Real Account Volume 1
I don’t know why I have a fondness for “we’re trapped in a video game and have to kill each other!” manga, but they can be surprisingly fun as escapism. Except, usually, I don’t really identify with hardcore video game players, and they tend to overdo the fan service. (I figure that the genre exists so that readers can dream of a world where being really good at video games counts for something.)
Real Account, at least based on the first volume, overcomes both those issues for me, making for a thrilling read with some deep questions behind it. The one scene focused on a girl’s underwear has a pretty good plot reason for the image, and the setup is about more than just gaming.
Real Account is a new, popular social networking service. Ataru participates on it, like everyone else, but he doesn’t have any real-life friends, because he struggles to take care of his younger sister since their parents have died. RA gives him games to play and people who follow him, which helps him feel not so lonely.
Then he and thousands of other people get sucked into their phones, into a mass gathering space where the RA mascot gives them bad news, over and over. If they die in the social network, they die in the real world, and so do their followers. The first challenge is to see how many people keep any followers, once the public knows that. (Of course, everything is being broadcast, because people are media hounds with morbid curiosity.) When our hero thinks about losing all his followers, he fears, “I’ll die!” which is a pretty compelling statement about why people participate on social media. Without attention, no one matters. Only here, it’s literal.
There’s a game involving whether your perception of yourself as pretty, average, or ugly matches other people’s, and one that rewards people for getting retweetted. (The double T apparently prevents trademark problems.) These are hitting at some deep-seated neuroses of people and tackling some of the biggest myths about the internet (such as cam-girls being fake and manipulating images to get followers). Plus, the way artist Shizumu Watanabe draws the online world, it’s full of visual distraction, screen tone and other people everywhere you look, which seems like a pretty good metaphor to me. The story is by Okushou.
Ataru, without much personality, is still a hero because he figures out ways to outwit the sadistic game leader, and his emotions about trying to get back to his sister and protect others are what we sympathize with. The underlying theme, about whether or not social media followers are real friends or not, is one that encompasses a number of emotions and situations. There isn’t a simple answer, because some are and some aren’t, and you may not know which is which until you do go through a crisis. (The publisher provided a review copy.)