Manga Reviews: L


LIVINGSTONE

Author: Tomohiro Maekawa

Artist: Jinsei Kataoka

Manga genre: Seinen/horror

Number of volumes: 4

Still in print? Yes.

Your soul is a stone. That is the main premise this manga is built on. Your soul is a stone called a Psycholith, and every Psycholith has a plan. That plan is your fate; the way you are supposed to live your life. The lifespan of a soul is 5000 years, through countless incarnations, all according to the soul’s plan. It also determines when you are supposed to die. If a person follows their “life-plan”, all is well – their soul can be reincarnated to continue its development. The Psycholith is undamaged. But, if a person dies too early – say, if they commit suicide – the Psycholith is shattered, and the plan is broken off. A shattered soul is a dangerous thing; it poisons everything it touches, pollutes the environment the person died in. Prompts accidents to happen, further suicides, triggers a spiral of damaged souls… And this must not be allowed to happen. Which is why, as our two protagonists say, “We’re here…”

Nervous, sensitive Sakurai and blunt, uncaring Amano are working for an organisation that, simply put, does psychic cleaning. Amano has the ability to draw out a person’s psycholith, which is one way of keeping the soul intact – even if the person, the soul’s vessel, will die as a consequence. Amano can also cleanse the negative energy that a shattered psycholith will cause. This energy is shown as living slime, so-called stainbeasts, that crawl on the ground and will cling to people, letting them drag it along with them. Using a spray, Amano destroys the stains, while also tagging his name – a strange quirk of his that, it turns out, other “cleaners” don’t have.

The reason Amano can do all these things is that he doesn’t have a soul of his own. He has something else – something that draws him towards corrupted souls, like a psychic sniffer dog. Sakurai, meanwhile, is a psychometrist – he always wears gloves, and only ever removes them when he’s presented with psycholith shards. By handling the pieces of a broken soul, Sakurai gets visions of how that soul came to be destroyed, and can use those visions to try and put things right. And Sakurai is very, very keen to put things right, and save as many souls as possible.

Amano, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to give a damn. Without a soul of his own, human niceties seem pointless to him. Early on, there is a scene where he tells a man putting down flowers at the site of a road accident not to bother – and gets punched for his trouble. Amano doesn’t care though – since he has no soul, he doesn’t feel pain. Sakurai, however, seems to be developing ulcers from the stress of working with him…

On the surface, these two men act like a pair of occult detectives, always on the hunt for the next endangered soul. The chapters are episodic in nature, a sort of soul-of-the-week format. They even have an inside man on the police force, who feeds them information and secretly lets them visit – and spray-paint – crime-scenes. They also look and act like the perfect odd couple – Sakurai with his suit and glasses, Amano with his filthy parka and spray-cans. But slowly, something that might resemble friendship starts to develop between them. And Amano, who has no memory of his past life, starts to remember… to change. But, is that entirely safe? Especially when he begins to shed tiny bits of stone?

Livingstone is a rather unique manga in that the plot is based on a successful stage play – which was then adapted into a manga by the playwright himself. Maekawa is apparently known for writing plays with a science fiction twist. The third book in the series contains an afterword he’s written, explaining that, at its core, Livingstone is exploring the idea of fate versus free will. How in theory, we are borne into a world of infinite possibilities, but still hemmed in, steered onto a path, by things like where we were born, and the families we were born into. That maybe, because the choices around us are limited, they may seem like fate. In pretty much every chapter of Livingstone, a character is faced with a choice – be killed, or be saved. The two “soul cleaners” always have to ask first – no psycholith can be extracted without permission. Characters may only have limited options to choose from, but still, there is always a choice – and isn’t that what free will is all about?

Disturbing, heart-wrenching and uplifting, Livingstone manages to be all these things at once. Try it for yourself, and see which answer you are left with – are we the prisoners of our pre-determined lives, or are we free?

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