Kunihiko Ikuhara is indisputably one of the greatest anime directors working today. He helped shape the original Sailor Moon into the classic it is today, and on his own he helmed Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and most recently Yuri Kuma Arashi, all of which are masterpieces in their own right. It's hard to believe that anything he touched could be less than perfect, but today's review shows that even he has some off-days.
THE WORLD EXISTS FOR ME ( S to M no Sekai), written by Be-Papas & art by Chiho Saito. First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2005.
Sekai is on a school trip to France, and she takes this opportunity to finally confess her love to her handsome classmate Midou. At the moment he rejects her, the train crashes, but this is only the beginning of Sekai's problems. A lovely blond boy carrying an equally lovely doll saves her, and together they are whisked through time and space to Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. Sekai is accused of being a witch, but is saved by Machiavello, a mysterious and seductive man with a strong resemblance to Midou. Sekai is transported yet again to the time of Joan of Arc, where she learns that she part of a much larger fight. Sekai seems to be the prize in a battle that involves the boy, the man, the devil, and a magical book known only as the Book of S & M, and it will take all her wits to survive.
Oh, Ikuhara. You can try to hide all you like behind the Be-Papas label you used for the Utena production staff, but your signature ideas and motifs are all over this manga. As you would expect from him, all of those ideas and motifs are interesting, but they haven't been woven into a cohesive narrative here. It feels like he's just making things up as he goes, and that's a bad plan when it comes to manga.
Let me see if I can make sense of what goes on in this volume, which would be more than Ikuhara does. Sekai is the middle of a holy war between a literal angel and devil. Sekai herself possesses some unspecified power that is connected to the magic book, which both sides want to reunite for their own desires. It sounds simple enough in theory, but in execution it's a mess. Part of the problem is that Sekai herself is terribly uninteresting, serving little more as the rope in the tug of war between Souveil (the angelic boy) and Machiavello (the devilish seducer). She's also the prize in the contest, as both declare their love for her, even as Machiavello tries to bed her so he can touch her soul gem. That's not a double entendre, although I don't blame you for reading it that way. Anyway, Sekai is a character that is completely without agency and the only relatable thing about her is the confusion she feels over what is happening to her.
I don't blame her for being confused, as the time travelling doesn't seem to add much to the story. It feels a little bit like we're being taken through French history's greatest hits, as we breeze through Versailles and the Affair of the Poisons, only to spirit itself away to the Hundred Years' War and Gilles de Rais. Why does this happen? Who knows! The story never specifies what all these different points in history have to do with the whole Book of S & M nonsense. It all starts to congeal into a pile of nonsense. The World Exists For Me might be beautiful and occasionally intriguing, but it's nonsense all the same and it would need a strong hand and a strong direction to turn into something coherent.
Like the story, the artwork has a lot of ideas but it's not able to tie them together into something whole. I suspect that in this case, the problem is that there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. In addition to Saito providing the art, there's also a separate costume designer, and I'd be shocked if Ikuhara didn't supplement some artistic ideas of his own. At least Saito's character designs are lovely, if a bit simplistic, and she certainly has a way with drawing bedroom eyes. I suspect that the character designer got a bit of a workout during the Baroque era sections, as the costumes are suitably beautiful, distinct, and surprisingly historically accurate. I just wish she had toned things down with Sekai's school uniform, as it's a horrendous explosion of frills. The chaos of the story seems to bleed into the art as well, as the pages are full of layered panels and the characters seem to leap in and out of their panels. It's all terribly pretty and precious, but again it needed a strong direction and maybe a few less people to find its way.
The World Exists For Me feels half-finished, like Ikuhara and company had a bunch of ideas for a manga and they just threw them all on the page before they had hashed out who was who and what was what. It's a beautiful, intriguing, but ultimately incoherent mess of a manga.
This series was published by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan, with 2 volumes available. Both volumes were published and are currently out of print.