Everything you need to know about LIVES is summed up by the following category tags: “big breasts,” “meteor,” “stranded,” “strategically torn clothing,” and “survival.” (Kudos to the Baka-Updates moderator who felt the need to give “strategically torn clothing” its due as a category. But what, no “hungry predators”?)
Plot-wise, LIVES resembles Battle Royale, Gantz, and King of Thorn in using a catastrophic event — in this case, a meteor shower — to deposit normal people into a hostile environment — here, a dense jungle inhabited by carnivorous monsters. It doesn’t take long for the refugees to discover the particularly nasty secret behind these beasties: they were originally human beings as well, and some can still transform back into their bipedal selves, with no memory of terrorizing their fellow survivors.
Art-wise, Taguchi delivers the goods, with scene after scene of expertly staged carnage. His monsters are perhaps a little too neat, lightbox chimaeras that originated in the pages of National Geographic, but they’re agile and vicious enough to be convincing. His humans also offer balm for tired eyes: the hero, Shingo, has abs that would shame The Situation’s, and the harem of doe-eyed, big-bosomed ladies wear just enough clothing to prevent the story from shading into pornography. (In a hilarious touch, all of the women’s shoes are in immaculate condition, even though their tops and skirts have been reduced to scraps. Paging Imelda Marcos!)
What’s missing is subtext. LIVES is the umpteenth manga to suggest when man lives in a “state of nature” — no rulers, no rules of law — that a “war of all against all” prevails, creating an environment where lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” While other manga-ka have attempted to explore what happens to the human psyche when all social constraints disappear, Masayuki Taguchi focuses exclusively on those consequences that Thomas Hobbes forget to mention in The Leviathan: costume failures, near-rapes, faintly incestuous relationships, and hyper-violent showdowns between monsters and would-be meals. There’s nothing wrong with carnage and cheesecake; I’m all for brainless fun. But when the narrative falls into an all-too-predictable pattern of grope-chase-chomp-regroup in the very first volume, a little subtext goes a lot farther than a cool monster or a torn shirt in making things interesting.
Review copy provided by Tokyopop. Volume one will be released on February 1, 2011.
david brothers saysJanuary 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm
I’m almost afraid to ask, but here goes—what’s a “faintly incestuous relationship” and how much will it gross me out? We talking like a “Thank goodness we’re step-siblings!” sort of thing or more of a long lost orphaned siblings accidentally finding love in each other’s arms?
Katherine Dacey saysJanuary 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm
Several of the chapters in LIVES focus on a brother-sister pair whose relationship doesn’t quite cross the line into sexual, but borders on creepy-close. The brother is meant to be a surrogate for the otaku reader, I think: he’s chubby and socially inept, but dotes on his beautiful little sister to such a degree I found it a little unnerving.
JRB saysJanuary 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm
The most interesting thing about this manga, by far, is the changes that Tokyopop has made to the cover image. It looks much more sophisticated with the orange-and-green palette of the monster dude toned down, and the shadowing around the girl makes her more prominent while also adding an element of anxiety (although the multiple perspective shadows under her are just clutter). Kudos to the graphic design team; too bad the contents are still such a dead loss.
Katherine Dacey saysJanuary 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm
The phrase “lipstick on a pig” comes to mind…
Jade Harris saysJanuary 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm
This would probably be an interesting read for fans of the Battle Royale manga. Taguchi likely wanted to take some themes from that in a different direction.
As a fan of the Battle Royale book and movie, but not the manga, I can totally understand all of your issues with this book. All subtext flew out the window to focus on the violence and torn clothing. I think Taguchi probably has some thoughts about the subject matter and has something to say, but the message gets lost as he tries to hammer it into the reader’s skull.
Beyond that, this take on the island of lost humanity is philosophically flawed. What happens to humans in a natural setting with no society to tell them what to do? The length and breadth of human history shows us that they select leaders and form communities each and every time this situation pops up. The point of Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale was to show that a repressive boarding school without natural parental love and guidance and a militaristic totalitarian regime is going to breed monsters that snap as soon as the shackles of fear and control are removed. It’s possible that Taguchi wanted to attribute the same sort of oppression to modern society, but the end result seems to say that humans are innately just a cop or a faux pas away from rape and torture.
Katherine Dacey saysJanuary 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm
I don’t mind the fact LIVES is so cheerfully lowbrow, but there’s just not enough here to really merit more than a volume or two. The formula is already well established by the third chapter, and whatever bigger mysteries the island harbors, they don’t seem to be all that interesting. Even the characters don’t have much personality; whatever else I might say about Gantz, the characters are memorable and compelling enough for the reader to get swept up in the action.