To be frank, Ikigami is most remarkable for its premise: A certain Asian country has instituted a public program of injections for every child; one in 100,000 will painlessly fall over dead during early adulthood. Moreover, the government keeps records and notifies the victim and his or her family exactly 24 hours before the projected time of death. The stated purpose is to instill in every citizen a fear of death, which encourages them to live every day to its fullest.
(There’s also a creepy “thought crime” element to this society: anyone who disagrees with this philosophy is immediately carted away and never seen again.)
Yes, the premise is ridiculous. This would never happen. And unfortunately, a lot of this volume’s pages are spent defending the injection program to the reader, explaining how citizens’ records are kept separate to avoid bias, etc. This may be important for later plot development, but there was too much of it for me in this volume. I’d rather the program just exist and get on with the story.
Fortunately, the injection program is not the plot’s focus; Ikigami uses its premise to tell anthology stories about one particular government official and his, well, “victims” for lack of a better term. The manga asks the question: given the pressures on you, what would you do if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live? Every 100 pages or so of this manga tell the story of one individual’s last day on Earth.
These stories are told in an often-dramatic fashion; I found a lot of dramatic camera angles and close-ups that felt far more intense than the actual situation demanded. It’s as though Motoro Mase, the artist, was trying to stir up the reader’s emotions for mundane stories.
Moreover, Masa uses a fairly small range of distinctive character design elements, so at some points I had a tough time tracking who was who.
Nevertheless, Masa’s character stories progress at an impressively steady pace; action sequences are clear and easy to parse, and information comes at you at just the right pace to be easily absorbed. Excepting the long sequences explaining the injection program, of course.
One nice thing about Ikigami‘s premise is that it changes nothing about each victim’s life. Nobody gets a huge pile of cash or a gun. Moreover, a…dramatic exit will leave behind quite a mess for the victim’s family. So most victims don’t end up wallowing in hookers and blow. They focus on their actual lives and their legacy.
Overall, I felt that Ikigami needs a few volumes to settle itself into its plot. It feels like Masa is exploring his premise here, and that future volumes are more likely to fully satisfy the reader. This first volume satisfied me, though.
(Interestingly, Tomoyuki Takimoto directed a live-action film adaptation of Ikigami, which was released in 2008. I wonder how it’s structured.)