By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThis week’s manga
Koko wa Ima kara Rinri desu (From now on, we begin ethics)
By Shiori Amase (Shueisha)
Just when I was reading “From now on, we begin ethics,” two murder incidents occurred one after the other. In Kawasaki, elementary school students waiting for their school bus were killed or injured. In Nerima Ward, Tokyo, a former senior government official stabbed his son to death. It came over me slowly, but I was shocked to realize that these two murders were connected by the social issue of “hikikomori,” or agoraphobic shut-ins, who were middle-aged or older. I felt that these murders were not unrelated to the theme of the manga this week.
The protagonist of the story is Takayanagi, who teaches ethics at a high school. He is forever blase, always wears a blank expression and talks in a matter-of-fact way to his students in class. Takayanagi tells his students, “Most probably, you’ll never get in trouble as a result of not studying” ethics, but it can have practical applications in some situations. He gives as examples: “When you sense that your death is near. When you feel lonely or have nothing to believe in. When it is difficult for you to live a normal life.” At times like these, ethics will help you “live a better life.” Ethics may seem unnecessary, but wouldn’t you agree that you may be better off to have studied it, Takayanagi asks his students.
Ordinarily, this would be a class that makes you sleepy. (Oh, how I remember those classes). When the words of Socrates, Bacon, Lao-tzu or Kierkegaard are recited by Takayanagi and introduced to the students from time to time, however, these words sink deeply into the hearts and consciousness of students who have problems, slowly but surely changing the way they live.
For a manga with youth and school life as its theme, the drawing style possess a distinctively heavy quality. Shadows on the characters’ faces are jet black and the physical size of bodies borders on the extreme. They convey a feeling of being unfashionable and they perfectly match the story. Once in a while, Takayanagi becomes playfully mischievous, and these scenes come to life thanks to this drawing style.
The mangaka Shiori Amase made her debut in 2011 and is still in her 20s. According to the afterword of Volume 1 in book form, she started drawing “From now on, we begin ethics” when she learned that her aunt committed suicide. This aunt had been living with Amase’s grandmother, but was suffering from depression for a long time and unable to work. Among the articles left by this aunt were a diary and an ethics textbook with sticky notes all over it. Both of these were passed down to Amase, and “From now on, we begin ethics” is apparently based on this textbook. Amase did not want to summarize the death of someone who fought so hard and desperately with just the phrase “she had depression.” Amase’s aunt was studying on her own how to continue to live.
According to the results of a Cabinet Office study this March, there are an estimated 610,000 hikikomori age 40 and over. About 80 percent of them are male and of the generation who were affected by the so-called employment ice age. Studying “how to live a better life” is no longer unnecessary, but rather keenly necessary in today’s world. As I read “From now on, we begin ethics,” I sincerely feel that it may be possible to prevent future tragedies with just one phrase passed down from the sages.Speech