The cost of living a productive, meaningful life is that 1/1000 people are guaranteed to die between the ages of 18-24. But it’s for the good of your country, so that makes it ok, right? Right?
In this version of Japan, the National Welfare Act decrees that all first graders are injected with a vaccine. One in a thousand are injected with a capsule that will go off at a certain time, between their 18th and 24th birthdays, instantly killing them. Nobody knows who has the capsules until the very last day they are alive, and messengers are sent out with a 24 hour death notice, or ikigami. The reason for this is to encourage people to live meaningful, productive, and full lives. To be one of the capsule carriers is considered an honor, as that person is helping to carry on the mission.
Fujimoto is an ikigami messenger with misgivings. While it may seem like this method works, sometimes, it also seems like it doesn’t alleviate problems as much as it should (violence and suicides are still prevalent). However, if people try to question the government’s methods, they are labeled social miscreants and may be injected with instant death capsules. If one knows of a person who may be a miscreant and doesn’t report them, then they are a miscreant by association and face the same punishment. Fujimoto finds himself questioning the government’s methods and occasionally ends up tentatively toeing the line in efforts to help the people he sentences to death.
I found this manga absolutely fascinating. The stories are all episodic. Each manga has two ikigami recipients and the only connecting factor is Fujimoto as he struggles with his doubts. What makes this series intriguing is the twisted way the National Welfare Act seems to work for a lot of people. While tragedy may strike as the ikigami recipients all react differently, sometimes quite violently, the aftermath is usually positive as the survivors that were affected by the eventual death usually do make positive changes in their lives, to make up for the loss. However, to me, this is an obvious case of “the ends do not justify the means.” Guaranteed death determined randomly (at least so far; it’ll be interesting to see if there is something not so random in the system) is a frightening concept.
The stories are usually set up the following way: introduction of the potential ikigami recipients and their stories, delivery of the ikigami, the reaction, the inevitable death (given as a sidenote), and then Fujimoto’s contemplation of what happened. There’s sometimes some slight development of Fujimoto in other parts of the story, or sometimes he gets swept up during the reaction phase.
The artwork is good, but Mase seems to have a little trouble making his characters distinctive, or my eyes aren’t sharp enough or something. In one story I thought it was a Fujimoto flashback on how he became in ikigami messenger, but it turned out to be a completely different person. Also sometimes I think there are recurring characters from an earlier ikigami incident, but again, completely different people. They just look very similar.
Ikigami in the US is now more or less current with the Japanese release, so now it only comes out about once a year (boooo!). Shaz lent me her volumes, but this series is so good I’ll pick it up for myself. I really enjoy Viz’s SigIkki line of mature manga.