In a dystopian nation, a public prosperity law like no other is in effect: The National Welfare Act, in which citizens between the ages of 18-24 are selected to die for their country. Twenty-four hours before a nanocapsule carries out their death, the chosen receive notifications called "Ikigami" from government messengers. The government gives only one ostensible reason for the act’s purpose—to spread the value of life.
Kengo Fujimoto is a newly instated Ikigami messenger who is indecisive on his stance of the act. Curbing his hesitation to avoid the watchful eye of the national police, Kengo decides that delivering the Ikigami will help shape his opinion.
Ikigami follows how people act knowing that their final hours are upon them. Whether committing acts of kindness or crimes of passion, the chosen's actions have profound impacts on those around them, and it will ultimately lead Kengo to his decision.
Ikigami was serialized in Young Sunday until its final issue on July 31, 2008. Serialization moved to Big Comic Spirits on September 15, 2008.
The series was published in English as Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit by VIZ Media under the VIZ Signature imprint from May 12, 2009 to August 19, 2014 and in Polish by Hanami from June 2010 to July 2013.
A live-action film was released on September 27, 2008.
The story expressed in Ikigami is done in two parts, first is the episodic form which follows a separate person during the last moments of their life and how they cope with their newfound mortality. These each are taken from a unique perspective and give a great amount of character and world building all expressing the morose themes of the series in a natural fashion without blatantly spelling it out to the reader. The second follows the man who delivers said ikigami and how he copes with his work. Each chapter begins and ends with his thoughts on each case and the over
arching plot that develops through them.
The characters under this story format are surprisingly fleshed out and many experience an entire character arch which feels natural and progresses without being too rushed. My only nitpick on this is that with the format we are not able to become too attached to a character or those around them, and are instead forced to detach ourselves from them and become more akin to an onlooker of a show than an actual member of the cast, so to speak.
The art is very standard, and on the surface can even be criticized for not being able to stand out. However, the art is well done and well fitting to the darker and more somber themes of the story, and when the visuals do pop out with excellent detail, they truly stand out and in turn express extremely impactful moments of the series. This contrast between rather standard and truly incredible art allows for a more in depth dissection of the characters and plot which wouldnt be possible if the art was done to be more consistently pleasing to the eye. So while the series would look better if the art was of greater quality, I would probably not enjoy it as much as I have under its given form.
The episodic form of this story is surprisingly attractive and approachable as a reader. As each arch is very well developed and succinct, but still making a reader ache for more. As such it is perfect for the reader who wishes to stop and think on a piece, the binge reader who just wants to keep going on, and the re-reader who analyzes each page multiple times. The themes and questions on human nature and the necessities of societal structure are truly compelling as each chapter gives its own impression on each. And the best part about the thematic message is that the series trusts the reader to think for themselves and in turn does not spoon feed you a right/wrong, and leaves the message for the reader to determine.
Please note that this series is not for the faint of heart, and does not back away from themes of domestic abuse, rape, poverty, politics, suicide, and murder. As such, it is not a show for the easily offended or the faint of heart. However, if you are the kind of person who enjoys deeply philosophical discussion and are not deterred by realistic depictions of the aforementioned topics, then I implore you to read this, as this is not just an absolute masterpiece manga, it is a masterpiece in literature as a whole.
Life's too stale. So let's spice it up by letting someone random EVERYDAY that in twenty-four hours, they will die. While that seems incredible, that's only 365 people a year. Japan's population is around 128 million, so if death rates and birth rates are about the same, it'd take a shade over 350,000 years to kill everyone. Probably wouldn't happen.
Plot drives this manga, and I love it for this. Too many manga try to get by using cool, likable characters and a lame story concept or plot. The manga consists of three chapter segments that tell the story of a person's last day on
Earth. The one consistency in all the chapters is a man working for the government agency that runs ikigami, and the things he learns by working there.
It is an excellent story concept. The thing I don't like is that the mangaka focuses too much on the person going to die. While this is fine, I want to see more of how the doomed person's family, friends, etc. take it. I also want to see how a typical person living in Japan deals with the idea that tomorrow could be their last. It's very buddhist, in that the people of Japan surely must live their lives to the fullest everyday.
Very realistic drawings. The art portrays a world that is very similar to ours. This is not some futuristic society. I believe the art is drawn to look like what a Japanese citizen would see in a typical day. Every person is not attractive with a good body, for instance. Nurses are not fifteen year old girls with D-cup breasts. They are tired old women who have seen people die everyday for thirty years. Mothers do not love their children. It is very realistic; disturbingly so, and it's nice to see a world like this.
