So far there’s been a distinct lack of shojo-styled manga on this blog - time for a change of pace! That said perhaps not, as this is one of the more disturbing titles I’ve ever had the ‘pleasure’ of reading.
Ayumu’s an everyday high school girl with average grades and modest personality. Her best friend Shinozuka is the top of the class and they decide to study together to help bring her grades up. All intentions are good and Ayumu’s grades steadily raise, but things are a little too close for comfort for Shinozuka who begins to feel her position as the better student threatened. Only Ayumu passes her finals, causing the two to go their separate ways, but not before Shinozuka’s bitter resentment is passed on, causing Ayumu’s confidence to nose dive… and there ends chapter 1.
If by the title we’re to assume that this manga really represents ‘Life’, then I’d be terrified to ever go to a Japanese school. Early volumes contain scenes of self-harm, public humiliation, kidnappings and sleazy blackmail - even a scene where a group of girls try to force Ayumu into swallowing needles. It’s pretty grim stuff. What makes Life so difficult to read is that there’s no real reason for Ayumu to be so perpetually victimised aside from the insecurities of the absolute psychopaths that she seems to attract.
From volume 6 the age rating jumps up to the 18+ mark and goes further with the intensity. Our heroes are kidnapped again, tied to a bed, sexually assaulted and left for dead with the building on fire. School kids don’t do this! The drama is so overblown that is risks becoming pure melodrama, which to be honest would offer real respite to the horrendous sequences of events. But that it is able to reign in its intensity makes this uncomfortable and gripping reading throughout.
Unfortunately, and somewhat mercifully, Tokyopop wasn’t able to publish beyond volume 9 when Kodansha pulled all their licences from them. Some sort of resolution or sense that there could possibly be a happy ending to all this suffering on the way would be very heartening. But without this conclusion this series exists as one of the most twisted and venomous titles out there. You have been warned…