Keiko Suenobu’s Life is at the same time one of the most magnetic and most difficult* to read manga I’ve ever encountered, and incidentally probably the most justified winner of the Kodansha Shojo Manga Award since the shojo category’s inception in 1986. Both its difficulty and its magnetism come from its subject matter; a Japanese high school student dealing with social pressures, bullying, and uncaring parents who won’t listen when she tells them her tutor is blackmailing her.
Life is a dark manga that succeeds in being dismal in all the ways edgy action series often fail, featuring self-injury, severe depression, attempted rape, and attempted suicide very prominently. It’s an approach that works because the tone of the manga is very serious, in a way that’s somber rather than edgy. Suenobu isn’t trying to shock the audience, but to help them understand that the problems in the manga are very real for a lot of people (an approach augmented by the inclusion of blurbs by professional Psychologists at the end of each volume). This particular chapter is a prime example of why the manga as a whole is so utterly captivating while inducing so much emotional fatigue.
So Ayumu, the series’s heroine, has just come back in, carrying her desk. The reason she was carrying her desk was that her tormentors, a group of girls led by popular mean girl Anzai, threw it out the window. At the moment, this group is messing with the belongings of another girl, currently absent. Ayumu simmers with the kind of “can’t do anything” rage that people feel in situations like these, but eventually works up the gumption to call the girls out on what pathetic people they are. The result? A cell phone thrown in her face and a foot on her hand as she tries to pick it up.
The page where Ayumu’s emotions boil over is a shining example of shading done perfectly. Just the right amount of dark page gives the impression of negativity that’s finally getting released. If I’m not mistaken, that’s just what the author intended.
That’s right, just get it out there
But depression-inducing situations are never complete without a cherry-tapping finish. After all this has happened, and the clique has with its customary efficiency made the whole thing out to be Ayumu’s fault. She’s now in the teacher’s lounge, encountering the guy who previously nearly raped her on the way in, and is talking with her homeroom teacher. After a lot of self-doubting and fear over repercussions, she finally decides to be honest with her teacher and tells her what really happened. You get three guesses as to how the teacher responds, and the first two don’t count.
Did I mention the adults in this series are supportive and understanding?
And that’s it. Bam. Chapter ends. What’s black and white and makes you see red all over?
I seriously recommend this to people who are human beings and not currently going through their own bout with depression. It’s a great manga to read, if an incredibly draining one emotionally, and does a really solid job of depicting the problems surrounding bullied kids of all ages.
*When I say difficult, I mean it’s very difficult to turn the manga to the next page. This can happen for a couple reasons, not all of which are drawbacks:
1. The manga is so full of small-print text and terminology that reading each page takes multiple minutes and it’s hard to get into a flow. (e.g. Mahou Sensei Negima, anything by Masamune Shirow)
2. The manga is outright terrible and not worth reading. (e.g. SWOT, Freezing)
3. The subject matter of the manga is incredibly hard to digest. (e.g. Life, Onani Master Kurosawa)