by Keiko Suenobu
published by Vertical; $10.95 US
My thanks to Alexander Hoffman at Manga Widget for running a contest where I won this book and volume 2. It’s the kind of story I never would have tried otherwise, and I’m glad I got a chance to discover it without risk.
Limit, to describe it briefly and in reductionist fashion, is Lord of the Flies with Japanese schoolgirls. Konno is surviving her teen years by hanging out with the popular queen bee Sakura and looking down on anyone different. She knows her precarious position in this world is dependent on keeping Sakura’s favor, much as an old-fashioned lady-in-waiting, and her take on picking on others is “better them than me”.
Then the class goes on a school trip and the bus crashes, killing almost everyone aboard. The two most important girls left are the independent Kamiya, whose self-reliance extends to knowing useful skills to survive, and the bitter manga artist Morishige, who sees the catastrophe as the perfect chance to get back at everyone who called her names. The few survivors must wait to be rescued, but can they survive until then?
I’m intrigued to see how the story continues, but I’m also chilled by the background. The focus is on the girls and how their ranks and interactions change in a life-or-death situation, but there’s a short sequence in book two showing how everyone who should be figuring out the entire bus is missing winds up convinced someone else is taking care of it. There’s a reliance on “just doing my job, if there was a problem someone would let me know” that’s disturbingly frightening.
Some of Konno’s narration errs on the side of being too obvious, as when she calls school politics a “microcosm of society”, but the question of how people would cope when their entire world turned upside down is a universal and fascinating one. How much would you be willing to do to stay alive in a desperate situation with a potentially crazy person? How much does loyalty matter, and who are your true friends? Is there such a thing?