Two kids, Kouhei and Akio, made up an imaginary girl named Hajime to take the blame for destruction of the principal's copper statue. But one day, they meet a girl that is exactly like their description of Hajime, but only they can see her.
Released in 2004, "Hajime" still remains an unknown work. Most people would have read this because of the involvement of renowned Takeshi Obata (art of Death Note, Bakuman, Hikaru no Go and Aoi Bungaku Series) had in this. Others may have read it because they are a fan of Otsu-Ichi’s works. It is mostly read out of curiosity to quench the fans’ thirst, but what some fans realize when the read this is that they’re actually drowning in it...but in a good way.
The most common reason why people come up with an imaginary friend is to have a companion. Although I personally have
never had one, I did make up one for my younger sister. A lovely little chap I named “Friendly Ghost” (I know, it isn’t very creative) whom my sister enjoyed playing with very much. Whereas her imaginary friend was there to be a companion, “Hajime” is there to be the scapegoat to Kouhei and Akio when one of them accidently breaks a statue of the principle’s head. Eventually, everyone believes their lie, and a rumour of the mysterious girl Hajime spreads. All is fine until Hajime suddenly appears before them; every detail right to the colour of the cap on her head correct.
The story is one that is a psychological tragedy. It’s psychological because it explores human judgment on the real and the imaginary, and if it isn’t real then is it really a tragedy? For three years Kouhei and Akio sees Hajime before them and throughout that time they have been very good friends with her. The volume is very short with only two chapters which could have been combined to make a 60 page one-shot, but for its length it covers a lot, as well as creating an impact on the reader. It isn’t tactlessly done so that it ends up being a philosophy lecture, one that no one cares about but delves into quite complex topics without being complicated.
A lot of the story is told through narration, from Kouhei’s perspective. Normally, this would lead to a disadvantage as sensitivity to other character’s feelings is not often portrayed well, as I would assume for it to be quite difficult to narrate understanding another character from a bystander’s point-of-view but Ochi-Ichi actually does it very smoothly. He never narrates too much, and balances the story well with dialogue taking over at good places.
Obata’s art remains crisp and realistic as ever. Hajime was released a year after Death Note was being serialized, so you can guess how strong the art it. From backgrounds to the pattern on the clothing, the art has a high level detail. It isn’t as ‘clean’ as some of his recent artwork, but its solid artwork nevertheless. And honestly, need I say more when I mention Takeshi Obata’s name?
I enjoyed Hajime. It’s dark without using gore. It’s thought-provoking without having waffling dialogues. And it’s meaningful without trying to. The pacing is a little too fast; I felt like Hajime’s life and feelings could have been better expanded so that the reader could build a relationship with her, as well as Kouhei and Akio, since the characters themselves are the greatest downfall to this story. Perhaps a volume or even a series may have been better. But for two chapters (or sixty pages long) it does a decent job.