Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Konno is one of the chosen ones – a girl who hangs out with just the right people and carefully mimics their opinions. She focuses on going with the flow, saying the right things, and spurning the correct people so as to stay on the inside. Then one day a terrible bus accident tears down everything she's carefully maintained during her high school years, and Konno must learn to cope with the world that she has created...and the monsters it has given rise to.
Very few mangaka's works so neatly fit into the U.S. 's concept of “young adult literature” as well as Keiko Suenobu. Focusing almost exclusively on the traumas that befall teenage girls, and treating them with the seriousness that they either deserve or maintain in the minds of the girls who experience them, Suenobu's series delve into some of the same territory covered by authors like Laurie Halse Andersen and Ellen Hopkins. The Limit, her most recent to see an English release, is a tense story that hides the bitter social realities of a Hopkins novel with the action of Lord of the Flies. The story follows Konno, a high school second year who has attached herself to popular girl Sakura and her cronies. Outwardly beautiful, Sakura rules the classroom with a sweetly vicious hand, singling out one specific girl, Morishige, for her especial torment. Konno's thoughts let us know that she might not like this, but she feels that allying herself with Sakura is the safest way to get by, and it is until a terrible bus accident on the way to a class outing leaves Konno and four others the lone survivors on a mountain. One of those others is Morishige, and rest assured that she has taken everything done by Sakura and her clique To Heart.
While there is action in this story – the volume ends on a violent cliffhanger – it is more about the emotional violence caused by cliques and bullying and what that can do to a person. Less Cage of Eden: The Shoujo and more psychological experiment, Suenobu encourages readers to think about the results of their actions. But more than that, she appears to have something to say about our acceptance of the state of the world. The book opens with Konno walking to school and passing a man lying on the ground. She, like most other people, walk right past him. She notices this even as she herself is unwilling to step up and offer to help, noting that the moment people move past him he leaves their minds. Just as she is about to pass out of the man's orbit, however, she notices a classmate stopping to help him. This could arguably be the moment when Konno begins to think about the way she acts.
The Limit's first chapter, one of only three long ones in the book, serves as the set up for the rest of the series. Showing us the daily interactions of Sakura's gang and the rest of the class, Konno's narration gives us an idea of how life is for the “chosen ones.” Their tormenting of the other students comes off as mild compared to some other shoujo titles – no one gets physically hurt until the bus crashes, and harmful names aren't used to hurt their target. This subtlety allows Suenobu to give us an idea of how the casual cruelty of everyday life can build until it becomes something overwhelming. What we see seems harmless enough until later in the book when Morishige reveals the extent of her hurt and how it has shaped her life. A flashback to Konno's middle school days also helps to solidify this, and we see how she chose the path she did upon entering high school, although given some of the narration and Sakura's lines, one has to wonder how much her own physical appearance contributed to her becoming the hanger-on rather than another Morishige.
While not totally original in concept (some readers may notice the similarities to the Tokyopop released series Innocent W), Limit does its best to keep readers on the edges of their seats. The mix of personalities who remain after the disaster make for interesting interactions and Konno's jaded view of the social world adds nicely to the survival themes. One slightly disconcerting issue is that there are virtually no male characters in the story thus far – we know that the school is coed and see male students, so the fact that only girls form the core of the narrative feels a bit contrived, even if it has been done to make a point about girl-to-girl bullying. Vertical has published this in a slightly smaller trim size than the usual manga, giving it the height of a mass market paperback rather than a trade, and the panels can seem a little more crowded than in a larger book simply because of the page size. Overall, however, this is a smoothly translated story that pulls you in and is hard to put down, no matter how horrible the actions on the page.
Who are you? How do you treat people? Would you help the man collapsed on the street, or would you walk on by and forget all about him? These are the questions at the heart of The Limit's first volume, and Konno beginning to realize her answers may come too late. Treating high school social issues with the harshness they merit, Keiko Suenobu fuses bullying with a survival story, and if the result isn't perfect, then it still manages to be an engrossing read.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Intense and exciting while still managing to include an intellectual component in the form of social commentary.
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