I realize that even acknowledging the fact that Keiko Suenobu’s Limit isn’t your average shoujo story can alter expectations, but that needs to be said right up front. While many conventions are adhered to, going into this manga blind is best, so if you can go ahead and accept that Limit comes highly recommended, do yourself a favor and pick up the first volume with a clean slate. Don’t even read the synopsis on the back and your experience might just end up mirroring my own.
Things start off pretty run-of-the-mill. From the perspective a female student, Mizuki Konno, we’re introduced to the dog eat dog world of Japanese high schools. It’s a world where the strong (read: popular) survive, and cliques are the name of the game. Suenobu paints this world with traditional shoujo flair. Panels crowd and overlap one another, and glowing faces framed by wispy hair beam before starry backdrops. The artwork is very attractive, and all signs point to a dramatic tale of gossip and classroom hierarchy as a weak, chunky classmate is ruthlessly teased and the class embarks on an annual trip to Exchange Camp.
And then everything goes horribly wrong.
On the way to camp, the driver passes out behind the wheel and sends the school bus careening over the edge of a cliff. When Konno comes to, she finds herself surrounded by dead classmates, the metallic stench of blood, and the horrifying thought that she might be the only survivor of a gruesome accident. As it turns out, though, there are a few more girls left, but this isn’t going to be an uplifting tale of classmates helping one another through an extraordinarily trying time. Rather, Limit becomes a Lord of the Flies-like struggle to persevere in a secluded area where the tables have completely turned. That bullied girl from before? She’s now the one in the position of power, and the classmates who shunned her before now have another thing coming.
Limit drops the frilly, starry touches when it hits its most interesting beat, but still maintains a distinctly shoujo aesthetic throughout, making for a tale of bullying and endurance that stands out in the company of similar concepts. Konno isn’t the most compelling of protagonists, but she more or less serves as a convenient perspective for the audience to view the action from. It’s not so much about how she gets out of individual situations, but how the group as a whole interacts with and, in many cases, turns against one another. It could be argued that some of the other characters would make for more interesting leads—and they very well could have—but it seems Suenobu was going for a more neutral angle with Konno. She could be viewed as “popular,” but she’s also been on the receiving end of bullying before, so she can relate to the plight of someone who’s been slighted.
We’ll have to wait and see if that ability pays off when Limit continues. The first volume is fairly brief, and it ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Folks who dig what’s been set up here will no doubt be sticking around, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the potentially gnarly story plays out in future volumes.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Keiko Suenobu
© 2012 Keiko Suenobu