Feb 19, 2012
"A single cell phone. That's all it took... to drop me into a deep, dark hole."
At only a single volume, Line has a limited space to fit its ambitious concept into. What results is a fast-paced, frenetic, somewhat haphazard but ultimately compelling story about the value of life and the power of one person. While the story can seem a bit thin and disorganized and thematic exploration is limited, to say the least, the brief chapter count, quick pace, and inherently compelling subject matter make it hard to pass up.
Line's strength is in its core concept, which managed to take much of the danger out
of a "game of death" premise without losing the bulk of the suspense or drama. Plot progress is fairly sparse, with about one point of development per chapter and the rest of the time spent on characters running around at top speed. It follows, then, that its weakness is in its focus on the running rather than the implications. The manga never bothers to name the people Chiko is seeking to save, or to explore the reasons they need saving. They're implicitly brushed off as inconsequential with a cry of "Well everyone has problems!" Task's identity and motivations are brushed off and glossed over with a line or two of inadequate explanation at the end that really don't give enough information to satisfy or even spark the imagination. Line ultimately relies on the reader's prerogative to mull things over in the aftermath, but is sparse in the delivery of salient plot points to think over.
The art of Line is similar to the plot: good, but not great. The character designs are somewhat generic but cute and nice enough to look at without being inappropriately cutesy, and while the art tends to be rather stiff much of the time, it conveys the plot well. The backgrounds are detailed enough for one with a knowledge of Tokyo geography to recognize the setting of various scenes (for example, Shibuya Crossing) without being so cluttered as to distract from the characters as they rush about. It's good enough to get the job done, but there's nothing really special about it.
The issues of characterization and character development in Line is an odd one. Chika seems like a fairly straight forward character: a calculatedly popular and stylish girl who learns about the a darker aspect of society and the value of life over the course of the plot. Still, the story tosses in random traits that seem intended to round out her character but ultimately seem puzzling in their lack of relevance -- for example the fact that she only pretends to be endearingly clumsy (but has klutzy tendencies nonetheless), or a baffling throwaway line about how she's working hard to get along with her stepfather. What was that all about, anyway? Bando is an even more hopeless case, with practically nothing being explained about her character. The readers knows there's a rumour she's a lesbian -- but that goes nowhere. She smiles in inappropriate situations -- but an explanation isn't even hinted at. Aside from her being a model student, there's really nothing to characterize her with. It's hard to believe a handful of pages spent doing nothing but running couldn't have been put to better use with a bit of basic character development.
But while Line can seem a bit sparse in its core elements, just scraping by with a passing grade, it's hard to begrudge such things of such a quick read. And it's quick not just for its limited chapter count -- the frantic, kinetic disposition of the characters and the story itself demand a quick move from panel to panel and one page to the next. Even if the story doesn't reveal much, the desire to know just what will be revealed is hard to resist, and the single volume is all too easy to devour in a single brief session. Although Line leaves much to be desired, it is definitely the kind of work one can get more out of than was put in, and even if only for that, it is well worth the paltry timespan it'll take to read.
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