We all get depressed sometimes. It's not an easy thing to deal with, in any way, shape, manner or form. Whether we've gone through it ourselves, or watched a love one spiral into hopeless despair, Sickness Unto Death is a title that grabs you with all those familiar feelings.
Sickness Unto Death is a two-volume release from Vertical, and title that flew under the radar for me. I picked it up at New York Comic Con after some insistence from the Vertical people. On the train ride home, I flew through the manga at a breakneck pace. I suspect you will, too.
Follow me after the jump, and I'll go into just what a manga about absolute despair is like.
First-year med student Kazuma is kind enough to help out a young woman who faints on a crowded Tokyo sidewalk. It turns out, of course, that this lady just happens to own the mansion where he'll be boarding -- her parents were friends with his uncle. They've passed away, and all that's left in the mansion is the young girl Emiru, the butler, and a room that's been boarded up.
Emiru lives in the house because she's fallen gravely ill; shockingly low blood pressure and body temperature begs the question of whether she's alive at all. She suffers from no illness, but there's something mysterious in her past that drove her to this state. Before this, she was the class idol -- the one everyone looked up to and wished they could be. Now her beautiful black hair has turned white, she's lost tons of weight, and suffers from night terrors.
Kazuma is determined to change all that.
Sickness Unto Death is a title that really succeeds in its pacing. The chapters move by quickly, and you're practically begging to find out what happens next. Death Note operated at a pace where you blazed through each page at a breakneck speed, but Sickness Unto Death tests the brakes, slowing you down at points to really take in Emiru's frail beauty. I would liken it to reading Naoki Urasawa's Monster, where sometimes it's the shocking image or hook left at the end pushes you over the edge into the next chapter.
The art is competently done, with some high and low points. Character design feels a little generic at times, and despite the terrible conditions that Emiru seems to be suffering through, her body doesn't seem to show it as well as I would expect. Perhaps that is due to seeing her through Kazuma's eyes, since he may focus more on her beauty than the dire straits she's in. The high points, though, are the more terrifying scenes. Without going into too much detail and spoiling anything, Hikaru Asada manages to build on those feelings of anxiety through simplistic images and context. Pay attention to the eyes in particular: artist Takahiro Seguchi finds lots of times to avoid drawing them, but when he does use them, they're beautiful and sad and display emotion perfectly.
There will be points where you're left scratching your head. The manga deals heavily with the idea of "the self" and what it means to be who you are. You might even want to read it twice. But by the end of the manga, the themes coalesce well and we're left with a brief but great story.
Sickness Unto Death proves to be a great title for you to bring along for a long weekend -- it's one you can either take at a breakneck pace, like I did, or space it out and let the ideas sink in. Is it a title that has true lasting value? Probably not. The art doesn't prove itself to be something truly award-winning, and some of the excitement of reading it disappears because you know the whole story. But in the time you read it-- especially if either you or someone close to you have had some experience with depression-- it'll be absolutely captivating. And if you're in the midst of dealing with something rough, then this might just provide a spark to your life.
9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.