By Dale Carothers
Suenobu, Keiko. Limit Vol. 1. Vertical Inc., 2012. USD $10.95. ISBN: 978-1-935654-56-8.
At first glance, Suenobu’s art has the standard shojo look. Pointy-faced girls with big eyes. But, as I read, I found something more. Something gentle and controlled but capable of stark horror. Her lines are faintly impressionistic, giving them a depth of emotion that deepened my connection to the characters.
After the volume ends, Suenobu sketches out a quick page about the art supplies she uses. Little drawings of pens and brushes, accompanied by explanations about how she uses them. She makes her tools sound so mundane, so workaday. As if she’s unaware of their inherent magic.
Suenobu lays her magic out on the page. Free-flowing and self-assured. Her pen is her wand.
Limit is about high school girls. The cliques, the shifting alliances, the bullying. Power stems from beauty and grace, and awkward girls are the peons and the peasants. Our guide through this world is Konno. She’s a consummate follower. A pretty girl who gets good grades and who knows how to curry favor with Sakura.
Sakura is the most popular girl in school. The Queen of the Plastics. Heather Prime. Everything about her is perfect. She chooses whom to bully and when. Everyone wants to be her or at least be near her.
Konno is in Sakura’s clique. She was unpopular in junior high and has made it her life’s work to stay at the top, because she knows how awful life at the bottom can be.
Morishige is Sakura’s polar opposite. Fat and frumpy, with a tragically unstylish page-boy haircut. She slouches her way through the halls with her head down, dripping with anxiety-induced sweat. Her only social stock lies in the manga she draws: Tarot Fortune. But even the compliments she earns from her classmates hurt her, sending her anxiety into overdrive.
One girl seems to stand outside the social order of things. Blonde-haired and bespectacled Kamiya. She defends the weak and helps troubled people on the street. She hates Sakura and her clique, and doesn’t seem to care what they think of her. There are scenes that suggest more is going on with Kamiya than we see on the page. I’ll let you discover them on your own.
Before finals, each class heads out to Exchange Camp, rotating in and out, one class per week. The characters of Limit have drawn the dreaded last slot.
They never make it to camp. Their bus veers down into a ravine, killing most of the girls and trapping the survivors in the ravine. Everything gets turned upside down. Including the social order. The bus crash is perfectly executed. Beautiful little girls tumble in the rolling bus, falling into ragdoll tangles.
Konno’s wide-eyed fear, her palpable horror, made me feel like I was in that bus, looking at her dead classmates through her eyes. Suenobu gives you just enough detail without going overboard. The pile of bodies and the single bloody shoe tell us everything.
Konno, Morishige, Kamiya, Haru (another of Sakura’s clique), and Usui (a new character, injured in the crash), are currently the only survivors.
Morishige makes a psychotic grab for power. She turns violent so quickly that the other girls are shocked into compliance, especially when they figure out there’s no escape from the ravine. Morishige’s obsession with the Tarot, and her manga, Tarot Fortune, provides the framework for her madness.
Morishige is thrilled to be at the top. And she plays it like a crazed dictator. Making proclamations about the rules of their new society and demanding that her subjects fight for their places, with a sharpened stick.
Things go from normal to abnormal for these girls and I think things are going to get worse. A lot worse.
Limit is a wonderful book. Vertical Inc. continues to import some of the best manga. I look forward to the next volume.
Limit has a 9 out 10 chance of waking Cthulhu from his eternal slumber.