It’s rare for a manga to elicit such strong feelings from me, but Seizon-Life succeeds with its ruminations of filial responsibility, love, and the search for truth and understanding, for redemption.
Redemption even if you've only got six months left to live. Takeda is told this and is wracked with fear and guilt. Guilt because his wife died of the same illness in the past and he realises he wasn’t there for her enough at the time. Now that he feels the same unrelenting fear of impending death, he feels disgusted with himself, with his past behaviour to his family, his deceased wife and his deceased daughter.
His long-lost daughter has not given up on him however, as once her corpse is found buried under a parking area in Nagano prefecture, the police phone Takeda to inform him, just as he's about to hang himself in despair.
In bearing witness to her skeletal remains and facing head on the shame of his previous inability to be a decent husband and father, Takeda takes it upon himself to use up what little time he has left to find his daughter's killer. There is irony and fate at play, with there being six months left till the statute of limitations on the crime being lifted, the limit being 15 years.
Takeda can’t rely on the police who don’t have the motivation to go all out on a case almost 15 years old with no leads. He begins the long and arduous journey himself by starting in the untouched bedroom of a daughter he never really knew as well as he should have, for clues as to where she disappeared to one day 14 years ago.
During the story, a cop in charge of the soon-to-be closed case serves as a foil to Takeda. Not being an irritable barrier but more like a voice of cool logic that only a seasoned and tired detective could have, he plays devil's advocate to Takeda's discoveries, forcing him to wake up to the idea that simply identifying the killer won’t be enough, he will need concrete proof in order to avenge his daughter. Another cop, Murai, joins Takeda’s mission and provides a good partner as they navigate their way through procedural details to dig underneath clues, lies and red herrings.
Seizon is so brilliant because not only is it another example of the manga form’s wide range of variety by exploring an interesting and worthy theme from the viewpoint of an ordinary character with no cynical manga-selling abilities or traits, but because it’s a great race-against-time thriller. With Takeda's condition deteriorating rapidly, time is crucial, being hospitalised is unacceptable, he must catch the killer before the legal deadline and before he becomes unable to function coherently.
So Takeda in a sense becomes the lead investigator for the most part of the story, retracing his daughter’s steps 14 years ago, following small leads, persisting, following the path she took, to see everything she saw and feel everything she felt.
Takeda's mission to find his daughter's killer is more about getting to know his daughter for the first time in a long while, and in that to find redemption for his neglect of his family in the past. When he begins to interview people about his daughter in the beginning, he feels that they're talking about a stranger, but chapter by chapter he reconnects with her.
So it’s only in the prolonged aftermath of her death that he truly understands who she was. It’s too late naturally, but in a sense it’s not, because dealing with deceased people, giving them funerals and discovering the truth behind their deaths is more to benefit the living. The dead are dead. The living have to live with that. Funerals aren’t for dead people; they're for the ones who are still alive.
Takeda's vengeance is not for his daughter's sake, but for his soul, it’s his final duty as a husband and father. The manga isn’t utterly perfect, as there is an air of predictability about it, which is both fine on one hand and unwanted on the other.
On one hand you can understand one outcome of the story, and on the other you might wish the author had written another outcome a different way. Regardless it’s not enough to detract from the story and it’s consistent with the theme of striving to survive and to keep on living no matter what the odds, as demonstrated courageously by Takeda and his daughter.
The art of the manga is reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo in the clean and detailed designs of background settings and characters, none of which look overly cute or beautiful but are grounded in more realistic tones. The main protagonist is just a regular middle-aged man and the story is populated by more characters in their thirties, forties; a wide variety of types overall.
It also feels like a Naoki Urasawa effort, although unlike that excellent author's epic thrillers, Seizon isn’t too convoluted to keep up with, at a lean 3 volumes it proceeds at a good pace and wraps up before becoming too over the top with twists and revelations.
The only revelation you need to know about is Seizon the manga itself.