In the world of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, a government agency known as the Ministry of Health and Welfare has devised the National Welfare Act to ensure that the citizens value life. When every citizen enters elementary school, they undergo an immunization, with one in a thousand syringes containing a capsule that will cause the death of the person between the ages of 18 and 24. This is all tracked by the government, but the chosen people are only notified 24 hours in advance of their deaths, at which point they are given an ikigami, a notice of their upcoming death, and an identity card that allows them to access various services so they can experience life or help another before their death. This is also a way of controlling the population. In reality, many people are killed this way; thousands each year. Anyone who disagrees with the agency is arrested and often reeducated (brainwashed).
Kengo Fujimoto is a messenger. He delivers ikigami to scheduled citizens. Kengo is beginning to doubt the necessity of the National Welfare Act, as well as his own role in delivering ikigami for the government. He has met a woman that he has fallen for, but she is anti-establishment and possibly a social miscreant. If he does not report her, he could be considered a traitor. She could be innocent, she could be guilty, or she could be a plant by the government to catch people like him. Kengo must make a decision that will lie heavily on his conscience.
The first ikigami in this volume goes to a young man named Kazuma Yamazaki, estranged from his family and homeless, and living in Internet cafes around town. His aunt and uncle do a complete 180, but Kazu learns that they just want to keep him under close watch until his death, so he doesn’t commit any crimes that will deny them the bereavement pension. He decides to get revenge by becoming a criminal, but is eventually confronted and saved by a young blogger he had been following, and then saves in turn. The second ikigami goes to a member of the New Life Revolution Union, Tomonori Ichijo. His father once hosted a news show that exposed corruption and cover-ups, but it was shut down, and now he produces variety shows. Ichijo’s mother admired his father’s initial job, but she fell ill and died while his father was too busy to come see her. Furious with his father, Ichijo joined a movement to expose the truths behind the National Welfare Act. Angry and desperate after receiving his ikigami, Ichijo takes Kengo hostage and demands to air his convictions on live television for everyone to see. To placate him, the government stages a fake broadcast. Could this be the time for Ichijo’s father to redeem himself?
This one is really fascinating. Very Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Everyone is made to believe that the government’s scheduled murdering of its citizens is perfectly normal and for the good of everyone. If you don’t believe that, then it’s time for a little reeducation. If you are aware of a social miscreant (basically, anyone who speaks out against the Ministry of Health and Welfare) but don’t report them, then you also fall under suspicion. To trap traitors within the government, the Ministry assigns Welfare officers to pose as social miscreants. Ministry workers who turn others in earn points. Relatives of social miscreants are also considered traitors and are ostracized. They will not allow any unsavory depictions of the the Ministry or the NWA; they control the news outlets and keep a close eye on the Internet. Outwardly, the goal of the National Welfare Act is to instill a love of life and encourage productivity among the citizens. Behind that, it is clear that their goal is to exert control by instilling the fear of death. In Ichijo’s words: “The NWA doesn’t promote appreciation for life…just the belief that living is at least better than dying! And if we feel lucky simply to be alive, everything else can be tolerated in silence.” Docile obedience. The public has been obedient so far, but with the televising of Ichijo holding a Welfare official hostage, Kengo’s doubts about the system, and Ichijo’s father’s newfound desire to uncover the real truth, perhaps things are soon to change.
This particular volume is excellent at showing two completely different sides of the NWA. Kazuma ends up using his ikigami to help a fellow rundown person climb up out of her pit and create a new life for herself. He uses his scheduled death for the betterment of another who will live on. On the other hand, Ichijo snaps and attempts to wake up the population to the truth by harming a government messenger of death. One followed the path the government chose for him, the other lashed out. The title is well written and well drawn, and it’s not a big investment as far as length, so if you enjoy stories like this, I highly recommend Ikigami as an excellent exploration into the human condition and government control.
Come back Wednesday for my monthly look at the new Diamond Previews catalog’s manga selections!
Review copy provided by Viz Media.