Made in Heaven: Kazemichi and Made in Heaven: Juri by Ami Sakurai and Yukari Yashiki
Since I am a woman in her 30s I tend to cherish any manga that I stumble across that looks like it is aimed towards an older female audience. I’m not sure about where Made in Heaven was originally published, but it passes my personal test for josei since it features characters that aren’t in school who happen to have sex. Made in Heaven is a moody sci-fi romance. While I think that sometimes execution problems hampered the authors’ ambitions, this two volume series is worth picking up if you are looking for something a little different from the typical shoujo fare. It was published by Tokyopop in 2006, and I can see it fitting in well with some of the other early josei titles from that publisher.
Made In Heaven: Kazemichi starts out with the main character being in a horrific bike accident. He wakes up only to find out that his body was almost completely destroyed, and he’s been rebuilt with an artificial body. Kazemichi feels disconnected from the world, but he begins to find another reason to take interest in his surroundings when he meets a slightly older woman named Juri. One of the things I liked about this title was the casual way it was established that it takes place slightly in the future. Kazemichi’s surgery is impossible, and people dote on artificial pets that have the same type of fake skin that now covers him. Kazemichi and Juri bond over their pets and the way they both seem to not entirely exist for other people. Juri is known for being expressionless, but Kazemichi tells her that he can see her emotions on her face.
There’s a general feeling of impending doom throughout the book, as Kazemichi only has a little while to live until his artificial body wears out. He was able to get the expensive surgery because he’s essentially been sold as a test subject by his adoptive family. Kazemichi’s broken home, problems with the corporation that resurrected him, and his habit of keeping his problems secret from Juri point to an unhappy ending for the lovers. The art for the series features attractive character designs, but their facial expressions seem a little static. While this theoretically fits with Juri and Kazemichi’s personalities, there’s also so much facial fractions going on in the paneling for the manga where the reader only sees a half or quarter of a face that I think it is due more to artistic limitation than deliberate effect. This isn’t the type of manga to read if you are expecting a clear, linear plot. Elements of Kazemichi’s past like his occasional forays into male prostitution, his relationship with his half-sister, and the desire of the medical company to data mine Kazemichi’s body are mentioned but not fully explored. All of this adds up to a general feeling of melancholy, but nothing is fully explored.
The narrative aspect of this series that I found most interesting was the shifting point of view between volumes. When Kazemichi is gone, Juri is left on her own to piece together the mystery of his life in Made in Heaven: Juri. She works as a psychologist for the police department, and when she’s called in to figure out what happened in an inexplicable death that seemed to involve a machine exploding along with human remains she finds out the truth about Kazemichi. She’s left with regrets because they never really discussed their feelings, she always thought being in his presence was enough.
The mystery investigation aspect of this volume wasn’t as interesting to me as Juri’s emotional journey. She’s dedicated to finding out whatever she can about Kazemichi because she doesn’t want to let him go. A complicating factor is the way the company responsible for his existence captured his brain waves, meaning they have the ability to use aspects of his personality as they further develop prototypes that push the boundaries of artificial intelligence. Juri encounters robots that have an uncanny resemblance to her dead lover. She attacks it, thinking “I am not leaving…until I let you return back to nothing. If you no longer have a soul…I don’t think I can bear for you to even be seen again.” In the end, Juri finds a form of peace as she begins to understand Kazemichi more, and his meticulous planning allows her to gain a sense of emotional resolution.
I wondered what this series would have been like if there had been a little bit more space to tell the story. Still, I liked having Kazemichi and Juri each tell their stories, and I wish the narrative device of multiple points of view was used more often in manga. People who like having every loose end tied up at the end of a series might find these two volumes frustrating to read, but I enjoyed the melancholy tone of Made in Heaven. I’d recommend this short series for anyone pining for more josei to read.