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Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volume 1

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Volume 1 - Motoro Mase I wish GR had two systems: one showing how much you actually like a book -- that is, how much pleasure it gave you -- and one showing how good you think the book is. Because this book is brilliant, but considering how incredibly harsh and depressing it is, I feel weird saying "I really liked it."

The premise is simple:

In our country, there is a law that preserves the welfare of the people. Obedience is the key to happiness, our government tells us. The law is called...the National Welfare Act.

(Cut to double-spread picture of blandly smiling women holding the shoulders of seated, frightened-looking children receiving injections. Are these women reassuring the little ones, or making sure they don't get up until they've had their shots?)

Each citizen, upon entering elementary school, is immunized against certain infectious diseases. This is called the national welfare immunization. But for our purposes, what's important is that 0.01 percent of the syringes contain a special nano-capsule. About 1 in 1,000 citizens are injected with this capsule. It moves through their body, eventually coming to rest in the pulmonary artery. When the citizen is between 18 to 24 years old, the capsule ruptures on a predetermined date, killing them.

Why?

Citizens never know who has been injected with the capsule. They grow up wondering if, and when, they will die. This uncertainty makes them value life more and increases social productivity.

(Cut to creepy, kitschy-looking picture of smiling men, women, and children. A young man standing in front points inspiringly up and forward. His arm is around a woman who must be his wife. Her gaze follows his gesture. She smiles contentedly, cuddling their baby.)

The narrator is a young man whose job it is to deliver an "ikigami" to people who are going to die. (Ikigami: death note.) These cards are printed with the name and a photograph of the victim, along with the exact time and date of their death, which always occurs within 24 hours after receipt of the ikigami.

The ikigami serves as a ticket allowing the recipient free use of public facilities and transportation. It's also the family's claim check for their bereavement pension.

This volume contains the stories of two such "recipients." The second story was the kind of thing I expected. It's the story of how one young man responds to the news of his impending and utterly undodgeable death. It was brilliant, beautiful, and devastating. It made me decide to read more volumes in this series.

But as I mentioned in my first "I'm reading this book" comment, I almost didn't get to that second story, because the first one made me feel ill. Literally, for several days after reading it I couldn't think about it without feeling a wrench of nausea -- and it was hard for me to think about much else for several days.

The ghastliness wasn't in the premise of the series. It was in an all-too-believable scene in which a high-school boy is "bullied," and I'm putting that in quotes because this was so foul that I think "tortured" is a much better word for it. The injuries he suffered were the most bearable part of the scene. The casual sadism, the degradation -- hackneyed words like "vile" and "filthy" keep coming to mind as the only ones that can apply.

My husband recommended this series to me. I ran into the next room and practically whacked him on the head with this volume after reading the scene in question. "Why didn't you warn me?" I demanded.

He didn't warn me, so I'll be a good friend and warn you. That first story is hard to take. To put it mildly. If you have trigger issues, give this book a miss.

But that first story is also kind of a baptism of fire. The next one in the book is nothing like it, in terms of content or intensity. And my husband swears that the rest of the series doesn't contain anything nearly so intense.

I'll see, I guess...