Keeping with a Vertical trend for this weekend, here we are with the second volume of this shonen soap opera romance. Though the first one had its issues, I wasn’t about to write it off because there was the chance that it could pull out a revelation about main female protagonist Emiru’s “sickness of despair” that could make it all worthwhile. This may have seemed like a longshot given the over-the-top melodrama what vol. 1 trafficked in, but to my surprise writer Hikaru Asada has actually pulled it off. Not only is there a good reason for Emiru’s despair, it also comes in the form of a clever “everything you knew was” wrong twist. We find this out early on and this left me excited to find out what the rest of the story had to offer. That wound up being the other revelation that her therapist/lover Kazuma is a selfish creep whose actions are disturbing enough to make the title’s key love story more skin-crawling than anything else.
(It’s also impossible to properly address how these actions ultimately sink the story without spoiling the main plot twist. Full spoilers for this volume await after the break.)
So what’s Emiru’s deal? Her mother died at an early age while her father committed suicide shortly thereafter. The shock of these events not only led Emiru to attempt suicide herself, as a child’s way of going to be with her parents again, and subsequently caused another personality to form inside her brain. It was this “Emiru Ariga” that grew up to be a perfectly normal and happy teenager until she was reminded of the truth one day. The kicker is that we find this out at the same time that the real Emiru Ariga makes her appearance in the present day.
In short, the “Emiru Ariga” personality that Kazuma fell in love with was the one that ultimately “died.” Seeing the real Emiru show up was a great moment that put a whole new spin on what had come before while presenting a compelling reason for the suffocating despair she existed under when we saw her in the first volume. Getting to this point really instilled some hope for me in this series. If Asada could pull a twist like this out of her hat, what does the rest of the story have in store for us?
Unfortunately, this twist also begins “Sickness Unto Death’s” downfall as well. While “Emiru’s” despair in the first volume was melodramatic enough that I was willing to write her romance, sex and all, with Kazuma off as being an eye-rolling bodice-ripping trope, the true nature of her sickness makes this almost impossible to do now. Now that “Emiru” has a clearly defined, categorizable mental illness her paramour’s actions become indefensible. Kazuma doesn’t only not make a real effort to get her the treatment she needs, he continues to have sex with her on a fairly regular basis with the knowledge that her other personality may show up at any time. It also bears mentioning at this point that the real Emiru’s personality is only four years old after having been in remission for all these years. So yeah, bamging the mentally ill girl? Not. Defensible. At. All.
Though Kazuma’s actions are pretty reprehensible at this point, he does something else later on that manages to top them. When faced with the realization that the “Emiru” personality that he loves might be erased by the emergence of her real one, Kazuma takes steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. This includes bringing the real Emiru out, playing with her for a bit, and then trying to choke the life out her with a jump rope while telling her to “DIE! DIE! DIE!”
This is a thing that actually happens and I can only imagine that we’re meant to think that this represents the desperate act of a man to save the woman he loves. What it actually reads like is an act of ultimate selfishness against an innocent child who was a victim to circumstances beyond her control. Even though Kazuma is crying through this and “Emiru” re-emerges in the middle of it all to tell him that, “This isn’t the way,” and they go on to have some very lovey-dovey final scenes together to affirm their love… It rings false. All of it. Does someone like Kazuma really deserve to experience love and happiness after his actions here? I certainly don’t believe so and the book’s insistence otherwise indicates that Asada sorely misjudged his actions here.
Much as I was impressed by the central plot twist in this volume, the story is sunk by the actions of its frankly reprehensible male protagonist. I’ve been waiting for years to see a shonen romance where the main couple actually consummates their relationship instead of spending some twenty-odd volumes dancing around the point. Now that I’ve finished “Sickness Unto Death,” I guess I should’ve been careful what I wished for. If anything, I must admit that I’m impressed at how this series found a completely different way to fail than the way I was expecting it to after the first volume.