Sickness Unto Death, Vol. 1

By Hikaru Asada and Takahiro Seguchi. Released in Japan as “Shi ni Itaru Yamai” by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Young Animal. Released in North America by Vertical.

This manga starts in right away telling you that it’s going to be a tragedy. The very first scene shows us our hero, as an adult, visiting the grave of the heroine. It’s very stark, especially considering how much emphasis the rest of the text puts on trying to save her from her inner demons and her despair. But given how the efforts to save her are, much of the time, exactly the wrong thing to do (or being handled by the wrong person), it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. This isn’t a romantic comedy, it’s ‘watching a car crash in slow motion’ manga. Still, that can be riveting, and it in here.


We get most of the story, as I said, in flashback. Kazuma, a young man going to college so he can study psychology, answers an ad providing lodging for him if he could care for a sick person. Said person is Emiru, an emaciated young woman whose hair has turned white and who seems to exist in a perpetual state of “almost dying” without actually doing so. Kazuma is immediately attracted to her, and decides that he’s going to try his best to get her out of this gloom that her life has become. As I noted above, this is a giant mistake. Emiru’s butler, who should step in as a mature adult and say this, doesn’t say anything as he’s beholden to the family, and also gets conveniently written out. Kazuma’s teacher helps him understand the psychological aspects of Emiru’s mindset, but thinks he’s speaking in the abstract. And then things get more intimate…

I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard for me to read this work without thinking of another manga that revolves, supposedly, around despair. It doesn’t help that as an adult, Kazuma bears a distinct resemblance to Itoshiki-sensei, the lead teacher in Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei, and that manga too has him dealing with young women with psychological problems. This is an altogether darker work, though, and where it best succeeds is focusing on Emiru’s all-encompassing pain and despondency. It doesn’t help that we see flashbacks to her about two years ago, and she’s a cute, outgoing young high school student – the sort of girl who would be the love interest in some shonen harem manga. Now her hair has turned white, she’s so thin you can almost see through her, and she lives on the verge of despair. Of course, this is a two-volume series, so we don’t actually find out her tragic past till next volume, but I can hazard a few guesses…

I greatly enjoyed this volume, but I have to admit that a lot of the time I was screaming at Kazuma “No, no, don’t do that, argh, are you stupid?!” But hey, he’s a young smitten teenager who’s fallen for someone who seems to be drifting away from him even as he meets her. It’s no wonder he’s so desperate. And so here, in this volume, we have the Sickness. I can only presume Volume Two will bring the Death. It looks to be riveting.

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  1. I kind of feel that Vertical should have pulled a Sankarea on this series and given the US edition a different cover. Neither of the two volume covers say anything to me beyond “cheesecake bishoujo romance”. (And the fact that it ran in Young Animal totally does not help with that impression.) If it were not for the fact that Vertical was publishing it, I’d never bother to give it a second look. But the plot actually sounds intriguing.

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