Motoro Mase delivers two more tales in the eighth volume of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit. The first story is about a love that was cut short. Not by the delivery of an ikigami from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, but a fatal car accident. The driver is sentenced to jail, but the grieving fiancée is left to succumb to her pain and grief. When he is released from prison she is determined to see that his punishment continues, but when Masato Kitamura receives his ikigami, things get complicated. Masato feels he deserves this and is trying to utilize his final hours to do some good. While Yuki is refusing to accept that he die a hero after taking away the love of her life. She goes through great lengths to publicly expose his crime, and even take his life, but it’s in his final moments that things become clear to both of them.
The second story is even darker as we’re introduced to Kimura, who has been tormented because of how he looks. On the other side of the coin is the girl he has loved since junior high, and though she’s perfect to him she has her own issues. Their lives after high school go in very different directions, but the one constant is that Kimura is still ridiculed for his looks. That is until he decides to undergo drastic plastic surgery to change his appearance. So drastic that when the two meet up again she doesn’t recognize him at all. Then one evening Mr. Fujimoto shows up and delivers an ikigami to Kimura and everything comes crashing down. Through a series of events this emotional roller coaster ends up bringing the two back together to face their inner demons.
The common thread that binds these two stories together is Mr. Fujimoto who works for the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The agency responsible for delivering the ikigami to those whose time has come. He has doubts about his role in all of this, and it’s been affecting his opinion of who he really is. This doubt has also brought suspicion, as he’s now being watched from the shadows by his superiors.
The themes that are handled in these two stories take a more serious tone than in the last two volumes. From depression and murder in the first story to the bulimia and self image issues scattered in the second, it’s a much darker book. Mase does a wonderful job in handling these themes to where it makes these characters engaging for the short time we get to know them. Even when Kitamura is seeking atonement for his crime he’s not handled as some whiny victim, but he owns his mistake and has a deep conviction that he deserves whatever punishment is coming to him, making his confrontation with Yuki that much stronger of a scene. By the time the second story starts you really feel for Kimura and understand why he would go through such extremes to change his outward appearance. Through it all there’s one final theme of self discovery as each of the characters finds out who they really are. Though Mr. Fujimoto is struggling with his station in life, there is a hint that he knows who he is, but he’s torn between the service to the MHW and his own ideals.
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit is a pretty strong and thought provoking series, and as long as Mase keeps the individual stories as interesting as these I can see myself reading much more. However, we could do more with the explanation of how this Japan they live in works, along with a deeper look at Mr. Fujimoto. Other than that I’d suggest giving this one a try.
[Review copy provided by Viz Media.]