Life (ライフ Raifu?) is a shōjo manga series created by Keiko Suenobu, a manga creator well known for her work on Vitamin and Happy Tomorrow. Life was serialized in Bessatsu Friend, a publication of Kodansha, and deals with many controversial topics such as self-mutilation, bullying, rape, suicide, and manipulation. In 2006, it won the Kodansha Manga Award for shōjo.
The English language version of the manga, published by Tokyopop, was originally rated OT (Older Teen; 16+), but starting with the release of Volume 6 and carrying back over to future reprintings of the previous five, the rating was changed to M (Mature; 18+) for extremely explicit content in that volume. In addition, starting with Volume 8 and possibly also applying to future reprints of earlier volumes, the price increased, from $9.99 USD (the norm for Tokyopop manga) to $10.99 USD; the reason for this may be traced to the adult rating. As of June 2008, nine volumes have been released in the United States; Volume 10 was scheduled for a September release, but on August 31, 2009, Kodansha (original Japanese publisher of the series) announced that they would drop their manga licensing contract with Tokyopop, leaving Life and other well-known series such as Rave Master unfinished, whether permanently or until picked up by other manga publishing companies (Dark Horse Manga and Del Rey Manga have already picked up certain titles). Kodansha also did not offer an explanation for their decision. See Tokyopop's page for more on the matter.
The live-action drama of the same name is produced by Fuji TV. A single-volume drama novelization was also created. Like the manga, it was published by Bessatsu Friend and written by Keiko Suenobu; unlike the manga, however, it saw a limited run and is now out of print.
- Ayumu Shiiba (椎葉 歩 Shiiba Ayumu?)
- Drama role by: Kii Kitano (sometimes credited as Kie Kitano)
- A high school student who consistently struggles on tests despite being very intelligent. She is a student at Nishidate High School, or Nishikō. (The word for high school is kōtōgakkō, or kōkō for short, so the school name is often shortened to Nishikō, or "Nishi high.") After the dissolution of her friendship with Shii-chan at the very end of middle school, she has difficulties fitting into high school life and resorts to self-harm in order to cope. She lives with her single middle-class mom and younger sister, Akane, in a company house (in the television drama, Ayumu has a younger brother named Makoto, and their mother's name is Fumiko). When Katsumi Sako begins to threaten her, Ayumu tells the whole school and her own mother what he is doing--only to be totally ignored. Despite these and many other hardships, however (not the least of which is severe bullying by Manami and her followers), her friendship with Miki Hatori--one of only a few students not bullying Ayumu--gives her the strength she needs to stand up for herself and to stop self-harming. In the drama, Ayumu remarks to Miki that her "father is always out of town on business trips"; there is no mention of him in the original manga (at least in the U.S. release). As of Volume 5, she has a total of 19 cuts.
- Miki Hatori (羽鳥 未来 Hatori Miki?)
- Drama role by: Megumi Seki
- A girl in Ayumu's class. Strikingly beautiful, she is usually the top student of her school, and has a quiet willpower and strength. She can relate to what Ayumu is going through. She, like Ayumu, is the victim of teasing by Manami and her gang; but, unlike Ayumu, she does not let it bother her, at least outwardly. She is very independent and mature, and has been known to work multiple shady jobs to make her own way, such as working behind the counter at the risqué Rainbow Café and being a bunny girl at clubs (in the drama, she only works at Rainbow Café, and her being a bunny girl is only hinted at). Like most of her classmates, Miki is about fifteen or sixteen, but she stretches the truth when trying to find work, saying instead that she is nineteen. Not much is known about her life, but it appears that she lives alone. Her parents are divorced because of financial troubles (Miki's father is seriously ill). Her mother is literally never around, and her father's job keeps him from seeing his family. She has a "sweetheart" in her home town. She and Ayumu are best friends.
- Yūki Sonoda (薗田 優樹 Sonoda Yūki?)
