from a country where the government controls all. The manga isn't about action or plot, which I think will deter some readers, but if you can see past some repetition, I think most would find it a highly engaging and rewarding read. The format keeps the pace fast while being held together by slow exploration of Fujimoto, and this combo is what makes me feel happy to recommend Ikigami to almost any manga reader.