Warning: Here Be Spoilers
“Aren’t games meant to be fun?”
For the sake of reviewing, it’s so much easier to pick up a digital copy of manga. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and I can actually show off screenshots. (Blame it on my preservation librarian training that I don’t want to subject a softcover book to scanning.) Hopefully the fact that I went out of my way, again, to grab Not Lives off off an actual bookstore shelf should be a testament to how much I’m enjoying it so far. For those of you whose local bookstores don’t carry this volume, you can find it on Amazon here. (Sidenote: the results you get on Amazon when you search “Not Lives Volume 2” are… interesting.) I’ll apologize again for the unusual absence of images – especially since I really do enjoy the art in this series.
With Kyouka transferred into Mikami’s school, they’ll be able to begin working on a strategy. Kyouka will also apparently be able to show off her sweet basketball skills. She immediately finds an offer of friendship in Kanou Itomi – a wheelchair-bound student from Class D. Unfortunately, she has no interest in becoming close to anyone except Mikami. Unbeknownst to Kyouka, Itomi’s older brother is also part of the game, in hopes of finding a way to cure his her.
Meanwhile, Itsuki is focused on what she deems to be the real question – what is Kyouka and Mikami’s relationship? When she corners them to interrogate, clueless Mikami is led to wonder if maybe Itsuki is part of the game. They don’t realize that an actual player is closer than they think, and has already identified Kyouka, leading to a surprise attack during a school assembly.
In another terrifying twist of rules, Mikami realizes that the game has even more dangers. During a battle, the world around them pauses, letting the players fight it out. But their surroundings, though put on hold, aren’t immune to damage – and neither are the non-participating people. The auditorium battle’s intensity turns up as he discovers all the nearby students trapped in time can be hurt or even killed. When the battle does end, it’s with a flourish of emotion as Kyouka considers the real cost and fairness of their game.
The second volume of Not Lives is just as impressive as the first. Similar to series such as .hack// at first, it’s quickly becoming its own addictive mix of dark fantasy and school life. This volume focuses a lot of its time on another player, reminding the reader (and Mikami and Kyouka) that there isn’t necessary a black and white layout of the people involved. The other players of Not Alive have their own dreams, goals, and hopes. They have their own reasons for fighting. And while some are needlessly cruel, others are shaped by what they have to do to achieve their most important wish. Every battle in Not Alive comes at a high cost.
Not Lives also seems to be putting a good amount of effort into developing its characters. Kyouka and Mikami are both complex in their own ways. Equally as important, their opponents aren’t relegated to some nameless “bad guy” image. So far Itsuki seems to exist for a little piece of comedy and complication. Hopefully will be fleshed out more in the future. Since she was introduced as Mikami’s best (and only) friend in the beginning of the series, I expect she’ll eventually become part of the story. Especially since there are so many great ways she could be incorporated.
If you liked .hack// or The World Ends With You, I think this Not Lives is a good bet. The characters are likable, and the story is compelling. At this point, I’m struggling not to cheat and read ahead. I’ll really be looking forward to the next volume, coming August 23rd.