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Manga: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

"May you rest in peace."
—Final line of text on an ikigami

Probably the best simple way to describe Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, a seinen manga series written and drawn by Motoro Mase, is "put Battle Royale and Death Note in a blender and hit 'puree'." That said, the story goes far beyond such a simple explanation.

On the first day of school, every child receives an inoculation. Most of them will live their life to its natural conclusion; a small percentage is pseudorandomly injected with a nanocapsule, set to activate itself at a certain point of its life, between the age of 18 and 24, rupturing the aorta and killing the possessor instantly. Nobody knows if he's been chosen until his last day has come: a messenger from the Ministry of Health and Welfare is sent to deliver a notification of death, informing the victim that s/he has only 24 hours left to live. Those notifications are called ikigami - literally "death papers".

Ostensibly, the government, through the "National Welfare Act", does this in order to encourage its citizens to be grateful for life. In reality, the Act is a brutal, fascist means of controlling the populace, as those not selected become fearful of what can happen, especially since it is well known that those who protest too much will have a nanocapsule injected into them. The series has both serial and episodic elements - while the series is divided into Episodes revolving around the story of a single ikigami recipient and their last day alive, there is also a larger story arc involving Musashigawa-cho's ikigami messenger, Kengo Fujimoto, and his complex and tortured relationship with his job, the Act, and the people he meets; as well as an arc involving how the Act is seen by society, both in public and in private - and several of the Episodes see the different arcs cross and collide.

Tropes:

  • Alternate History: The Act was forced on Japan as part of the surrender treaty at the end of WWII initially - but the treaty involving the Act is altered to remove it 8 years later, where it is retained by the Japanese government voluntarily.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: The episodic way of playing out the story means that every single arc introduces a new character and the people around that character. The only thing that remains the same is Kengo, the person delivering the notes to each one.
  • Arc Words: "Hello. I'm here to deliver an/your ikigami." Cue the Oh Crap.
  • Ax-Crazy: Several of the Chosen, understandably. Let's be honest, how many people would take a government bureaucrat telling them "oh, the government is going to kill you in 24 hours for the public good, have a nice day" well?
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Averted - none of the Chosen intentionally takes their life, as of Episode 12. The Chosen of Episode 3 does overdose, but it's unintentional.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Pretty much how the Act works - the fact that you don't know if you got an ikigami until you either make it to 25 or a government official shows up on your doorstep with one is meant to induce terror into the populace.
  • Double Meaning Title: Episode 12, The Truth Revealed.
  • Face Death with Dignity: What the Chosen are supposed to do according to the government. Of course, it's not hard to figure out how well that goes.
  • Heroic BSOD: You'd be hard pressed to find someone who won't do this when presented with an ikigami.
    • Kengo spends a decent part of Episode 12 in one. Then again, it's his own fault.
  • The Mole: Dr. Kubo. Which side she's a mole for remains a question until Episode 12, when it's revealed she's a ranking member of the underground opposition to the Act.
  • The Movie: In Japan, a live action film was released in 2008.
  • Precision F-Strike: Graffiti artist F.K. turns his handle into one.
  • Restraining Bolt: The bereavement pension is supposed to be one - if the recipient violates the law, the pension will be revoked and the deceased's relatives will be held liable for their conduct. Considering a number of the Episodes result in the recipient deciding to say "fuck it" and break the law anyway, it doesn't work well.
  • Russian Roulette: A variation in Episode 17. The Chosen of the Week crashes an Immunization Day session with kids getting their shots and threatens to kill herself to drive the point home that the parents are basically killing their children and don't even care. One of the doctors (who once gave a shot to a future Chosen) tries to talk her down by putting some of the consequences for what he's doing on himself by shooting himself up with shot after shot (now once again running the risk of dying via nanocapsule years down the line) until she surrenders.
  • Secret Police: The Ministry's got em, and isn't afraid to use them.
  • Take That: When a famous graffiti artist winds up getting an ikigami, his final act is basically him Flipping the Bird to the National Welfare Act. How does he do this? With the only way he knows how; art. And it's awesome.
  • UST: Kengo and Dr. Kubo. It doesn't end well.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted - The guy Kengo sees with Dr. Kubo is the Chosen in Episode 12. As for why they were together, he was a recruiter for the organization Kubo was a leader of.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 12.
  • You Have 24 Hours: Or less, depending on how long it takes for a Chosen to get their ikigami. It's mentioned that it is not unheard of Chosen to not receive their ikigami in time.

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alternative title(s): Ikigami The Ultimate Limit
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