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by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 2-3

Life GN 2-3

Ayumu isn't sure how to handle Manami's breakup with her boyfriend Katsumi, but she's terrified of losing her one friend. She attempts to talk to Katsumi to convince him to speak to Manami, but when she makes a discovery about him that he doesn't take well, she finds herself squarely in the sights of a sexual predator. But other girls in class take her apparent “closeness” with Katsumi the wrong way, and they begin devising “tests” to determine whether or not to isolate and bully Ayumu. Will there ever be a way out for her, or is it better if she just disappears?

Life is translated by Fabian Kraft and lettered by Salud Campos Blasco.

This series has content warnings for self-harm, suicide ideation, bullying, and sexual assault.


There are no easy answers and even fewer easy ways out. Ayumu thought things were starting to settle down for her, possibly even heading in a more positive direction after her former friend's rejection. As readers, we may have seen the warning signs about her "friend" Manami, but Ayumu so desperately wanted a friend that she couldn't bring herself to notice them. At the end of volume one, Manami was in freefall after her boyfriend Katsumi broke up with her, and she used her seemingly innocuous pinky promise with Ayumu to coerce her into helping out.

It's hard to overstate just how vicious the experiences Ayumu goes through are. As with the first volume of the series, it's tempting to write everything off as melodrama because Ayumu never gets a break. Even when things seem to be looking up, she gets slammed back down, and it's overwhelming to read about. But it's also important because these experiences truly happen to some of us. Even if what we go through isn't quite as intense as what happens to Ayumu, it often does feel that way. Any of the things she goes through could break a person, but the fact that she is inundated with all of them makes reading even more challenging. However, Ayumu is, in many ways, an everygirl character (or perhaps every child; gender and bullying are unrelated). We have a window into what schools often prefer to sweep under the rug through her experiences. Life brings those experiences into the light, and if it's a lot to put on Ayumu, it's worth it to acknowledge what can happen.

Ayumu's cutting takes a bit of a backseat in these volumes as she begins to feel even more ashamed of her scars. It's also not providing her the same relief it did in volume one. At one point, she tries cutting her thighs to both have an easier place to hide the scarring and recapture the release that came with letting her blood. Her self-consciousness is worsened by two specific people, which also contributes to the cutting no longer bringing her relief: her mother makes a comment during a news report on cutting, deeming it “gross,” and later Katsumi while assaulting her, spots her scars and makes fun of her.

Katsumi and his sexual predation are the catalysts across these two volumes. His statements about her scars are simply the icing on the cake of what he does to her. Although he doesn't rape her, that almost doesn't matter based on the harm he does. Katsumi becomes the monster under Ayumu's bed, and Suenobu's art excels in showing how his leering face haunts her as, at one point, showing his face emerges from the depths of her bag in an image worthy of Junji Ito. Katsumi finds Ayumu entertaining because she knows exactly what he is, unlike most of his previous victims who were taken in by his handsome face. He uses her fear of losing Manami as a friend (along with her influential group of popular girls) to manipulate her, which puts Ayumu in a precarious emotional position. She's afraid to report him because she feels at fault, as many victims do, but also because she dreads losing her social support – she's barely aware that her “closeness” with Katsumi is destroying that anyway.

There is one bright spot across these two volumes, and that is Hatori. Hatori is also on the outside-of-class social network, but the difference is that she doesn't seem to care. She offers small moments of support to Ayumu, such as giving her an umbrella when she's recovering after being assaulted and encouraging her to go swimming with her, unembarrassed by her body. She also stands up for Ayumu behind the scenes, which has a predictable result with the popular girls, something Ayumu struggles to deal with. While there's a nagging feeling that perhaps Hatori could do more to help Ayumu or be her friend, Suenobu shows us that Hatori's dealing with her issues and doesn't have the emotional bandwidth to do more. Additionally, despite her appearance, Hatori is also child – it's not her place to protect Ayumu; it's the adults. The only adult we see in this series is Ayumu's mother, who is neglectful at best. She continues her trend of favoring her younger daughter over her elder, and the one time she seems to take an interest in Ayumu is when she hires her daughter's abuser as her tutor.

Said abuser, Katsumi, is both a horrible person and probably made that way by the grown-ups in his own life. His sexual abuse stems from his feeling that his interest in BDSM is unwholesome at best and something to be ashamed of. While that's not true normally, how he acts out his kink is problematic. There's a clear sense that he uses his acts similarly to how Ayumu cuts: as the only way he can cope with the pressure his father puts on him, which includes who he can date and what school he attends. Is it healthy? Not at all, nor are we encouraged to feel bad for him. Instead, Suenobu hints at an explanation as another example of why someone might engage in such behavior.

Katsumi also raises the interesting question of whether or not Suenobu ever writes decent male characters into her stories. Between this, Limit, and Life 2: Giver/Taker, there is a distinct lack of positive men and boys in her works. I don't think this is intentional misandry but rather a way to show the struggles and pressures girls and women face in a world that isn't always willing to acknowledge or help them go from victims to survivors. Katsumi may also be a victim, but his trajectory leads him to hurt others, something Ayumu can't bring herself to do. Whether or not that's an intentional statement remains to be seen.

Life is one of the most difficult works I've encountered recently to read and review. It often toes the line in terms of going too far. However, it remains a relevant wake-up call about an experience that too many kids have. Read with caution — but if you can, do read.

Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ Unflinching depiction of bullying and assault, believable reactions from Ayumu to what she's going through. Hatori offers a ray of hope.
Still borders on torture porn, art isn't always up to its job.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Keiko Suenobu
Licensed by: Kodansha Comics

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