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Manga / Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

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

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit is a seinen manga series written and drawn by Motoro Mase, which was serialized from 2005 to 2012 (starting out in Weekly Young Sunday before moving to Big Comic Spirits in 2008). Probably the best way to describe it 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 randomly 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 they are to be chosen until their 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 they have 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. 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.


  • Alternate History:
    • The Act was forced on Japan as part of the surrender treaty at the end of World War II initially - but the treaty involving the Act is altered to remove it eight years later, where it is retained by the Japanese government voluntarily.
    • However, episode 19 reveals that the country the series takes place in is not Japan. In fact, representatives from Japan visit in order to consider adopting the Act themselves.
  • 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.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: When riots break out over the country's ally going to war and urging the country to recruit citizens to fight for them, the government quickly suppresses the riots by offering the one thing nobody can resist if they join the military: a shot that'll destroy the nanocapsule in their body.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kengo and Dr. Kubo fail to incite a rebellion against the government, and the National Welfare Act finally fulfills its true purpose of providing the nation's ally with perfectly mentally conditioned soldiers for their war effort. However, Kengo and Dr. Kubo manage to free themselves from their brainwashing and flee to Japan.
  • 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.
  • Dying as Yourself: After overcoming his brainwashing and attempting to flee the country, only to get caught by a still-brainwashed Dr. Kubo, he tries to get her to shoot him instead of hauling him in for another round of brainwashing. Fortunately, she's not too far gone, either, and he manages to pull her back from it as well.
  • Dystopian Edict: 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.
  • 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.
    • Seiichiro is secretly a member of the National Welfare Police, and eventually sets a trap for Kengo when he starts doubting his loyalty. After his rehabilitation, he's sent after Kubo, who's relapsed from her brainwashing and started working against the Act again. Except that all of this is a lie; it's just a test of Kengo's loyalty, and when he tries to flee the country with her, she attempts to turn him in again.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After discovering the true purpose of the National Welfare Act, and realizing that the people, rather than rise up against their oppressors, would rather take the easy way out and join their ally's military in exchange for removing the nanocapsules from their bodies, Kengo becomes disgusted with everyone involved and decides to just flee the country.
  • Secret Police: The Ministry's got em, and isn't afraid to use them. Seiichiro is a member, and eventually sets a trap for Kengo and gets him arrested and "reformed."
  • The Spartan Way: The true purpose of the National Welfare Act is a variation on this. With the constant threat of death looming over the heads of every 20-something in the nation, the government hoped to create a nation of citizens defined by "perseverence, solidarity and blind loyalty," the perfect kind of people to be recruited into their ally's military.
  • 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.
  • 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.