- Drama role by: Takahiro Hōjō
- Sonoda-kun first appears in Volume 6 of the manga after bumping into Ayumu, where he immediately notices she is distressed. Soon after, when Manami and her friends are trying to take Ayumu into the bathroom (likely to inflict more torture), Sonoda stops them and tells them off, and with the help several other students is able to back the girls off. Afterwards he reveals he has his own past experiences with being bullied- including being stripped and beaten by his classmates- which lead him to stand up for Ayumu, though he insists that it isn't for her sake; rather, he is trying to erase his own pain by helping her. In Volume 7 he runs into Akira Karino, Manami's new boyfriend, and right away attempts to run from his sight, indicating that Akira was his main tormentor in his past. In Volume 8 Sonoda comes to the rescue of Ayumu and Hatori, but has to face his demons when Akira tries to stop the girls from escaping a burning building. After choking Sonoda, Akira turns his attention to the other two, but he and Sonoda get into a fight which ends with Akira hanging out of a window and Sonoda telling him how much he despises Akira. Akira then falls from the window (and survives), and Sonoda runs to find Ayumu and Hatori again. His overall gentle nature in the face of all he's been through complements his passion for gardening; his favorite flower, the sunflower, has a great deal of emotional meaning to him, as they are able to grow tall and free and "reach toward the sun" in a way he is not yet able to. Later in the manga, Ayumu and Sonoda appear to have developed romantic feelings for each other.
- Manami Anzai (安西 愛海 Anzai Manami?)
- Drama role by: Saki Fukuda
- Ayumu's first friend at Nishidate High School, she soon became an ex-friend due to her bullying Ayumu, as well as being somewhat of a predator to Miki Hatori. She is obsessed with her boyfriend, Katsumi Sako, and became suicidal when they broke up, even though the breakup turned out to be short-term. Manami was once bullied when she was younger, because she was the one who had caught Katsumi's eye in middle school (those he rejected became jealous and took out their frustration on her), but is now the bully towards anyone who she feels deserves it, as she was behind Miki's bullying after an incident at camp. She is a very sexual girl and uses that to her advantage, getting boys to do some of her dirty work. She is extremely manipulative and spoiled; as the daughter of a rich CEO, she uses her powers and conceit to force others to do her will, usually by blackmail or threats. Her manipulations allow her to use emotions as a weapon; she appears by turns the innocent "good girl" (in front of teachers, her parents, or other people of authority), the martyr (when her bullying draws the attention of other classmates and teachers), or the predator (when tormenting Ayumu). People tend to take her side, even through her lies, in large part because of how she conducts herself in confrontational situations. She turns all of Nishidate High (except Miki and Sonoda) against Ayumu for a rather extreme reason: soon after she and Ayumu become friends, a misunderstanding arises, in which Katsumi--who is as manipulative as Manami--starts to pursue Ayumu and instead tells Manami that Ayumu is pursuing him, calling her "a mess." In Volume 4, she stopped speaking to Katsumi, because she thought he was defending Ayumu from Manami and her gang; as of Volume 6, they have made up (or so Katsumi was tricked into thinking). Manami speaks in the third person, calling herself by her nickname, "Mana" (e.g. "Mana doesn't like that...").
- Katsumi Sako (佐古 克己 Sako Katsumi?)
- Drama role by: Yoshihiko Hosoda
- Manami's boyfriend. He has a fetish for bondage and keeps a scrapbook of the girls he has raped. When Ayumu comes across this book, he molests her and makes her his slave. However, his evil plans for her are thwarted because he has an abusive father who beats him to ensure his future relationship with Manami (both of their fathers are rich CEO's of famous companies). Around large groups of people he acts polite and sweet; but when it suits him to show his real self, that self is manipulative and abusive. He stalks Ayumu, tries to make her call him "Master" for blackmail purposes, and even completely tricks Ayumu's mother into thinking he is a nice person. Early in the series, is revealed that he did not enter Nishikō of his own free will--his father had made him enroll because Manami, who was good for the reputation of the Sako name, would be a student there (and while it has not been elaborated upon, the relationship he and Manami began at Tatsuki Middle School might also have been the work of their fathers). Because of this, Katsumi tries to break up with her, and is successful once; while they do get back together in both the manga and the drama, Katsumi in the drama is shown as also explicitly going out with the Homeroom teacher, Toda-sensei (see below). In the manga, it seems the tables have turned on Katsumi as he is now under threat of Manami's new "boyfriend" Akira, who beats Katsumi and leaves him humiliated, much like Katsumi's treatment of Ayumu. Not long after that, he is seen giving money to Akira after receiving, presumably, a threatening phone call. Despite his good grades, he placed third (Hatori came in first) in the class exams due to his injuries.
- Wakae Toda (戸田 和佳絵 Toda Wakae?, a.k.a. Ms. Toda (Toda-sensei)
- Drama role by: Asaka Seto
- Ayumu's Homeroom teacher. She has a "peace at any price" principle, leading her to deny Ayumu's declaration of teasing by passing it off as Ayumu's fault (Volume 6 of the manga). She is shown as very sympathetic toward Katsumi and Manami. In the drama, she dates Katsumi; to keep anyone else from finding out (save for Manami, who had already figured it out), she frames Ayumu by blaming her for all the bullying that goes on at Nishikō, even though they both know full well that Ayumu is the victim, rather than the one behind it.
