Fuuta Okeya can see ghosts. Besides that—and the bandage he always keeps on his cheek—he's a perfectly normal 14-year old boy enamoured with the new transfer student. Unfortunately, Kouko Ishigami wants little to do with him. A strange ghost that follows her, however, seems to feel quite differently. But, when Kouko sees the strange birthmark hidden beneath the bandage on Fuuta's cheek, she has a change of heart...for the worse. Not only does she denounce him as her enemy, but she claims that the birthmark is a curse she engraved upon his face during one of their many past lives. What happened between Kouko and Fuuta, and what is the connection to the strange, fantastical dreams that Fuuta begins to experience?
I'm afraid Spirit Circle, by Mizukami Satoshi, will like the excellent but often forgotten Hoishi no Samidare, become only a shadow hit, a read for the people who dig deeper and want different kinds of shonen. So let me try to convince you with this review to grab a book and read this very interesting story.
Art : 6/10
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first : yes, compared to tenors of the shonen manga, the art is...Meh. Although this is an artstyle that feels really distinctive, and works quite well for expressions and faces overall, the real weakness lies in the background, who
most of the time, are generic, or just like detail. If you want your manga to be only eye candy, like Blame or Berserk, this won't be one for you.
Story : 8/10
The story will let us follow Fuuta Okeya, a 14-year-old boy who can see ghosts. And this ability is absolutely not the focus of the story. To try and not spoil too much, his encounter with a young girl who just transferred in his neighborhood will lead him into reliving his past lives, to try and understand why the girl wants to kill him so bad.
I found the premise quite original and refreshing. After each past life, it's not like the protagonist gains a new skill, or becomes better at fighting : the real heroes of this story are all of the past lifes of Fuuta, but more on that later.
But Spirit Circle isn't just about those past lives : there's an overarching plot, with completely bonkers consequences like only Mizukami Satoshi can think of (let us remember, he's the one who thought of a biscuit hammer that would destroy the world.) And delving deeper in the mystery of the relation between Fuuta and the girl who wants to kill him, Kouko, is really compelling and interesting.
Characters : 8/10
The character design is pretty redundant, as most of the characters with which Fuuta and Joujo interacts, even in their other lives, have the face of everyone they know (implying they are not the only one reincarnating). But each of these characters have a different personnality, a different goal. In each of his past lives, Fuuta often doesn't act like he does in the present, and he did some pretty horrible things in some lives, even. Watching his present self come to terms with that is really interesting.
Kouko is also a great character, even if her past lives are mostly seen through Fuuta's eyes. She is as well fleshed out as Fuuta in that regard, and her motivations for trying to slay Fuuta are also understandable.
Sadly, the rest of the supporting cast, like Fuuta's friends, aren't very interesting in the present. The only exceptions are for East and Rune, spirits that accompany Kouko and Fuuta in the present, but sadly they play quite a lacking role before the end of the manga. It would have been nice to see a bit more character interaction.
Overall : 8/10
Spirit Circle is a compelling manga that will make you think about afterlife, reincarnation, and responsability. Can you be held accountable for a really horrible thing you did in a past life ? By asking that question, the author takes us on a journey through time to try and discover the worth of a human soul, and ultimately, the worth of who we are, today.
I don't think I can think of a manga out there that contains as much Wisdom as Spirit Circle. This is surprisingly because Spirit Circle is a work that can't really be defined as 'realistic', and its individual components have been done almost everywhere else. Yet, while Hataraki Man can be viewed as a work that focuses on a micro perspective of life, and a work like Murasaki-iro no Qualia can be seen as a work that focuses on the macro and cosmic perspective of life, Spirit Circle is a work that is simply able to encompass all that, although it is not as psychologically
thorough or intellectually thorough as either.
The story has appeared before in Osamu Tezuka's Apollo's Song (+ Phoenix), as well as Andy Weir's The Egg. It has also appeared in Slaughterhouse Five, and it even the shoujo manga NG Life. Its character types are extremely Shounen, although it also takes from the broad strokes of life that Tezuka can pull off. It draws from Samurai stories, historical literature, fantasy literature, and a plethora of other genre influences. It has done nothing particular new in its philosophy either - given that the philosophy is the kind of Buddhist philosophy explored in a multitude of other works out there. It's ultimate ending message was made up of platitudes, but the way these platitudes were structured within the work was so powerful that you have no choice but to see it all in a new light.
