Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 4th 2008
Be With You
A year ago Takumi's young wife Mio died from an illness, leaving behind him, their six-year-old son Yuji, and a homemade picture book, which described her going to a planet called Archive (where people who have passed away live as long as they're remembered) but returning at the beginning of the next rainy season. To Takumi's astonishment, exactly that does happen, although the woman who seems to be Mio has lost her memory. The book also says that Mio can only stay for the duration of the rainy season, and since her death Takumi has harbored doubts about whether or not she was actually happy with him, so he is reluctant to get close to her at first. As he helps fill in the gaps for Mio, though, they find each other falling in love all over again. But the mystery remains as to how she actually came to be there, and as Takumi eventually discovers, it is rooted in both their past and future.
The manga version of Be With You is a one-shot adaptation of a novel of the same name by Takuji Ichikawa, which was released in hardback by Viz Media in late 2006 and whose paperback version is being released concurrently with the manga this February. Although tagged under Viz's “Shojo Beat” label, the artistry and writing contain little significant signs of telltale shojo stylistic tendencies, and only in flashbacks does the story feature middle/high school-aged characters. Beyond the basic premise, and the revelation of the story's underlying mystery (i.e. how Mio was able to reappear), the story contains no hint of the supernatural, either. It is, instead, a love story shaped by mystery and wonder, one which cleverly couches its backstory in terms of helping Mio remember critical episodes in her relationship with Takumi that she has apparently forgotten.
From the story's earliest stages Takumi seems like an unlikely choice to be its romantic lead. Though handsome, he is so crippled by his neurotic idiosyncrasies that he cannot stand to ride in a vehicle and must have exactly the same thing for lunch each day. A mother-in-law who has, since Mio's death, come to question whether or not Mio was actually happy with a man like him has led Takumi to question himself, too, which contributes to his reluctance to open his heart again to the woman who seems to be Mio. However, as the current-time and flashback stories progress it gradually becomes clear that Mio is as perfect a match for Takumi as he could ever hope to find, a woman not only pretty in her own way but also one fully willing to accept and love him, flaws and all, as well as being a wonderful and loving mother to Yuji. On the periphery lies Mio's mother's legitimate concerns (despite her opinions, she is hardly a monster) as well as the less-developed concerns of one of Takumi's coworkers, who was Mio's best friend.
Laying behind and beneath it all, never forgotten but not dealt with much in the foreground, is the mystery of how Mio was able to temporarily return from death but without her memories. For most of the volume it appears that the story may just let that point slide as the bit of magic necessary for the story to work, but the final nine pages do explain the circumstances under which Mio appeared, why she did not have most of her memories, and how both relate to both current events and her backstory with Takumi. It involves a variation on a fairly common gimmick, one whose use here displays a certain degree of sense and cleverness and may add even more of a tragic feel to Mio's story. Those who wish to fully appreciate this work may not want to deeply ponder the gimmick's use, however, as a reader who actually stops and thinks about it can probably come up with at least two major practical problems with its application here that do not even concern the technicalities of how it could possibly happen.
The script for the manga version was done by Yoko Iino based on Ichikawa's original work, although manga-ka Sai Kawashima has been called upon for the artistry. Long, thick necks, proportionately small heads, and pupils reminiscent of shining stars characterize her designs, which struggle for consistency throughout the volume. Kawashima also seems to have problems portraying subtler age-related differentials, as her kids definitely look like kids but no real difference can be seen between 17-year-old and 40-year-old characters; for instance, Mio's mother has to at least be in her mid-40s but looks like she could be Mio's younger but more proper sister. While not usually a problem, this does contribute to making some characters harder to tell apart and becomes a major issue at one point. Kawashima's artistry also features light lines, minimal detail in character and background artistry, little texture, and only sparing use of shading. The layout of dialogue balloons also makes it difficult to determine who is saying what at times. Overall the visual look may be (barely) sufficient for helping to convey the story but will not attract any readers on its own merits.
Viz Media's 210-page release of the title translates all of the sound effects and includes two side strips by the artist, as well as a brief bio blurb on the artist. It ends with a four-page preview of the novel version taken from the scene where Takumi and Yuji discover Mio. Unlike nearly every other manga release you may have seen, this one contains no chapter breaks, instead being printed as a single big piece. At only $8.99 it also carries a slightly lower price than the norm for a full-length manga volume. Viz has given it a Teen (equivalent to 13+) rating because of some implied nudity and sex and some mature-leaning themes, which seems appropriate.
Despite its romantic emphasis and occasionally mildly comical elements, Be With You ultimately comes down to the same kind of theme that most “temporarily coming back from the dead” stories do: an opportunity to deal with issues and feelings left unresolved by the death of a loved one. Very sentimental souls might find it to be a bit of a tear-jerker, and it does evoke a certain degree of sadness, but it works best if approached more as a pure romance than a tragic one.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C
+ Heartfelt, completely self-contained story.
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