What’s the value of a human life? Are you responsible for the life of the stranger sitting next to you on the train, or the kid who sits next to you in class? These are the questions that propel Yua Kotegawa’s Line, a one-volume drama that’s part after-school special and part modern-day fable. High schoolers Chiko and Bando are on opposite sides of the social divide: statuesque Chiko is a contented member of the in-crowd, while Bando is an A-student and athlete who hangs with the “freaks.” The two are thrown together when Chiko picks up a lost cell phone and hears a mysterious caller telling her the time and location of a death. True to thriller conventions, the girls find the body of a classmate at the local train station. It seems Chiko has been chosen to play the savior in a suicide pact, and soon the girls are racing across Tokyo trying to stop the deaths. The breathless pace of Line doesn’t give Kotegawa much time to develop her deeper themes of technology, social networks, and suicide in contemporary Japan (where suicide rates are on the rise), but her story and dialogue have a natural rhythm that captures an ordinary girl’s reaction to an extraordinary situation. Line‘s true insights lie in the little, human moments between the teens as they try to do the right thing. Kotegawa’s art is clean and sharp, and it puts readers in the action taking place on Tokyo’s streets, subways, and rooftops. Though the main character design is so pretty the characters almost seem cold, side characters show a greater diversity (there’s actually a fat character, the victim of the in-crowd’s teasing). A few elements are clearly there to please a certain audience–Chiko manages to lose some clothing (but for a good reason!) and there’s a hint that Bando’s interest in Chiko is more than friendly. While the ending feels a bit like a “very special episode” of a sitcom, the relationships between the characters remain convincingly unresolved. Will any of the bonds formed during the desperate chase last beyond the moment? As in real life, no one has all the answers.
By Yua Kotegawa
ADV Manga, 2006