Time and again, A You finds himself chasing a mysterious rabbit through his dreams. But before he can reach out and grab it…his mother is shaking him awake for another day of work. A You’s not exactly thrilled with his job at the factory, so when a persistent streak of bad luck leaves him unemployed, it seems like a great opportunity to start over. The trouble is, A You doesn’t have anything to move on to. With no goals or aspirations, A You roams the city searching for direction. Deep in thought on one of his strolls, A You suddenly rouses himself only to discover he’s lost in the woods. He catches sight of a rabbit, and in desperation follows it through the forest. But this scene seems familiar... Is it a dream? Or could there truly be an ideal world within the darkness?
An Ideal World is a delightful little manga. It centers around Ayou, an apathetic, cynical, and overall unhappy boy--I mean, "young man"--and his fantastical quest for self-discovery. His quest may be literally out of this world, with clear allusions to Alice in Wonderland, but the issues at hand are down to earth and very relatable in the real world. Ayou's inquiries and the advice he receives from his friends and others pierce the very heart of the long-standing philosophical question on the meaning of life, and Ayou's journey eventually plays a role in finding a deep understanding of human existence.
Yeah, heavy stuff. But actually, it's
not that heavy at all. The whole philosophy of the manga is seamlessly woven into the story and presented in the most natural way. There is a legitimate reason for all this philosophical talk, and that is because life is frowning down on our protagonist, Ayou: he is bored of routine, frustrated with his averageness, tired of being underestimated, and in the end wonders if all the BS in life is worth it. His significantly pessimistic outlook on life takes a toll on his morale and motivation, clouding any perception of a future worth striving for.
At first glance, Ayou may look like your typical pessimistic loser who chooses to dwell in thoughts of his own hopelessness and self-pity, but he actually realizes that he needs more in life, something to give it flavour and meaning, and that he has to do something to reach that goal. I found it refreshing to not have a depressing and self-loathing protagonist for once; one that knows he needs to change but doesn't know how, not because he has been ignorant of his pitiable situation and has suddenly woken up to reality, but because he's already aware of his situation and seeks to change it.
Of course, all this changes when he reaches "wonderland," an ideal world where everyone is happy and always looks on the bright side of things. And of course, this is just what every depressed person wants, to be surrounded by a bunch of perky, optimistic people. But in time, Ayou starts to see things from their point of view, and he learns that his "unluckiness" is all in his head, and that all it takes to reach happiness is a simple change in perspective. The message was simple and beautiful.
I felt the way this manga handled the issue of an identity crisis very realistic. Not only is it concerned with helping Ayou find a direction in life, but the advice is open enough to be received by everyone, and that means you the readers. The author gives very profound and hopeful advice, and reminds us with always-welcome Chinese philosophy that life is worth living.
Entertaining, illuminating, somewhat preachy, but definitely worthwhile, I would recommend you get your hands on this little gem of manga.