[TRIGGER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS ABOUT A MANGA THAT CONTAINS VERY GRAPHIC CONTENT, SUGGESTIVE MATERIAL, THEMES OF SUICIDE, AND SCENES OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE INCLUDING RAPE. DO NOT READ THIS MANGA IF YOU ARE EASILY DISTURBED.]
Welp, that’s the first time I’ve had to do that. It probably won’t be the last. Anyway, my past reviews on this site and on my YouTube Channel (Check it out, Dudes) featured content that is relatively lighthearted. Most of that has to do with the fact that most anime and manga that circulate in the mainstream tend to be easy to swallow and easy to enjoy. But of course, there are the outliers to the mainstream that are more appreciated for its darker tones and more serious subjects. Then there are the ones that are so freaking weird and depressing that no one bothers to read them and they fall into obscurity until you find them by hitting “Surprise Me” on search engines. Jisatsutou, or Suicide Island falls into that category. This manga is probably one of the most bizarre I’ve ever come across. First off, the art is very strange, its themes are certainly original, and to top it off, there’s hardly any censoring. Coming from author/artist Mouri Koji, whose work pretty much cornerstones drama and philosophy, Suicide Island is probably one of the most grotesque and philosophically driven manga you’re gonna find.
First off, I’ll have to start with a synopsis. As said before, the following events are very graphic and sensitive, so read at your own risk. It starts with main character Sei, who is being rushed to the hospital after a suicide attempt, his second one in fact. Learning this, the doctor has Sei sign a particular document and he drifts off, presumably into his death. Much to his surprise and dismay, he finds himself fully awake, and even more shocking with a group of people on a deserted island. They quickly realize that they’re all cut from the same cloth, being repeat suicide attempts. They find a sign, written by the Japanese government to explain their situation. They’ve been annexed to an island in the middle of the seas south of Japan for their repeat attempts on their lives. With rising costs of medical attention, the government has decided to dump all the repeat attempts on this island, known as Suicide Island, where they are to do whatever they please. This leads to several of them just jumping from a high place and ending it all, which spooks everyone else into not doing it. A member of the crowd, Ryou, calms everyone down and suggests they look for water and resources. Although odd for a suicide attempt, he’s followed by two other figureheads, Sugi and Kai, an old friend of Sei’s who attended the same rehabilitation facility. This doesn’t stop many following suicides and scenes of panic and rape as many consider it to be the end already. Sei is among them and is even softly goaded into jumping with a mysterious long-haired girl, but backs out. Many days pass as the group learns to survive off the island, being convinced by Ryou that them dying in an unmarked location is insulting. Sei eventually runs into deer in the forest and is touched. But rather than eternally mulling over his contrasting sadness with the deer’s vivaciousness, he begins to make preparations to hunt the deer, and in the process, understand life itself has he ironically begins to cling to it despite trying to previously throw it away.
So yeah, by all accounts, this isn’t something to just plop down and marathon if you’re really not into gratuitous themes. The art may have something to do with it, but for some reason this manga feels like it doesn’t pull any punches. It never goes overboard with the violence, it always seems like the events lead to the proper amount of either violence or discomfort. What I mean is that it just feels more real. While a lot of manga go overboard with violence and philosophically driven plots, Suicide Island seems to be a perfect domino row, where everything logically leads to the next. This doesn’t make it perfect, however, as the beginning is pretty rough. Not to say that’s entirely the fault of the story, because the start of it just has characters that are meant to become better. However, the starting templates for these characters are pretty whiny and unlikable, not to mention pretentious. But they get better as time goes on, as they work to fix not only their problems in this rickshaw community, but also with themselves. There are a lot of awkward topics that are brought up in the manga, and while not all of them seem to be built up well enough, a good chunk of them are well-timed. It never feels like you’re being bombarded with backstory and information, it paces out each backstory in between more prevalent plots. Also, even though the beginning parts feel like they drag because of the characters’ attitudes, it does help to really emphasize their achievements whenever they pull something off to survive, like catching an entire school of fish or making crops grow. So while the intro seems to be purposefully snotty, it DOES help to make later moments of triumph, and dare I say, moments of adorable romance all the more impactful.
