LIFE Volume 1 (Anglais) Broché – 11 avril 2006
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Alright, so LIFE is all about Ayumu Shiiba a girl about to enter high school and facing the tough entrance exams. Luckily, she has her best friend Shi-chan to help her out. Not wanting high school to seperate them, Ayumu decides to try and get into Nishidate too (it is Shi-chan's dream school). It looks like things are going well as Ayumu's grades start improving, but come the exams, everything collapses for Ayumu. She does get into Nishidate, but Shi-chan doesn't which causes the end of their friendship and the beginning of Ayumu's cutting. Time skips ahead a little as we see Ayumu start school alone and friendless. Things start to look up (or do they?) when she befriends Manami, a bubbly cute girl in her class who likes Ayumu because she's 'pretty'.
As I mentioned Ayumu does cut her wrists, creating some of the rawest, most emotional scenes I ever seen in manga. From that it's easy to tell that LIFE is a dramatic series that deals with a lot of tough issues that are present in real life such as self-injury, peer pressure, bullying, and sexual harassment. Yet despite the dark overtones, LIFE manages to keep a strange sense of hope which kept me from getting overly depressed. I've read the first three volumes now and I'm addicted to this series.
The bottom line is buy this. Honestly. If you're looking for a high school story that creates a more realistic setting and deals with real life tough issues then this is for you. I'm writing this as a review for volume 1 and I'm sorry if it ends up on a different page (as it probably will)and saying that I also want to add that things get even darker from her on so be ready!
On a side note: I'm really happy with the product itself. For once Tokyopop doesn't have the binding to tight. yeah!
Its story has always seemed to me to be an extended chapter taken from the pages of `Confidential Confessions'--another drama series a la manga which dissects the problems of the youth--only much better.
The story of `Life' follows that of Ayumu Shiiba, a confused & emotionally isolated high school freshman who has lost her best friend to exams & is tortured by the belief that it is all her fault for their separation. In an emotional eruption of unfathomable pain & violent guilt Ayumu slices her wrists for the first time, punishing her feeble body & soul, yet only to find herself disgusted, ashamed, & hating herself even more than she already does. But it's too late... this box cutter has already become her Eden...
In a world where the practice of cutting has been exposed, the practice of cutting has been exploited. So many authors, comic & novel alike, toss a cutter-character into their works for the sake of cheap shock value or artificial tear shed, without a single clue as to how cutters truly feel & just go about guessing everything. But this is not so in the case of `Life'. The scenes of Ayumu injuring herself are raw & heavy. For her, this is the only way she can find to relieve her wrathful, blurry guilt. This author, Suenobu, she isn't pretending. This pain that Ayumu suffers is genuine, & that pain spills over the panels like the warm blood over Ayumu's wrists.
But something to keep in mind is that the issue of self-injury is only prevalent within the first 5 volumes of Life--throughout them Ayumu steadily learns to overcome her `sin'--& after that Ayumu finds herself facing several other harsh obstacles that drag her to the brink & back. Ayumu's metamorphous is a genuine one, from fearful wallflower to headstrong heroine, as are her new challenges of stalking & social abuse.
This was the first ever book that I've purchased that was writhed in plastic (its 6th & onward volumes). But unlike the typical low-brow pornography that this wrapping-paper usually symbolizes, Life is a very adult book in a very adult way. Personally I do not find the [M] rating necessary. Though the content in theory is highly mature, it all remains fairly ungraphic in the sense that all the naughty bits are blocked by heavy shadowing. I've seen worse in [OT] titles.
- - semi-spoiler - -
Each & every character is three-dimensional, whether friend or foe. From Miki's hidden needs to Manami's naïveness with handling her fresh sorrows & understanding the outside world to Katsumi. Katsumi is probably the greatest example of them all. He is Ayumu's stalker. Someone the author demonizes through dramatic lighting & bizarre panel angles, albeit too exaggerated. There's absolutely nothing admirable about him at all. & yet rather than hatred you feel a sort of soft pity for him. He knows what he's doing is wrong but at the end of the day he just doesn't care. Underneath his sickly skin there's something vulnerable about him & you realize that his torturing of Ayumu is actually his only means of finding control over anything in his binded life. Not that that excuses any piece of this disturbed behavior, but he's very similar to Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Cruel, unforgivable, unfathomable, but you just can't find hate for him.
So whom do I hate? Perhaps the most disgusting, hateable character I have ever met is Manami along with all her shallow drone friends. All the [...] they drag Ayumu through--& it's [...]--without an ounce of humanity left within their hollow shells & all the while they're stuck in the delusion that they're somehow justified for their grotesque behavior. I literally clinch my fists as I watch what they do to this girl. I grind my teeth. I hate them. I want Ayumu to beat them. I need Ayumu to beat them. She is me in junior high.
By the end of the 6th volume Life has gotten very tangled & complicated. For every bright event that occurs another shadow seems to appear. As Ayumu strengthens so do her glassy hardships. Everybody's motives are becoming twisted & stretched. People are beginning to act desperate. & Manami's targeting has become unpredictable as she too begins to lose control. These stakes & emotions are plunged intensely & in naked rawness, but they always remain rooted in reality. Nothing feels phony, this is true human reaction & true human emotion. Life is kind of like life. A path unknown where uncoordinating feelings run & blur together.
- - spoiler - -
On another note that may interest potential readers, while Life has always remained firmly planted in the better half of my comic collection even despite what I'm about to say, the secret reason I first purchased Life: there were hints of a heartfelt yuri, between Ayumu & her enigmatic protector Miki. It was the comments Ayumu made in her head. 'I wonder why my heart is pounding.' 'That outfit really looked good on her.' But then within the 6th volume a male character was introduced & it seemed as so many other manga do that he was to become Ayumu's lover, so I dashed my lame hopes...
Well, it turns out I shouldn't have dashed them...
My last comment will be on the artwork itself. There are many dialogless panels, ones where it's the eyes of the characters that say everything. I've always loved comics that utilize dialogless panels, expression is why I read comics. While hardly 'pretty,' the characters are drawn in a very unpolished look which I find to match the atmosphere pitch perfect.
When she pulls ahead of Shinozuka and gets into Nishidate, the high school they both wanted to go to, Shinozuka gets upset with her and stops talking to her. Ayumu begins to hurt herself in earnest, now carrying an exacto knife with her wherever she goes for comfort. She remains quiet and removed from her classmates until two people assert themselves in Ayumu's life; Manami, a bubbly outgoing girl, and Hatori, a girl who seems very comfortable alone. Will a friendship be enough to stop Ayumu's self -injury?
This is a very important topic for any book series to be tackling. I'm happy to see that a manga artist has taken the task up, seeing that manga is a steadily increasing book market. Self-mutilation is a hard thing to talk about, but so many people do it (or at some point have done it) that it is a good thing to see people shining a spot light on it. It's not the easiest series to read but perhaps that is what makes it a worthwhile read. Jealousy, envy, self doubt, and contempt all run rampant in this series. It's a good one.
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