“Since you may die at anytime…your civic duty is to live as well as you can.”
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit is a new manga from Viz, and despite the dark premise, this new series has some bright surprises.
At some point in the future the Japanese government issued the National Welfare Act. This is a three-tiered government program that immunizes all children, but one-in-one-thousand will be infected with a nanocapsule that will open up sometime between the age of 18 and 24 and kill the carrier. The thinking is this program will improve people’s value of life. As a result suicides go down and the birthrate goes up.
Our “hero” is Fujimoto, a young man who has survived his 24th year and is recruited as an ikigami delivery man. An ikigami (literally “death paper”) is notice delivered to Welfare Act victims 24 hours before the nanocapsule initiates heart failure.
I put hero in quotes as Fujimoto at least initially hardly questions the obvious moral ambiguity of the government program that now employs him. This first volume is divided into two stories (and it appears the second volume is as well). In the first story we are introduced to the National Welfare Act as well as one of Fujimoto’s early ikigami deliveries. It is important that potential victims do not know they are going to die, so security for the nanocapsule data is incredibly high the system between the three government agencies is clearly explained if not a bit convoluted. The early delivery is to a former high school nerd who was harshly hazed in high school. We learn why only 24 hours notice is given and that if a victim commits crimes after receiving the ikigami his or her family may not receive their bereavement pension, and may actually be charged penalties. (This reminded me of the rumor in Japan that if an individual commits suicide by jumping in front of a train their family receives a bill.)
The second story surprised me for a few reasons. The first was I realized that Ikigami is an episodic series, and not like Pluto or 20th Century Boys or other recent Viz start-ups that are more epic stories. The other thing that surprised me is that compared to the dark first chapter this was a much brighter story that gives a very believable look at that pop music industry in Japan (and probably anywhere). The ikigami isn’t introduced until the story is well established, and the result is a surprisingly moving and hopeful tale. The last thing that surprised me is that I was really very OK with Ikigami: The Ulitimate Limit being an episodic series about how people deal with death notices. Like Mail or other similar series, a foundation is established with this first book that allows that allows for any number of very original stories.
It is easy to see why Ikigami was a hit in Japan and even got a live-action theatrical release. It is a genre-mashing original story that seriously satisfies.