Life GN 2 3

Lifestyles GN 2-3

There aren’t any simple solutions, and even fewer simple exits. After her old friend’s rejection, Ayumu believed that things were beginning to calm down for her and might even be moving in a more favorable direction. We, as readers, may have noticed the red flags regarding her “friend” Manami, but Ayumu was so desperate for a friend that she was unable to force herself to pay attention. At the conclusion of volume one, Manami was in freefall following her breakup with her boyfriend Katsumi, and she utilized their ostensibly innocent pinky vow to compel Ayumu to lend a hand.

It’s difficult to exaggerate how brutal the experiences Ayumu has are. Because Ayumu never has a break, it’s tempting to dismiss everything as melodrama, just like in the first volume of the series. It’s depressing to read about how she keeps falling even when things appear to be going well. But it’s also significant because some of us actually do have these experiences. Even if what we experience isn’t exactly as traumatic as what Ayumu goes through, it frequently feels that way. It’s difficult to read because she experiences so many difficult things, all of which have the potential to destroy a person. Ayumu, however, is in many ways a figure that every girl (or possibly every child; bullying and gender are unrelated) can identify with. Her experiences give us a glimpse into what schools frequently choose to ignore. Even if it’s a lot to ask of Ayumu, it’s important to recognize that life pulls those experiences into the open.

In these volumes, Ayumu’s cutting somewhat recedes as she grows increasingly self-conscious about her wounds. Additionally, it’s not offering her the same sense of comfort that volume one provided. She tries cutting her thighs at one point to both have a better spot to conceal the scarring and reclaim the feeling of release that comes from letting her blood run. Her mother calls cutting “gross” during a news report, and later, while attacking her, Katsumi notices her scars and makes fun of her, which both serve to exacerbate her self-consciousness and the fact that cutting no longer provides her with solace.

The driving forces of these two volumes are Katsumi and his sexual predatory behavior. His comments on her scars are merely the cherry on top of everything else he does to her. Considering the suffering he causes, it almost doesn’t matter that he doesn’t rape her. Katsumi turns out to be the monster under Ayumu’s bed, and Suenobu’s artwork does a fantastic job of demonstrating how his snarling visage haunts her—at one point, his face even appears out the bottom of her suitcase in a scene deserving of Junji Ito. Unlike most of Ayumu’s past victims, who were seduced by his good looks, Katsumi understands exactly who and what he is, thus she finds him to be amusing. He manipulates her by playing on her fear of losing Manami as a friend (along with her powerful group of popular girls). This places Ayumu in a delicate emotional situation. She is reluctant to expose him because, like many victims, she feels responsible, but she also fears losing her social network because, although she is barely aware of it, her “closeness” to Katsumi is already eroding it.

These two volumes do have one thing going for them, and that is Hatori. Although Hatori is a member of the extracurricular social network, she doesn’t seem to care. She gives Ayumu little acts of encouragement like lending her an umbrella when she’s healing from an attack and enticing her to go swimming with her despite her body. Ayumu struggles to deal with the inevitable outcome of her behind-the-scenes advocacy for Ayumu with the popular females. Suenobu demonstrates that Hatori is coping with her troubles and lacks the emotional energy to do more, despite the nagging thought that she could be doing more to support Ayumu or be her friend. Hatori is also a child, in spite of how she may appear, hence it is the responsibility of the grownups to safeguard Ayumu, not Hatori. Only Ayumu’s mother, who is at best careless, is an adult in this series. The only time she appears to be interested in Ayumu is when she employs the man who abused her younger daughter to be her tutor, continuing a pattern of favoring her younger daughter over her older.

The abuser in question, Katsumi, is a horrible person who was undoubtedly raised by adults to be that way. His belief that his interest in BDSM is, at best, unwholesome and something to be embarrassed of leads to his sexual assault. While typically it wouldn’t be the case, the way he acts out his kink is unacceptable. There is no doubt that he utilizes his acts, much like Ayumu cuts, as his only means of coping with the strain his father places on him, including restrictions on who he can date and the institution he attends. Is it beneficial? Not at all, and we are not urged to harbor sympathy for him. Suenobu instead provides another example of a possible explanation for why someone may act in such a manner.

The intriguing subject of whether Suenobu ever includes good-looking male characters in her works is also brought up by Katsumi. There aren’t many good guys or boys in her writings, save from this, Limit, and Life 2: Giver/Taker. This isn’t purposeful misandry, in my opinion; rather, it’s a means to highlight the difficulties and pressures that girls and women confront in a society that isn’t always ready to recognize or support them when they transition from being victims to survivors. While Katsumi may also be a victim, his path leads him to cause harm to others, something Ayumu finds hard to accomplish. It’s unclear whether or if that statement was made intentionally. 

One of the most challenging books I’ve lately read and reviewed is Life. When it comes to going too far, it frequently treads lightly. It nonetheless serves as a necessary wake-up call about a situation that far too many children encounter. Read carefully, but if you can, do so.

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