on 8 April 2013
Late last year, I got hooked, and I mean irrevocably hooked on the Japanese drama series LIFE. My friend informed me there was also a manga series, and so I checked out the first volume from the library.
And the next volume.
And the next.
Why is a manga primarily about a girl being bullied in some of the most horrible ways possible by the two richest students in school and their followers so, so addictive? Well, it is, because I'm shaking my fist at TokyoPop for closing down before the series reached an ending, and having to feed my addiction going to scanlation websites.
Firstly, the story.
Ayumu Shiiba is your regular girl about to leave junior high and go on to high school. There's only one problem, though: her grades are really bad and her best friend, Shii-chan, is hoping to attend the best school in the city, Nishidate. Desperate not to be separated from her, Ayumu asks Shii-chan to intensively tutor her, and when the school acceptance notices come in... Ayumu makes it into the school, but Shii-chan doesn't.
Shii-chan, who had pinned all her hopes and dreams on going to this school since... forever, now hates Ayumu, and in a fit of depression, runs out into oncoming traffic RIGHT IN FRONT OF AYUMU. Ayumu is so upset about the tables being flipped that she begins cutting herself, and behaves rather standoffishly to her new classmates.
However, one day, Manami sits with her. Manami seems like the perfect girl. Her grades are great, she's rich, and she is really kind. But betray her once and holy s***.
Ayumu and Manami become fast friends. However, one day, Manami gets everyone in the class to ignore a girl called Hiro. I don't remember the exact reason why in the manga, but in the TV drama, it's because she's started modeling in magazines and Manami prefers being the centre of attention. Ayumu is shocked, but doesn't want to upset Manami.
THEN, it turns out that Manami has become suicidal after her boyfriend, Katsumi, broke up with her. After seeing Manami try to jump under a train, she visits Katsumi, just to try and talk him into getting back together with Manami. Unfortunately for Ayumu, Hiro takes pictures/video records her going into Katsumi's house, but that's a matter for later. Katsumi is a complete and utter psychopath, it turns out, and he gets off on BDSM, tying up Ayumu and taking several blackmail photos of her. If she dares to tell Manami or a teacher, he will release them to the entire school.
It also turns out that Hiro has shown the camera footage to Manami, meaning Manami has spread rumours and made everyone in the class vow to exclude Ayumu from their activities.
The bullying in this series is extreme. And I mean it. If you were bullied at school like I was, then you know how much it hurts. I was called names because I was 6'0" at the age of 14, with a side-serving of emotional abuse and threats of physical abuse... but never, ever was I...
* Thrown into the school incinerator and locked in there
* Thrown onto the school rubbish dump
* Had a bucket of water thrown over whilst hiding in the toilets
* Had a wet mop shoved in my face along with shouts of "dirty slut"
* Been completely ignored when going to the headmaster/teachers
* Been beaten up
On TOP of all that, Katsumi then shows up at her house, having gotten her mother to believe he's a nice guy and a great tutor, where more abuse happens! And more blackmail! And he knows about Shii-chan! Alright, later in the series, he gets his comeuppance when Manami gets a new boyfriend who just so happens to be this biker punk and beats the heck out of Katsumi. And in the TV drama, he kills his father and ends up in isolation on a prison ward. And let me tell you, after seeing all the abuse he puts poor Ayumu through, you will be cheering.
Ayumu does have two rays of light in her life, though. Even though her mother waves the issue away and her tutor and the headmaster completely ignores her (Manami even cries to her father that it's Ayumu doing the bullying and nearly gets her expelled before one of the best TV drama endings ever)... she makes two friends. Miki and Yuki are two students who also endure a lot of bullying, but deal with it courageously and help Ayumu through the darker days. Miki has been blasted with a rumour that she skips school regularly (which she does) to go on 'dates' with older men (which she doesn't), and Yuki is just your typical weakling who tends to be pushed around a lot. It's a very convincing friendship, let's say.
I'm going to give this ridiculously addictive manga a 4/5. It's dark and almost brutal in its portrayal of bullying, but sometimes a little bit too much. Everything is a little bit convenient. I don't know anything about bullying in real-life Japanese schools, but it seems awfully convenient that nobody believes Ayumu, even when she comes home with her uniform absolutely soaked from being drenched with water, or has to change into her school tracksuit after having food thrown at her. Also, the dogged determination that Manami and Katsumi have... geez, guys, get a life! It's just a bit too dark and gruesome, but hey, that's what makes it so dramatic. Plus, it makes the happy moments that much sweeter in comparison.