I didn’t mean to read another manga about a journey toward death with “the end” in the title, but here we are. Maybe it’s the pandemic? Although Saihate started serialization in June of last year, so maybe Itoi was already working on it with her editor when Covid turned the world upside down. Either way, it’s interesting that I would come across another book about choosing life or death toward the end of the second year of the pandemic. A disease ripping through a large chunk of the world’s population has a way of making you reassess your own mortality, and apparently, manga is here to help me do just that.
This is where I should tell you that this book deals with death and suicide, and if that is not your jam, close this tab and come back next week. I’ll probably be back on my classic shojo trip by then. Or click around for other fun on this repository of my brain versus the many books. This post about girls loving girls is fun, or maybe this post about being a nerd and embracing the hell out of it. Take care of yourself with whatever manga you need to.
While Hiraesu is in the fantasy vein with a god on their way to their own demise, Saihate is a little more down to earth, just regular people looking for solutions to unending misery and coming up with death. Hotel and restaurant Auberge Gild is just down the road (five minutes to be precise, hence the title) from the famed suicide spot Shidenomisaki (seemingly modelled after Aokigahara, the “suicide forest” and the star of an upcoming Junji Ito story that is pretty wild) (yes, I translated it so maybe that’s a shameless self-plug, but it’s still a wild story and you should read it), and so sees a lot of customers coming in for one last meal or a last night in a comfortable bed before they walk into that forest and never come back. Naturally, the staff of Auberge and the people of the small town around it are aware of the suicide forest and do what they can to deter people from taking this drastic final step.
Sumomo is one such miserable soul. She’s on the train to the town in question, checking out a page of top suicide spots on her phone, when an older lady on the train begs her to reconsider. “You’re so young and pretty. You matter.” But it’s the whole young and pretty thing that Sumomo is running away from. She doesn’t know who she is outside of this constructed identity. And, of course, she has a secret.
That secret and Yuko, the mysterious former child star/current manager of Auberge, are the drivers of the larger narrative that weaves its way in and out of the suicide-of-the-week structure of the individual chapters. Sumomo is the first of these cases, and once she’s safely out of the suicide woods, she joins Team Auberge as a live-in server and helps other miserable souls find meaning in their lives again. One man rediscovers his love of all things Star (Wars and Trek), and in a very satisfying moment, tells his bully of a boss to shove it. A famous actress figures out how to ride out a terrible scandal, a woman leans into love, and there’s even a very adorable suicidal meet-cute, where two people on the verge of ending their lives find meaning and a reason to go on in each other.
The subject matter is pretty grim, but this is a hopeful book. Like the obi says, these people are thinking about life in the place closest to death. It’s about tough times when the only way out is through. The characters find new hope in new relationships, in reframing their lives through new hard-won perspectives. And it’s about kindness, about reaching out and supporting each other. Which feels like a particularly needed message now when the world’s on fire in so many different ways.
I originally picked this up because the Itoi book Akata Éditions put out this fall (Le goût des retrouvailles) looked so pretty! (If you read French, definitely check it out!) This is possibly the first time that I’ve come to a manga artist through a French translation, but I’m glad I did. Itoi’s work is just as pretty as I was led to believe. Expressive, emotive, often minimalist, eschewing backgrounds for a focus on the characters and everything they are feeling. (And they are feeling a lot!) Itoi clearly loves drawing pretty people, so if you’re looking for a book full of hotties, she’s got you covered. Which is no surprise since, like so many of the artists featured on these pages, she came up through BL, the genre that loves pretty people more than any other genre (except possibly yuri).
While the suicide-of-the-week format works for this first volume as it establishes the characters and the situation, I do hope Itoi starts to move away from that in future volumes and dig into the larger narrative that she’s set up here. No matter how hopeful the endings are, an endless string of suicidal people is going to wear thin sooner rather than later. For now, though, each chapter is a little moment of joy, another person realizing that they are loved and needed in this world, something we could all use a reminder of from time to time.