In high school I used to watch this terrible trivia-based game show called “Russian Roulette.” When someone answered incorrectly, the floor would open from underneath the contestant’s feet, and he or she would quite literally fall out of the competition.
There’s just something about people falling through a hole in the ground that forgives an otherwise mediocre 30-minutes of television. And here I am all these years later falling for the same gimmick.
This time it’s in the form of “Countdown 7 Days,” a dark-humored manga by Kemuri Karakara. The first chapter plays out generically enough: a spirit (Mitamura) finds himself in the living realm and is on a quest to find his student, Shimizu, before time runs out.
A lot of manga deal with the theme of the spirit world converging with the real world, but once Mitamura teams up with a human who hasn’t realized that he’s actually dead, I feel like warning the mangaka of what might happen to her career should she follow M. Night Shyamalan’s work too closely.
Yet, just when I was ready to throw in the towel, Karakara reveals the hook: if Mitamura doesn’t find Shimizu in 7 days, the mysterious black shadow below her will grow in size, causing her to fall out of existence.
No matter how bad the story is, that promise is just too hard to resist.
I wish I could say the story gets better, but unfortunately it doesn’t. The manga’s major flaw is its lack of character development. Mitamura is introduced as a Gregory House type character, the kind of guy who is cold and disconnected, with zero qualms about telling the truth. However, the difference with the TV show “House” is that the writers occasionally flirt with gray areas and moral ambiguity.
In “Countdown 7 Days” all moral subtleties are lost. We are repeatedly hit over the head with all the characters explicitly pointing just how cold Mitamura is, but we’re never actually shown his callousness in a significant way.
The opening chapter, for instance, introduces the human character, Hanasuke, with a quick panning shot of Mitamura running over Hanasuke on his motorcycle. The otherwise gothic art style, takes on a slapstick caricature quality for these frames, like Elmer Fudd being flattened into a pancake and then popping back up just slightly more P.O.ed at that darn Bugs Bunny. It doesn’t resonate because it’s humor without substance, which of course would be fine if this scene were not setting up the plot.
Just a few pages later, the narrative attempts to take on heavy topics like loneliness and depression with dramatic close-up panels. But how can we feel sorry for Mitamura? He hasn’t yet been introduced to the readers as an actual person.
One thing to be said for the full-page panels, though, is Karakara can clearly draw. The art style takes on the gothic influence of titles like “Black Butler” with an attention to fashion and accessories that can be seen in other great character designs such as Kubotite’s “Bleach.” From page to page effort is put into tones and textures and this graphic novel does not at all look like a release by a small publishing house.
Perhaps in aid of showing off her illustrative prowess, all of the main characters are conveniently eternally stuck in their early 20s, so the title has no shortage of “bishounen,” as the Japanese refer to pretty boys.
In the end, the art doesn’t quite save this volume, but my curiosity is piqued enough to see if more depth is given to Mitamura in the next volume. But if you’re on a budget this summer, I’d probably skip this title and check out “Hetalia: Axis Powers” for slapstick humor and “Black Butler” for drama, because “Countdown 7 Days” doesn’t quite deliver on either.Contact Susan Kemp.