The main characters (the ones sentenced to death) are fascinating. Love them. My problem with them is, as stated before, I want to see how the doomed person's loved ones react to it all, as well as the mindset of the society as a whole in how they live their lives. Do they treat everyday as a blessing? What is the attitude of a passerby to someone sentenced to death? Is it pity? Relief? The mangaka could have done so much more here. Don't get me wrong-- I love what he did do, just regret that he didn't do as much as he could have.
Love it. I love reading this manga, as it turns a nightmare into reality, and shows you what goes through a person's mind when they are told they are going to die. The psychological aspect is fascinating.
Ikigami is a good manga. It's not great, but it's not bad. It's a pleasant read if you're in the mood to think. This manga is seinen with hardly any romance, ecchi, or comedy, meaning most people won't even have this manga show up when they do an advanced search for a manga. What it does is rattle your brain for a good half hour, and have you thinking, "How would I spend the last day of my life?" If you're looking for a good psychological seinen manga, I would recommend Ikigami.
(This is my fourth review. If you liked it, I'm glad to have been of service. If you did not, and still read it all up to this point, did you really not like it? XD. In all seriousness, if you feel I could improve this review in any way, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment on my profile or a personal message. Thank you for reading.)
Ikigami is a surprisingly unknown title about the value of life... or maybe it's actually about how worthless life is. It depends on your perspective. But, whichever way you look at it, the following is true: Ikigami shows how very real characters react when told they're going to die within 24 hours. Some seek revenge, others try to help their loved ones before their time runs out. Just like if people were told their date of death in real life, the reactions of the characters depends entirely on their backgrounds.
After reading the title, you might assume Ikigami is a sort of spiritual successor to Death
Note. After all, there isn't much difference between 'Death Note' and 'Death Paper'. But the titles are where the similarities between the two start and end. Where as Death Note relied on a supernatural notebook of death that could kill anyone with ease to power its story, there's nothing mystical about the papers with information about deaths written on them in Ikigami. In fact, the papers are no more than normal, everyday paper handed out by civil servants.
You see, Ikigami is set in an alternate universe where Japan is ruled by fear, similar to the setting of Battle Royale. At the start of school life, every child is immunized against various diseases. However, because of a law called 'The National Welfare Act', 1 out of 1000 of these vaccines contain something else - something that makes a person die at a predetermined date between the ages 18-24. After being immunized, the truth is then revealed to the students - the truth being that not everyone will make it very far into their adult lives.
The National Welfare Act is a relatively well thought out law. The victims of the law are told only 24 hours in advance to limit the damage they can do, and if those who are destined to die break the law in their final hours, their family is took to court, made to pay a huge fine, don't get their bereavement pension and, finally, they're ostracized by society.
All of the above, combined with the citizens being told to reveal the names of social miscreants to the authorities, means no-one can do anything about the law. To be a good citizen, one has to accept that - no matter how illogical - random people getting killed is for the good of the country because it forces people to value life. Really, nothing changes for people until they're told they're going to die, and all it achieves is creating a society of sheep who only know how to follow.
The story is told from the perspective of Fujimoto; a civil servant whose job it is to hand out the papers of death 24 hours before death. Known as a 'Messenger of Death', he's a man who sees no value in his work but does it anyway. To begin with he struggles to handle the weight of revealing to unsuspecting people that they're going to die, informing them their deaths are for the good of the nation (when he doesn't actually believe it), but the more he does it the easier it becomes. His role is to be the observer, and the reader is supposed to feel the same as him about what's occurring.
But, really, even though Fujimoto is there for the reader to connect with, Ikigami is basically a collection of three chapter shorts. So far (up to the end of volume three), every story has lasted for three chapters, and each story has differed from the one that came before it. Though the series opened as most would expect after reading the description - with a fairly typical tale of a man who suffered severe bullying during his high school years - since then there's only been one other revenge story. There's been a story about staying true to oneself and valuing friendship over fame; there's been a story about a worker at an old people's' home getting a woman, who mistakes the worker for her late husband, to walk again; and there's even been a story about a brother tricking his blind younger sister into having his corneas transplanted into her just after his death. The huge amount of variation between each story, and the circumstances of each new set of characters, has prevented Ikigami from becoming stale.
My biggest fear right now is that, eventually, Ikigami will become stale, though. At this moment in time I can't see Ikigami failing because the art is near enough flawless - showing the natural ugliness of humans (rather than there being a super model cast) and being very detailed - and the stories have all been emotionally moving for differing reasons. But every author only has a set amount of ideas, and sooner or later (assuming it isn't destined to go on forever!) Fujimoto is going to have to become more than just an impartial observer. Honestly, it's hard to see how and when the series will end at this point, so it's hard to determine if the high level of quality on display in the opening three volumes will remain throughout. Only time will tell.