- Yūko "Shii-chan" Shinozuka (篠塚 夕子 Shinozuka Yūko?, しーちゃん Shii-chan)
- Drama role by: Akane Osawa
- Her family name is Shinozuka, which is why Ayumu calls her Shii-chan (her given name is never mentioned in the manga; it is Yūko in the TV drama). She is Ayumu's ex-best friend and the top student at their middle school. She once promised a worried Ayumu that they would remain friends even if they went to different high schools; but when Ayumu gets a higher score on the entrance exams than Shii-chan and lies about it to make her feel better, Shii-chan figures out the truth and gets her feelings seriously hurt (in reality, Shii-chan did score much higher than Ayumu in a mock exam; 286 over the latter's 247; Ayumu's actual score, yet somehow made into 392). She had wanted to go to Nishidate because of the influence of a teenage girl she greatly looked up to during her childhood, a girl she had wanted to aspire to "be like" by going to Nishidate when she came of age; but Shii-chan's dreams were shattered when her grades were too low for her to get in (the reason for such bad grades was that she'd been helping Ayumu with her schoolwork instead of focusing on her own). In a horrible case of misdirected anger, she traumatizes Ayumu by blaming her, and by terminating their friendship despite her promise ("I wish you hadn't insisted on hanging around!" or, in the flashbacks, "I wish you would DIE!"), and is the scapegoat for Ayumu's self-abusive behavior. In the first volume, Ayumu kept seeing Shii-chan's face in her mind, and her voice echoing through her ears; starting with Volume 2, however, it appears Ayumu has moved on and is not letting it get to her anymore.
Fuji TV began airing a television drama based on the Life manga on June 30, 2007 at 11:10 PM (replacing Liar Game). The eleventh and final episode aired on September 15. The protagonist, Ayumu, was played by the then little known Kii Kitano. Popular singer Mika Nakashima performed the theme song, also titled "Life", which was sold as a single starting August 22 (mobile downloads began at the end of July). The actual soundtrack is now available in Japan, as is a full-series DVD boxed set; the latter was released on December 19. The plotline for the drama is much more focused on bullying than is the original manga, and many changes were made, ranging from mild and hardly noteworthy to significant and highly noticeable.
Differences from the manga
- Ayumu does not cut her arms in the drama.
- Ayumu's family situation in the drama differs greatly from the manga: she has a little brother, Makoto, instead of her little sister, Akane; their mother, unnamed in the manga, is named Fumiko; and their father, whom "Fumiko" appears to be divorced from in the manga, is simply "always away on business" (according to Ayumu) in the drama.
- Shii-chan's first name is Yūko—it is unknown in the manga.
- Manami's father is a senator in the drama, but a CEO in the manga.
- Right after breaking off her friendship with Ayumu, Shii-chan attempts suicide by running out in traffic and survives; Ayumu goes to visit her in the hospital with flowers but Shii-chan closes the door when she sees her. She is not seen again until Episode 10.
- After Shii-chan attempts suicide, Ayumu has a mental breakdown and cuts off quite a bit of her hair. In the manga, it appears that she simply got a haircut. The drama version is probably a replacement for the cutting scene that happens in the manga at that moment.
- Katsumi went to the same cram school as Shii-chan; in the second episode, as a way to watch Ayumu squirm, he whispers Shii-chan's name in her ear ("Shinozuka... Yūko"), causing her to struggle harder to escape his machinations. In the drama this is supposedly used to replace the scene in the manga where Katsumi blackmails Ayumu after discovering that she cuts herself.
- Manami is, in general, more manipulative and diabolical than her manga counterpart: one significant example is that when Katsumi was jumped by a motorcycle gang headed by Manami's new boyfriend Akira (who she is seen sleeping with prior to the attack), Manami pretended to cry but was really grinning evilly behind her hair. In the manga, her reaction to Katsumi's condition seemed a bit more genuine, but might have still been part of a plan to punish Katsumi for dumping her.
- One member of Manami's squadron, Hirose (whose first initial is N, possibly for "Nodoka"), has a slightly different role than that of her manga counterpart - throughout the drama, she alternates between being Manami's target and a member of her group. "Hiro" (as she is known by her classmates in the drama) is portrayed by Nanase Hoshii.
- Life on Tokyopop's official site
- Life on Betsufure's official site (Japanese)
- TV drama Life on Fuji TV's official site (Japanese)
- Life on Norma Editorial's official site
- Life (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopediako:라이프 (드라마)