The only problems with this is a couple of characters. One, Ryou. His attitude on trying to desperately survive is eventually explained in full, along with a redemption arc, but it still seems too out of place. He has a noble backstory, a noble reason for suicide, and a noble reason to survive. Compared to everyone else’s problems, he seems exceedingly out of place. Two, the villain character Sawada. Basically, when things went south, two groups separated by chance and two communities were built. The one where Sei resides is along the coastline, while the group that the character Sawada commands is near the port. As such, they come to butting heads, and Sawada is delightfully evil. But he later becomes a bit inconsistent. At first, it’s very clear that the people who follow Sawada deathly fear him as well, but later it’s almost as if he’s psychologically got them under control. Despite resorting to cannibalism, his people still seem to ignore that and try to convince others that he isn’t that bad. While this could be psychologically-driven, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the narrative. Thirdly, while I’ve already mentioned how bratty the characters are in the beginning, later characters, and story arcs as a result, become very preachy. One character literally becomes the embodiment of what I like to call “Ferngully Syndrome”.
But the saving grace of the manga really is the way it really captures achievement and happiness. It’s such a strange dynamic for it to be in the pits at the beginning, and then having moments of genuine comedy and very cute [although also having to do with very tragic and disturbing backstory] romance. They all start off as turds, but seeing them genuinely work themselves up to people they themselves can be proud of is really enjoyable. Their problems are never so overbearing or cliche that it takes precedence over the entire manga, but it’s never so simple that it could be solved with a snap of the fingers. You feel for these characters as they work to solve their problems, problems that are very real and ones that hit a lot closer to home than you may think. It wouldn’t be weird to find a character that you can really understand here, which is something a lot of manga and anime are missing now.
But what might kill it for many people is the very bizarre art style. Much like Kei Sanbe’s art for his manga like ERASED and Cradle for Monsters, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just….off. To be fair, it at least lends itself to be recognized by others almost instantaneously, an attribute that is sorely missing from a lot of manga. But again, it’s a style that will take a lot of chapters to get used to. The art does get better later on, and by that I mean they look more…proportional, but it pretty much stays the same throughout. But one thing I do have to comment on and applaud is the attention to detail. Not just in the moments of gore and violence, but just awareness of time. Over the course of the manga, characters’ hair gets longer, fat characters get skinny, and some characters build up more muscle. It’s something that you probably wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t paying attention, but I really like that level of thought. Even the author’s interruptions to explain survival and archery tactics are fun. While they’re abrupt, he doesn’t as a result force it into character conversation to awkwardly explain everything, and it gives the information an avenue for the reader to learn. Although it is a bit odd how Sei from reading a lot of archery books in school prior to his sentence also extensively knows how to properly skin and gut wild animals. The art also lends itself to more realism, ironic considering all of their faces seem to take up about 95% of their heads, simply because of how it refuses to resort to cute designs. Because it doesn’t ever go “moe” you can really sink into it and not be distracted by moments of ill-placed fanservice or cute girls doing really graphic things, like Dolls Fall. Don’t read Dolls Fall. I’m begging you, don’t do it, you’ll be a better person for it.
So all in all, Suicide Island is something I can recommend for people who can stomach the cruelties of society and enjoy characters as they climb their way back up from nothing. The art is bizarre, gruesome, and just weird to look at, some of the characters are whiny, and not every plot has a decent payoff. But despite that, Suicide Island manages to build a decent cast of characters from an unlikely foundation while expertly explaining (in most cases) the nuances and quirks of the outcasts of society. If you can get past the blunt artwork and sometimes preachy characters, then there is something here for you to enjoy. Just…be prepared for some dark shit.