What would you do if you had one day to live? This is the question that the unfortunate few have to answer in Motoro Mase’s Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit.
In Mase’s grim vision of Japan in the not-too-distant future, one person out of every thousand is unwittingly injected with a deadly nanocapsule, which is released at some time before their 24th birthday. The manga follows the story of Fujimoto, a young civil servant whose job it is to deliver Ikigami, or ‘death cards,’ to the unfortunate few 24hours before the predetermined time of death, informing them of their fate. This volume shows the final day of two of the Ikigami recipients, as well as the circumstances surrounding their actions, and what leads them to make the (sometimes brutal) decisions that they do. Artistically, the manga is of an extremely high calibre, portraying a succinctly dark urban world without becoming overdone. Mase’s detailed artwork - although some of the character designs look quite similar – is extremely proficient.
One way of describing Ikigami would be to liken it to a particularly grim slice-of-life manga, as there is, as yet, no overarching plot past the self-contained stories of the unlucky protagonists; although Fujimoto’s dissatisfied musings on the system of government that supports these state-sanctioned murders does suggest we might see something more from the series. However, even as a series of thematically similar short stories, Ikigami is still expertly written. The feeling of tired acceptance everyone feels towards the news that their friends and loved-ones may die without warning one day is particularly chilling, as well as the nods towards a systematic culling of anyone who speaks out against the regime.
Ikigami could easily fall into the trap of becoming overdone or unbelievable, and yet the reader never stops believing that these events are taking place in a realistic setting. The world quickly forgets about these doomed young people as soon as something new catches their attention, and the efficient bureaucracy of the standardised killing shows the kind of attention to detail you’d think only a state government could come up with, which really just adds to the unsettling nature of the story. There’s definitely some inspiration from Death Note here, in the themes of murder being used “for the greater good”, and hopefully later volumes will explore this idea further, as this debut entry has laid a foundation for some potentially very thought-provoking narrative, if it keeps up at this pace. Personally, I also found it very reminiscent of Battle Royale too – either the novel, manga or film: take your pick, so if you’re a fan of either of these two franchises (and if not, why not?) then you should find a lot to like here.
If the next chapters develop on the interesting concepts presented here, this could be a series to rival the big names. At any rate, it’s a great read.