Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 16th 2012
Mizuki Konno thought she could cruise through high school by tagging along with the popular kids, but that all changed with one ill-fated field trip. A deadly bus accident has left Mizuki stranded in a forest with just a few survivors: her sort-of-close (but actually jealous) friend Haru, aloof and self-reliant Kamiya, quiet doormat Usui, and class pariah Morishige. With no more cliques or social structure, the group has descended into chaos: Morishige is bullying everyone else, and Haru has turned against Mizuki in a fight over the last scrap of food. Fortunately, the ever-pragmatic Kamiya comes up with a way to calm the situation. Usui, however, feels left out of the action because of her broken foot, and her anguish soon becomes too much to bear. Meanwhile, back at the school, a communication mix-up has darkened the students' hopes of being rescued...
It's a concept that has worked time and time again: throw a group of teenagers into a hostile environment, force them to interact with each other while fighting for survival, and see what madness results. Some authors use this concept as a vehicle for action-adventure, while others turn it into social commentary. Keiko Suenobu, on the other hand, makes it her own personal psychology experiment. Volume 2 of Limit continues to deliver on what Volume 1 promised: a piercing look into the adolescent mind, showing what happens when school rules go out the window and only unchecked emotions remain.
The first chapter picks up from the cliffhanger that ended the previous installment—Mizuki and Haru about to come to blows, all because of Morishige's twisted scheme (as well as some long-hidden resentments). But instead of taking the predictably violent route, the storyline takes an abrupt turn: the characters make up with each other, then share some affirmations on being strong enough to survive. Some may find this sentimentality a little too contrived, but it helps balance out the mood: just as Limit reveals the dark side of human nature, it can also be uplifting, showing how friends bond together for the greater good. Besides, even pleasant scenes like going fishing in a woodland stream carry a hint of suspense: Kamiya seems to really have it together, but the way she's so quiet and businesslike, could she be plotting something?
As expected, peace does not last long in this story, and it heads down the path of darkness once again in the later chapters. However, the spotlight falls on an unexpected character: Usui, who has otherwise spent most of the series quietly nursing an injured foot. It's a credit to Suenobu's storytelling that she doesn't just focus on one character's viewpoint (such as "average student" Mizuki), but looks at how the situation affects different personality types. Usui's collapse into despair is highly convincing: given her pampered upbringing, the situation she's in, and the fact that she's been rendered helpless, is it any surprise that she's going slightly mad? Her actions in the closing chapter may seem extreme, but then again, the whole premise of the series is extreme.
As if to make up for the characters' illogical behavior, Suenobu also spends several pages trying to cover logical loopholes like "Why haven't the authorities noticed that a busful of students has gone missing? And wouldn't a highway accident leave behind major evidence?" Unfortunately, the resulting subplot—where addled grown-ups miscommunicate with each other, trying to figure out what's going on—is easily the least interesting part of the series. It's obviously just a placeholder meant to fill in some plot issues, and the storyline would do better to focus on the students' fight for survival.
In fact, fighting for survival isn't just the strong point of the story, but the artwork as well. Fear, desperation, and rage come to life with dramatic speedlines, dense shading and screentones, and of course, the characters' intense expressions. And it's not all just about visual representations of emotion: the series keeps things interesting with physical actions as well, whether it's Mizuki and Haru's violent face-off, Usui struggling to run on her injured foot, or the more relaxed activity of catching fish. Character designs are fairly simple, making it easy to tell the main cast apart, but there's still a strong dose of realism with the various face shapes, nuanced linework, and Suenobu's sure-handed anatomy. Panel layouts aren't quite as pleasing to the eye, however, as some action scenes result more in chaos than excitement—the pacing looks rushed, with various images all competing for space on the page.
While the range of emotions in this story can be complex, the dialogue is simple and to the point—the characters talk like regular high school students as they air out their thoughts and feelings. Interior monologue also accounts for much of the script, but there's nothing too self-indulgent here—once again, it's just teenagers trying to make sense of their feelings, trying to talk themselves through the situation. If there are any gripes about the writing, it's that particular habit where a train of thought carries through several panels: readers will have to follow one sentence at a time, and then piece it all together at the end. But overall, the straightforward dialogue and clear translation result in text that's just as effective the story and art.
Although Limit takes place in a highly unlikely situation, with a very narrowly defined cast of characters, it touches upon themes that are universal. Being stranded with a handful of classmates in a forest could just as well be a metaphor for any crisis in one's life—and the reactions of the various characters illustrate the different ways one might respond to that crisis. Sure, it's possible to enjoy the series just for the suspense, the ups and downs, and the striking artwork. But this psychology experiment isn't something that happens in a bubble. It could very well be a mirror into one's own mind: If you were faced with a life-or-death crisis, what would you do? Which character would you be? As this series proves, there are no easy answers.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ As the drama intensifies, this polished series hits all the right notes of hope, despair, suspicion, kindness, and everything in between.
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