Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit: A Manga Review
In a dystopian future Japan, our main character is a Death God of sorts. The government, which seems to be of some vague fascist variety, has implanted one in thousand kids with a nano-bomb, set to go off at some point when the kid has turned into a young adult, at some age between 18-24. The government claims this raises people's appreciation for life, it decreases suicide rates and crime rates. Its critics argues the government is playing Russian Roulette with its citizens, and that this murder game is merely a way to make people fear and obey the government. As per usual in dystopian stories, any critics are charged with thought-crimes and moved somewhere secret.
This is only our backdrop. Our story follows Kengo Fujimoto, a governmental worker who does not concern himself much with if what the government is doing is wrong. Sometimes it worries him, but he is not sure if these murders are wrong, and he is afraid of the punishment for questioning these things, so he keeps quiet. Kengo's job is delivering Ikigami's to their recipient. An Ikigami is simply a notice that the receiver is that special one in a thousand who will die, and the notice is delivered merely 24 hours before the predetermined time the citizen will die.
A Look Into Their Final Hours
In the earliest chapters especially, Kengo is not the focus. Unlike most dystopian stories, which concerns themselves with politics and ideas, Ikigami mostly deals with the dying people. The typical scenario is that we get to know a group of people, usually with some sort of problems, and only after an extended period of time does Kengo come in to deliver an Ikigami. After that we see how this affects them, how some goes out to get revenge on those who have wronged them, some finally dare to do what should have been done a long time ago. Either the dying person or someone else learns some lesson, and at the end we see Kengo summing up the story for himself, trying to draw some wisdom from it, or else reject the lesson entirely. He is not always an entirely sympathetic character, but in the end he is a good guy trapped in a situation he does not want nor want to fight to get out of.
Usually we deal with their relationship to the people they leave behind, and in a couple the entire thing is seen from someone else's point of view. The stories are usually not entirely linearly told, but are so simple in structure that following the plot poses no problem. The dying people we follow are interesting and complex, and watching these people deal with their final hours would be the main draw of the series.
Later on, we get more of the political angle. There is a resistance to the murders, and the “corruptionists” as they are called try to motivate change from the shadows, although some go for a pure terrorist angle. Kengo's worries and doubts about the system he is a part of was always the main thing about his character, that plus his despair as his own family grow afraid of dealing with the Angel of Death that he has become. When the corruptionists are introduced, he becomes tempted to join them, and he meets someone he believes is a member of this organization. But how can he be sure?
There are a lot of things to love about Ikigami. The stories are usually tragic, but there are those certain ones which ends on as much of a positive note as a countdown of ones final hours can possibly do. There is the story of a musician coming back to life after hearing his friend play his song on the radio. The friends dies from the Ikigami shortly after. This makes no logical sense, but an emotional sense. And for all of the tough realism and general oppressive feelings that Ikigami emits, it also manages to show genuine love and emotion. And that is the reason to read it. What we see is that no matter what the circumstances, oppressive governments, random murders and it all, some warmth might still pull true. Absolutely recommended, as long as you do not demand a happy ending to all of your stories.