As a medical professional, I sometimes have a hard time reading medical dramas or watching medical shows on television.This is especially true with shows like House, where the way the series is set up forces it to be completely technical and still be somewhat accessible for the layperson. As part of a long-standing studying stress reliever, my friends and I would gather around the television during pharmacy school and analyze all of the things that were going wrong throughout a given episode of House. I remember running through lists of ways the medical team could have accurately diagnosed the patient and not half-killed him or her throughout the show.
It was this same sort of trepidation that I came into my reading of Breathe Deeply, a hefty volume of manga written by Doton Yamaaki, the pen-name of a husband and wife creative team who have been serialized in Kodansha‘s Morning, among other titles. This particular title seems to have been published by Sanctuary Publishing in Japan, which is a publisher I don’t have much information on; according to the One Peace Books website, the English publisher is a joint international venture of Sanctuary Publishing.
Regardless of the source of this piece of fiction, Breathe Deeply is a deep and sometimes dark look at one of the great medical debates still plaguing the medical community; the use of stem cell research to save lives.
Sei and Oishi are two young men in love with a sick girl named Yuko, a girl with an incurable heart condition that requires she receive a heart transplant in order to survive. She does not receive the necessary treatment in time, and passes away. The story of Sei and Oishi is one of heartbreak and stubbornness as each of them try to find their own way to a solution to Yuko’s illness after her death. Each of the men has a different outlook on the use of stem-cell research based on their interactions with Yuko. Sei, a brilliant chemical engineer, has created a polymer that can mimic heart cells and be applied to the failing heart to help massage it and keep it working, while Oishi struggles to have his research accepted as a major mode of inquiry into stem cell research (he has potentially discovered a unique way to create a new heart out of stem cells). The battle between them is one that weaves through the convoluted issues surrounding stem cell research – is transplant medicine ethical, is stem cell research murder to save future lives, and other modes of a morality vs. scientific progress argument.
Even when each character is at their highest point in the volume, each has to deal with the guilt and sorrow they’ve been grappling with for the past 15 years. It makes their struggles and fights more personal, their victories more bitter, and sets the stage for one of the most well-written “friendships” in manga for 2011. The way that Sei and Oichi play off of each other makes Breathe Deeply into a real interpersonal drama, where it otherwise could have been a sermon. Doton Yamaaki have an excellent eye for dialogue, and interactions in the lab seem very true to life, while the interactions between Sei, Oichi, and Yuko are a convincing mix of hormones, anxiety, and longing.
Doton Yamaaki have done an excellent job presenting both sides of the argument in this book, and it is clear that the only agenda the pair has is to write compelling fiction. In this area, they succeed, and do so with aplomb. Breathe Deeply is a brilliantly written and illustrated piece of fiction that allows the reader to be drawn into personal fights and relationships while simultaneously asking the deepest questions and expecting no answers.
While I would not recommend Breathe Deeply to every manga reader (its often sketchy visual style and some adult scenes will not suit some readers), I do think that it is an excellent medical drama. The relationships are complex and human, and moments that could have been preachy or despicable are cast in that same human light. Overall, Breathe Deeply is a surprise success, and one of the better manga published in 2011.
A copy of this work was provided by the publisher for this review.