This is cool: Bryan Lee O'Malley will have this nifty Scott Pilgrim poster for sale at PAX, and hopefully available online afterward. I might have to order one.
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, volume 2
By Motoro Mase
I'm still not sure what to think of this series, but it's definitely an interesting one. As we saw in the first volume, the main stories mostly focus on the reactions and decisions of people who know they are going to die, with occasional appearances by Fujimoto, the ostensible main character, to question the morality of the system. In the two stories here, he gets dumped by his girlfriend for always being so morose about his depressing job, causing him to basically threaten to turn her in to the secret police as a "social miscreant", which would lead her to be forcibly reeducated and possibly executed. Orwellian! Later, he seems to have gotten over his misgivings about the system, and he's even impressed by the positive effect a psychological counselor has when a victim becomes upset. But all was not as it seemed; she wasn't being completely honest about her methods. Oh, those totalitarian regimes! Why can't they be based on truth and decency?
As the series progresses, it should be interesting to see Fujimoto continue to question the system, but for now, the series is all about the victims, who are, of course, never deserving of death. Sometimes there's a bit of mystery as to who is going to be targeted for death, as in the first story, which sees an aspiring commercial director abusing drugs to keep his energy levels up. His girlfriend is upset about the abuse, and keeps confronting him about it, but he doesn't listen, choosing to put his career above both their relationship and his own well-being. So which one of them will get marked for death? And will he be able to sacrifice his own goals to be with her? It ends up being an interesting, sad tale, as he learns about how much she really loves him and how it must have torn her up inside to see him destroying himself.
The second story is probably even better, as we see a young screw-up working at a nursing home finally get a sense of purpose when a senile old woman mistakes him for her long-dead husband. He couldn't seem to do anything right, so being able to help her makes him finally feel worthwhile. But his impending departure seems to crush her, so he has to give her some tough love in a very Japanese-seeming scene that emphasizes self-reliance rather than depending on others. It's striking, touching stuff, seeming to reflect the attitude of a nation that had to pull itself back together after being devastated by war.
It's kind of melodramatic stuff, but Motoro Mase makes it work with his detailed realizations of the settings. He's good at giving the characters realistic expressions and filling up the pages with mundane details that really bring the stories to life. And he's got a great sense of pacing too; the first story sees an excellent moment in which the young couple is arguing about the guy's drug addiction, and after she calls him on his failings, he slaps her. A scene of small, mostly background-less panels gives way to a detailed double page spread that seems to freeze the moment as the reality of what just happened sets in:
Mase does that kind of thing really well, and when dealing with such highly emotional stories, he's pretty good at hitting readers right in the gut. I don't know if this sort of thing is for everybody, but if you want to see people struggling with deep subjects of life and death, you could certainly do worse.