For now, all I can say is that I own the first three volumes, have the fourth pre-ordered and have put Ikigami into my manga top ten list already. With so few volumes out, and Viz releasing the volumes in larger than average, Solanin sized volumes, no manga collector has any real excuse for not assisting me in trying to make this relatively unknown series into one with a much larger fanbase.
If you've become disillusioned with anime/manga because of the vast majority being childish and are in desperate need of a title aimed at adults to reignite your interest, Ikigami might just be it.
If you, like many other people on this website, are a fan of psychological drama, then I think this is the right manga for you. Really! It's a great choice for anyone into this genre.
In my humble opinion, when you see the chapter start splash for the first chapter, you pretty much have a clear example of what this manga is about. The children are like the people of Japan in this series-- they're afraid. Some of them don't really seem to be afraid, some seem angry or maybe just slightly concerned or perhaps just questioning. But for the most part, they're afraid. And
the government-- the nurses and the doctors, even if they are afraid, they can't show it, so they're pretty much all smiles. But they're not exempt either. From what you ask? from the device that keeps the story moving forwards. And what keeps this story moving forwards is that shot you see.
The shot in that picture is the turning point in the children's lives, in Japan's life. The shot is indicator of life, and for some, death. And because you don't know what the shot holds for you, eat, drink, and be merry, because what happens tomorrow? You might die.
Basically, in this story, you follow those who have been condemned to or are close to those condemned to death. The people whose shots have rendered fatal, who have to deal with the terror of imminent termination. And I think that the author has done a really good job painting fear into each of these characters, and manifesting that fear into other emotions as well, like sadness and anger. I guess I'll talk more about this later. This story is supposed to be cut and dry after the first chapter. You know people are going to die and you know it's going to be sad. But following these people around, learning about some important event or person in their lives, watching them suffer and then watching them die-- that's why this story isn't cut and dry.
I think most people are used to the 'we're all 12 year olds that are really cute all the time everywhere' aspect of manga and anime, mostly because popular anime happens to be like Bleach/Naruto, and I think you can say most characters don't look their age. But this is a very realistic manga, with a lot of realistic issues and characters, therefore the art is quite realistic. The children look like children, the adults look like a adults. And they're not all varying shades of beautiful, but all very... average. Yes, once in a while, a beautiful character comes along. But more often than not, the characters are average looking average people. And that, I think, makes this manga all the more pleasing. For using a style that matches the tone of the manga, I give this a 10 out of 10!
I have to say that while I really do enjoy this manga, I noticed that there isn't really a main character that you can identify with and at the same time that that's cool, it's kind of... lonely. If you decide that the government official that you often see as you go through this manga is the main character, then you'll be surprised to note that you don't strictly follow him around. And that would be the point of making him the main character, I think, to follow him and survey his cases. But the thing is that not only do you not always follow him around, but you usually don't even focus on him-- he's just a person who delivers Ikigami-- you follow the receivers of the Ikigami. And you might not follow them to the extent to which you might think-- you don't really know anything about who they are, you only have a snapshot of something important to them, something that makes them special. And that paints them as good in your eyes, even when the character is trying to get revenge on other (unfortunate) people. But they die. They're not main characters either. They're not backgrounds, but they aren't characters- you don't learn anymore about them after their death (save a few sentences or so for some characters). It's nice to be able to get to know so many different characters, and I guess the government official is your only real reoccurring character which would make him the main character, but seeing as the reader only reads about death the entire time and all the characters you get to know die, it's kind of lonely to be reading this story. You're not really familiar with any one character-- even the government official is kind of vague. However, all the characters have differing and often extreme displays of emotion when they hear about their Ikigami, and that is always interesting.
Enjoyment and Overall:
I think this is a pretty enjoyable manga. I'd say that it at least gets a 7. I can't really say people will agree with me on that, but I think that this is readable. Definitely something worth reading again, just to have it in mind. Dealing with death is difficult and this book doesn't really make it seem easy, but by only having snapshots of a character, you don't actually feel bad. I mean, you feel bad that they've died, but it's not the same as if the author built up a character only to kill him. You only know a snapshot of their life, barely anything about them-- I can't say it's really dramatic because you never follow around someone who doesn't die, but I can't say it isn't dramatic because after recieving an ikigami, the story gets intense. The political aspect of ikigamis is also really interesting. The story doesn't lack in interest.
So over all, I would give this an 7. It is a good story with believable characters, even if the characters themselves are short lived, with humanitarian and political aspects to Randomized Controlled Human Death. From the time that a child receives a shot onwards, tomorrow could be their last day. You get to see how each character lives in their own environment, for the final day of their life.