This is the first review brought to you through the generosity and kindness of the folks who purchased something for me from or through my Amazon Wish List. In this case, the review has been sponsored by pachy_boy and many thanks to him for it. He thought this manga would interest me and it does – but not for the reasons he thought. (Sorry…)
The story is, at least for the first volume, mostly realistic. Ayumu, a girl with low self esteem and poor study skills, relies on her smarter friend for assistance to pass the exams into high school. When, through a bizarre turn of fate, her friend Shii does not pass the exam, she begins to resent Ayumu, then outright hate her.
Personally, I question the fact that her friend could have possibly lost skills through helping Ayumu study. That simply makes no sense. If they were studying at a level high enough for Ayumu to pass, then they were studying at a level high enough for the friend to pass too, but be that as it may. Full of self-loathing, Aymu becomes a “cutter.” That is to say, Ayumu begins to cut herself in order to inflict punishment on herself for her self-perceived unworthiness and to feel alive at all. This part, at least, is written incredibly well – Ayumu’s feelings match those of many teenagers who cut themselves.
Ayumu goes on to the new high school, determined to be antisocial, but a shiny happy, incredibly superficial and immediately loathsome girl, Manami, pops into Ayumu’s life and takes it over. And this is where I had to check out of the story. Manami is, as I say, entirely loathsome. So much so that I cannot for the life of me conjur up the least little sympathy for Ayumu after she decides to be friends with such an obvious skank. I felt for her about the cutting, I really did. It’s nothing I ever did, or would ever do – I much prefer to take my bile out on others rather than direct it towards myself – but still, I understand the thing that drives a person towards cutting well enough. But if she didn’t take one look at Manami and think, “what a tick”, well, she’s going to get into miserable situations.
And she does, of course. I did a quick overview of the next several volumes, and it looks like the story goes from one misery to another, with no hope for redemption or resolution in sight. Yeah – I’d want my teenaged girl to read this…not. I imagine it will resonate well with girls facing similar situations, but if there are that many girls facing that many similar situations, then our country has WAY more to worry about than kids cutting. And maybe it does, I don’t know. I despair to think that that many girls might well be in that many horrific situations. I have to believe that it’s a soap-opera mentality; wanting to see people marginally like you in crisis situations that are like yours blown well out of proportion to increase the dramatic potential. I fervently pray that it is so.
What *did* interest me about Ayumu was that, although she is in no way lesbian, she is an exceptional example of a woman-identitfied woman. Most of the examples I can come up with are lesbian characters, so I found Ayumu’s behavior very interesting.
It’s not uncommon to see women, of any orientation, notice what other women are wearing, or comment on their looks. What is less usual is to see women represented as noticing and caring what other women think of them. This is hardly uncommon behavior in real life, but I only tend to see it portrayed in “chick lit” and/or dismissed as an example of the superficiality of women. But Ayumu is more than that. She watches the girls around her almost exclusively, measuring herself against them, not for the sake of a boy, but for the sake of herself. It’s hard to miss that she comments on the looks of the other girls in the class, but completely ignores the appearance of the boys. And yet, I believe she is straight. Ayumu notices the girls for their beauty or popularity, not because she desires them, but desires to be measured against them. She identifies herself in relationship to them, not in relationship to the guy(s) in her life, as Manami does.
So, I don’t see any yuri at all, but I do see a reasonably woman-identified-woman. A rare thing in manga.
Unfortunately for Ayumu, her desire to be carried away in the company of women is going to be getting her in mounds of horrible trouble. I won’t be reading the next volumes of Life, but I might skip to the end to see what happens, when the series finishes.
And, if I did have a daughter who was reading this series, I’d definitely take the opportunity to discuss some of the many issues in here with her.
Unfortunately, Tokyopop blows a HUGE opportunity to engage the reading audience in a dialogue about cutting. The final page is a pedantic, dry and overwhelmingly dull discussion of cutting by a women who has a bunch of letters next to her name. Way to disengage a teen audience there, guys. A small box with the Cutting Hotline number and short, simple and unpretentious message would have served everyone far better. No young person in emotional distress wants some psychologist going “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” at them. Hell, I don’t want it now, and I’m no longer a teen, nor in emotional distress.
And btw: Hotline for Teens who Cut: 1-800-366-8288
Talk to someone about it. Seriously.
Art – The Usual Teen Manga – 6
Story – The Usual Melodramatic Teen Manga – 5
Characters – The Usual Melodramatic Self-loathing Teens – 5
Yuri – 0
Service – 3
Overall – 5
It wasn’t awful. it wasn’t good. It wasn’t my cup of tea. The biggest problem with the story? I didn’t like a single person in it.