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by Rebecca Silverman,

Box of Light

GN 1

Box of Light GN 1

At the crossroads of life and death there stands a convenience store. People stuck between the two states sometimes stop by to pick up one last thing or to make an unwitting decision about whether or not they want to cross the river Sanzu. Some go back to the living world, some don't, and some are offered a choice to remain in that liminal world where life and death are both put on hold for a brief while.

Box of Light is translated by Daniel Komen and lettered by Brendon Hull.


Although it's not an entirely fair statement to make, Seiko Erisawa's English-language debut, Box of Light, is better in concept than execution. Similar to titles like Phantom Tales of the Night, the story takes place in a liminal world between the land of the living and that of the dead, and in this case, people on the cusp of dying stop by a mysterious convenience store before their fates are sealed. For some people, like the woman in the first chapter, their actions in the store will determine which realm they go to when they leave. For others, like the woman in the fourth chapter, they're really just making one last stop before they go. And still other people end up being offered the choice of dying or working at the convenience store, allowed to live out lives that would otherwise have been cut short by serving the mysterious human-like beings that run the place.

This variation of its own theme does a lot to make the book interesting. It's an acknowledgement that sometimes we have choices and sometimes we don't, and that freedom is what ultimately ends up allowing us to unwittingly choose which side of the divide we land on. This is particularly well depicted in the opening chapter of the series, where a woman stumbles into the convenience store after working nearly a month of sleepless overtime. Just before she enters, she gets a phone call from the office calling her back in to work, and it's this call that allows her to walk through the store's door: if she goes back to work, she's going to die, but if she tells her boss to shove it, she'll survive. We can see this slowly unfolding over the course of the chapter even as the woman herself is unaware of it, and that really sets the tone for the entire volume: even when the characters don't know they're making choices, they are, and those decisions have a lasting effect on where they end up.

It's interesting that two of the chapters focus on the people who didn't even realize they were making poor decisions until the absolute last minute. These are the human workers at the convenience store, young people who don't quite think things through and very nearly pay the ultimate price for it: Kokura, the young man who works alongside the inhuman manager, and Tahini, who becomes our point-of-view character. We meet Tahini in the first chapter but don't learn about him until the third, and his story of death averted becomes important when we reach the tales after his.

Most specifically, his fate is the catalyst for what happens at the end of chapter five, and it's worth mentioning that this is both the most traditional piece in the volume (it has a very goofy partial parallel to episode four of the third season of the mockumentary Wellington Paranormal) and that it contains some suicide ideation. While all the chapters in this volume contain some bittersweet moments, Kokura's story is both the most upsetting and the one with the clearest resolution, making it one of the strongest in the book. It does a very nice job of showing how the intersection where the convenience store stands is one that is still very much peopled by humans with their own thoughts, problems, and desires, while driving home the message that, ultimately, we live and die by our choices at any given moment, and even if sometimes someone's in a position to intervene, the final choice is up to us.

Box of Light is at times hampered by its own world-building, which can alternately make the story far too on-the-nose and too oblique for what it's trying to say. Erisawa seems to be going out of her way to keep traditional spirits out of the story, and that can backfire at times, such as in the chapter where an alien-like being tries to automate the entire store for her own nefarious reasons. It's neat that Erisawa wants to create a completely different realm that's adjacent to the mythology we're familiar with, but it does at times make things feel more complicated than they need to. (Although the reveal at the very end of the volume is a good one.) The art is also at times a detriment to the story, mostly because it's not great with facial expressions. The level of detail, however, is excellent, as is Tahini's monocular cat-thing, which is very expressive.

Box of Light's first volume isn't perfect, and it takes some time to really get into. But it's also one of those series that looks like it will get better as it goes on, and it has a very interesting take on the liminal world between life and death. Given how this volume gets better both as you keep reading and look back on it, it's worth picking up if you want something a little dark but doesn't wallow in pseudo-philosophy.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Interesting story world, book gets better as it goes on and the more you think about it.
Art isn't always up to the task, can be too oblique for its own good.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Seiko Erisawa
Licensed by: Seven Seas Entertainment

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