Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Every human being has a soul. That soul, which takes the form of a stone, has been passed from person to person for the duration of its existence, and each soul has a plan, quite separate from whatever the human who possesses it might think or want. Sometimes human will overwhelms the soul's plans, often because of other derailed souls in their vicinity. The people at Livingstone are there to try and get you back on your soul's right path...or, if they have to, to free your soul and move you along to the next life without it.
There are as many different beliefs about souls and the afterlife as there are religions in the world. Some believe that to name a child after a living person will render the older person a ghost, as his soul will be transferred to the child; others favor a series of repeated reincarnations through eternity. In Livingstone's first volume, we are introduced to a system that holds that each person contains a “psycholith,” or soul stone, which has its own plan for the person who possesses it. If the person continues on the psycholith's preferred journey, living the allotted years and fulfilling the required tasks, everything is fine and dandy, but if the human's free will derails the soul's plans, it risks becoming impure. An impure soul stone can cause problems not just for its holder, but for others who may later come into contact with it, and the employees of the company known as “Livingstone” are tasked with keeping as many souls on the right path as possible.
As of this writing there seems to be an increased number of anime and manga properties being turned into stage plays, but Livingstone's origins go in the opposite direction: it began as a play before being adapted into a manga by Deadman Wonderland's Jinsei Kataoka. You can see the origins in the book, which is heavier on dialogue than other seinen manga (or shounen, for that matter) and favors philosophical telling over showing in general. This does not, however, detract from the story as you might expect. Instead it really does make the book unfold as if you're watching a play, or rather an old moving illustration performance such as predated anime, giving Livingstone an older feel. It works well for the subject matter, which is in itself quite heavy.
The story follows two young men who work as soul maintenance men. Sakurai, who appears to be slightly older, is a serious fellow who takes the job very seriously. His partner, Amano, lacks a soul of his own, which enables him to collect soul stones and essentially kill people with no emotions whatsoever. There's a definite sense that over the course of the series' four volumes Amano will come to understand humans better, but as of right now he struggles with both sympathy and empathy, at one point telling a grieving brother that putting flowers on a roadside memorial is useless because the dead are gone and don't care. This difference between Amano and Sakurai makes for one of the more interesting themes in the volume, which again looks as if it will be further developed as the story goes on, that of the requirements the living have in order to stay on their correct paths. Grieving, and how everyone copes with grief, forms the backbone of the second of three storylines in the book, making it perhaps the easiest for most readers to relate to.
The first story feels the most typical: a man is about to commit suicide when his soul still has years left on its “timer.” It turns out that he's being affected by a haunting in his apartment, the residue of another soul stone whose plans went unfulfilled. This and the third story are much more typical of supernatural manga than the second, at least in terms of the chain reaction of bad deeds. What's much more interesting is the way that both situations are resolved, with the third story being the more striking of the two. It's part of an question of what happens when one soul goes off-road while “helping” another to end its journey, and it appears to bother both Sakurai and Amano, which is unusual. It also sets the stage for another recurring character, which is atypical of the volume's episodic format.
The characters in Livingstone are a bit weaker than the plot, as both Sakurai's earnestness and Amano's emotionless ADD qualities are familiar to the characters and situations presented. We don't know why Amano doesn't have a soul or how Sakurai fell into this line of work that he clearly doesn't like, so that helps to create enough intrigue to keep the series moving, but neither of them are all that fascinating or developed on their own. Kataoka's art doesn't go in for the shock value of his earlier series and is actually fairly subdued in terms of both gore and body types. The unraveling imagery such as we see on the cover is the strongest, but his use of uniformly thin lines generally works for the storytelling.
Livingstone's first volume is not a book that you read quickly and improves upon thinking it over. It's impact is strongest after you've finished reading it, which won't work for readers in search of a light supernatural series, but if you'd like something to chew over, it's worth giving a shot. While I imagine that it is stronger in its original stage play format, this is still an interesting and very readable story with a good concept behind it, no matter where your thoughts on souls may stand.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting concept, second and third stories are particularly good. Makes what feels like a good transition from stage to page.
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