Sickness Unto Death Vol. 1 (Vertical)


Rating: 3/5 – Who Put Their Kierkegaard in My Manga?

The next time you hear someone dismiss manga as little more than boys fighting and panty shots, keep a copy of this book around. Sickness Unto Death is an examination of the same principles set forth by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard in his book of the same name (okay, he added a “The” at the beginning). Both books are an examination of the idea of a despair so crushing it is a death unto itself as well as a contributor to the eventual demise of those who suffer too greatly under the weight of it. Freshman college student Kazuma hopes to one day become a psychotherapist. While attending university, he stays at a foreboding mansion with a room to let, provided he can care for Emiru, a girl his age who is in declining health and needs someone to watch over her. Kazuma soon discovers her trauma may be more psychological than physical, as her night tremors seem to be the result of a past event we’re not made privy to in the first of two volumes.

We know this much – she wasn’t always unhappy. In fact she was quite popular, a talented musician, and had a bright future in front of her. Then something happened, something which turned her hair and skin pale white, and left her frail and weak, barely able to stand the sun. Kazuma suspects the answer lies somewhere in her past…a past she doesn’t seem too willing to confront. Kazuma himself is in conflict. He’s not a licensed psychotherapist, and has far to go before he becomes one. His mentor at the university assists him as best she can, but there’s a deeper problem – Kazuma has fallen in love with Emiru, and his unwillingness to be professional and give into his desires may be the very thing that saves her, or destroy her completely.

Pretty deep, eh? Still looking for the boys fighting or the panty shots? Well, I can meet you halfway.

The book itself is a bit schizophrenic in how it goes about offering its material – there are in fact a few scenes of gratuitous fan service (Kazuma’s mentor is a bit oversexed, for one, and there’s a few scenes of pre-trauma Emiru in her underwear) – and that’s unfortunate. Not that the artwork in this book isn’t beautiful – it is – but the gravity of the book is diminished by the presence of a few glimpses of unnecessary fanservice. Perhaps it’s an attempt to lighten the weight of the story, but it almost seemed to shock me out of what I was reading. There’s some fairly graphic nudity and mature content in the book as well, but those scenes seem to “work” given the conflict Kazuma is undergoing, whereas the earlier examples seem to be quick grabs for our attention. They already had it, thanks to the solid storytelling and compelling characters.

I’m in for the next volume, but part of me is thankful this is only a two-volume series. I’m not sure how well it would have worked if it had gone on much longer, or if I’d be willing to stick with it through the whole strange trip. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read Kierkegaard’s original work, which is why I didn’t dig too deeply into the comparison of the two works. However, part of me wants to read it now, which may be another hidden side-effect of this series. It’s a dark ride, and not without its distractions, but it may very well be one worth taking.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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1 Response to Sickness Unto Death Vol. 1 (Vertical)

  1. Definitely added to my reading list! The storyline brings to mind a movie I saw a while back ‘A Dangerous Method’ where Jung discovers the present trauma of a woman is due to her past (among other things). I’m particularly interested in this manga as psychology in general has always fascinated me.Her hair and skin changing suggest a darker influence though, I’ll have to check it out! I think what you mentioned about nudity or semi-nudity seems so common in manga these days. It seems almost like there has to be some in order for titles to sell. It’s a pity, but I think strong plot and characters will still win out. Thanks for your review!

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