[Editor’s note: I’m recuperating from a convention, so please welcome Drew back for another manga review!]
Watanabe’s Our Reason For Living, currently running weekly on the free-to-read Manga Box, is an intriguing title. At first glance, it could be brushed off as what it is on the surface – seemingly, another survival horror manga. Upon reading it, though, one discovers a little bit more than other titles offer in that genre. The title feels like a survival horror manga, but one that would run along side Pokemon or Doraemon in the monthly CoroCoro, with an odd mix of a friendly look and vibe juxtaposed next to the nightmarish situation presented, perhaps making the title even creepier than others like it.
Survival horror dates back to Umezu’s The Drifting Classroom, probably the closest thing I can compare this title to, and for a long time after that manga’s publication, nothing really compared until the novel Battle Royale received both a film and manga adaptation, revitalizing and almost revolutionizing the genre. What happened after Battle Royale, though, is that the manga adaptation became so notoriously violent and over-sexed, that any survival horror manga, from Dragon Head to Cage of Eden, although putting their own spins on it, had to hold up to a certain level of grotesque exploitation, which in all fairness was what fans of the Battle Royale manga wanted more of.
Our Reason For Living is a step back from that, specifically the artwork tells the story visually with way less on-camera violence, combined with simpler character designs, making it feel designed a bit for younger audiences. Not as much with the context, however. A classroom of students suddenly find themselves stuck in school. No one else is around, and everyone has just seemingly disappeared from the building. Stranger, in a fashion very reminiscent of both the previously mentioned The Drifting Classroom or Shinichi Koga’s Misa the Dark Angel series, they cannot get out of the building, either! Things get worse from there, as a laughing phantom-like creature wearing multiple masks appears, and one by one turns the students into torturous looking dolls. The students have to begin to overcome their differences and not turn on each other in a quest for survival to escape this horrid fate and the creature changing them.
Plot wise this all sounds familiar to other titles, Watanabe not blowing any minds with original concepts; however, the dialogue and story flow structure are still nice from a written perspective. The charm that will be key for this title working for readers is the visual way it’s told – less on-camera violence and simpler designs, not only making it more digestible for most, but almost more eerie, since there are times it feels like what could be a more wholesome manga, only to suddenly have a horror scene of one the children being captured and turned into a doll. It can cause an almost greater effect of sympathy and terror in the reader, than when it is presented in the over-the-top style of something like Battle Royale. Watanabe definitely has something cool going on here with this title. It also feels like a story that won’t go on forever and has a solid start-middle-finish, which will be appealing for some readers, as well.
I recommend trying out Our Reason For Living for fans of survival manga who want something a bit lighter. After all, it is free, so it’s not gonna hurt to take the gamble. Found on the Manga Box app, which is available in the U.S., Japan, and China.