Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review: LIMIT

Merry Christmas!  Today marks the last day of the 12 Reviews of Christmas.  It's been a little hectic at times, but I really enjoyed this chance to catch up on more recent works, and based on the views I suspect that most of you did so as well.  I have one last one, and it's another new work from the little manga publisher that can, Vertical.

LIMIT, by Keiko Suenobu.  First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2012.

PLOT:  Konno is a member of the popular clique in her class.  She and her friends act as many popular girls do - they gossip and talk about tests and pick on less popular classmates and giggle and have fun.  As far as they're concerned, life is perfect.

That perfection comes to a sudden end when the school bus runs off the road deep into a wooded valley.  All but a handful of students are killed on impact, as Konno soon discovers.  The survivors realize that their supplies are limited, there are no trails or obvious signs of civilization nearby, and their cell phones get no signals.  In other words, they are lost without much hope for rescue.  Worse still, one of the survivors snaps and starts molding the group into her own little hierarchy, striking back at those who tormented her before.  Now Konno must adapt to her new situation if she is quite literally to survive.

STORY:  Imagine a combination of Lord of the Flies, an anti-bullying after-school special, and your standard slice-of-life shoujo, and you'll have some idea of what reading Limit is like.

Suenobu is clearly trying to make a point here about the fragility and pointlessness of high school social structures, as well as about bullying (in particular, the subtle passive-agressive variety practiced by teenage girls).  She does manage to get the first point across rather skillfully and subtly.  Those who were popular and untroubled soon find themselves without any bearing as to how to cope with the disaster or how to save themselves.  In a strange irony, those who were unpopular are the ones who cope more quickly, in not necessarily for the better.  For example, the nerdy Kamiya is the calmest and most collected of all, assessing all their resources and doing her best to arrange for shelter, food, and fire.  On the other hand, she becomes downright callous towards those who died and her calmness is almost eerie; you begin to wonder when she will snap and whatever emotion she's repressing will show itself.

Then there's Morishige the class reject, who flat out SNAPS.  She has been keeping careful tally of who has tormented her, and she views the accident as divine justice.  Her enemies have mostly been struck down, and with weapon in hand she all but declares herself empress of the group.  In this case, the social situation has been completely reversed - the tormented has now become the tormented.  It's too bad that Morishige's reaction is so over-the-top that it somewhat undercuts Suenobu's second point against bullying.  You don't so much learn "don't bully people because they will feel bad and it will create a cycle of bullying" as you do "don't bully people, because THEY WILL GO INSANE AND TAKE EVERYONE WITH THEM!"

Note that I said the point is undercut somewhat.  That's because Konno's story arc helps make the point a bit more subtly and much less violently.  Konno repeatedly states that her motto is "go with the flow" - she has learned the hard way that standing up to bullies only makes you a target instead, so why bother?  Just learn to swim with the social current and not make any waves.  That's what she did.  It's only after the accident that she realizes just how fragile and shallow her so-called friendships truly were, and now she has to adapt to a brand new and highly volatile social current.  Now admittedly that means that Konno's rather passive as far as leads go because she tends to react versus act and think versus taking action, but Konno's situation is ultimately more realistic than Morishige's and she ultimately works well as the audience stand-in.

Limit sometimes verges upon melodrama, but Suenobu has managed to craft a compelling drama where the social structures and niceties of high school life are stripped away to reveal its more unpleasant qualities.

ART:  Suenobu's character designs are a slightly odd mix of somewhat simplified, even flat-looking faces over relatively realistic, detailed, and expressive bodies.  She also puts a lot of detail into the backgrounds, and there's a visceral quality to the grime of the wreck and the dense impenetribilty of the forest.  She's got some skill for tension and action - the scene where Konno reveals the extent of the crash is masterfully revealed, and the fights amongst the survivors prickle with the extreme emotions and tensions of the girls.  This is even reflected, to a degree, in the page composition, as there are a lot of layered, wedge-shaped panels after the accident.  You could say that the pages themselves become as fractured as their relationships.

Overall, Limit's art is nicely detailed and works well at not only telling the story, but highlighting the emotions underneath it.

PRESENTATION: This manga is actually printed at a smaller size than normally seen in American manga, which according to Vertical's Twitter feed was a stipulation of their contract.  The only in-volume extra are some brief and highly technical notes from the mangaka.

Limit is a dark, fascinating story about what happens when the constructs of daily life are break down and those who survive adapt, for better or worst.  It's not always subtle with its messages, but well written and well drawn.

This series is published in the USA by Vertical.  6 volumes are available, and 2 volumes have been published.  Both are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!

Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series?  Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!  The giveaway ends at midnight tonight!

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