Though this work takes from everything, it is still one of the most original Manga in the world. It is simply the best reincarnation story that has ever been conceived up to this date. It draws from the best aspects of this type of story and focuses deeply on the essentials with superb pacing (wrapping up in a mere 45 chapters). The best aspect of a reincarnation story is the beauty of having one's past relations be built anew - because when this happens, enemies can become friends, and relationships can be completely restructured to create new meaning. Spirit Circle is powerful because it managed to arrange all these alternate lives and have them build off one another, seeping and developing into different forms - as opposed to some Manga like Apollo's Song where each reincarnation feels like a vaguely connected short story rather than an actual 'living of a past life'.
This aspect is what drives most of the work forward. Spirit Circle can use platitudes and archetypes because these well-worn tropes will be given new light when it has the weight of several other lives upon it, causing the meaning to twist and swell up into things larger than itself. Something as simple as a few words of reconciliation can be extremely emotionally moving when it is juxtaposed against all the other past lives when such reconciliations failed. When you have all the other lives being able to commentate as well, it gives the feeling of a great historical wisdom emanating from a single person, observing the world from a distant view where everything becomes lighter and more ephemerally precious.
I feel as though Spirit Circle is a work that I'll be able to read again in 5 or 10 years, and still be able to derive something from it. It is an eternal reminder that your ego is the smallest thing in the world, but your relationships with others will surpass the galaxies.
Satoshi Mizukami is a great storyteller with a clear vision of what he's creating. Maybe you're already familiar with his other works (like Samidare and Sengoku Youko) before you read Spirit Circle, so you probably noticed that already, but if that's not the case, you'll certainly like them and recognize this aspect. It's really cool when all the dots in the plot connects in a convincing way, because you can feel how everything presented was, to some degree, an important part of the overall structure of the story. You can tell that he has a goal in mind from the beginning and even likes to
mess around with the reader and plainly tell what’s gonna to happen in the future.
Spirit Circle is not a complex story, but somehow you’ll feel that way. It’s about souls and reincarnation. It's about vengeance, but it's also about making up for past mistakes. There's a mixing of emotions in every arc, which goes from something very comic to something very dramatic. Mizukami can play something serious in a very silly way, which can be anti-climatic, but it can work better this way because of how it can break your expectation, and it’s supported with his skills of portraying emotions so good and with a lot of impact. Otherwise, it would be a more parodic manga without any weight. Mizukami knows how to handle both his comedic and emotion side very well and creates a very charming, comic and yet dramatic story. And that's how I felt for the most part of the story, except for the Fortuna's story arc, which is unfortunately the most anticipated and important one. It's really the Achilles' heel of the manga and show how the author's style can be a dual-edged sword. I didn't feel any of the dramatic curves because everything seemed more comic when they should be tragic.
That said, everything else still works great. The relationship between all the characters is something that it’s developed in a clever way, as everything is a result of a past interaction. What it’s being told is not just the past tales of Fuuta and Koko, the main characters, and their circle of mutual destruction, but how their relationship with everyone around them is being shaped with every interaction and choice.
Even though the last story arc is not a winner, the overall story is still great and can cover any flaws that it has near the end. Mizukami knows how to evoke a lot of emotions from his readers and his characters are very likeable. Spirit Circle is a epic journey of self-discovery, but also of forgiveness and friendship. It’s beautifully presented and, for the most part, well executed.
A rather mature story that's trapped into a juvenile love story between two teenagers.
Characterization is solid. Every character serves their purpose.
Plot is about the main character travel in his past lives and every life is an entirely different arc. So it provides a way to have different kinds of narratives in a same story while it's not jarring. The manga artist managed to make almost every story (except the transsexual one which is fairly simple) emotional and memorable.
However the main storyline doesn't appeal to me a lot as it traps other pretty good individual stories into an abusive relationship between two middle schoolers. It
feels like I was reading two different manga with those individual stories being the relatively mature shonen/seinen story while the main story being a shojo love story.
This contradiction is frequently a turnoff and makes it hard to enjoy the story fully.