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This NG Life
by Aironic on July 17th, 2011, 10:18am

Rating - 9.6 / 10.0

User rating of this review - N/A out of 5
Story/Plot - 5 out of 5
Characters - 5 out of 5
Drawing Style - 4 out of 5
Enjoyment - 5 out of 5
Overall - 5 out of 5

Tokyopop's parting gift to the manga community was the release of the final volume of this most wonderful series, shortly before they ceased to exist. NG Life is not the usual shoujo mush, nor is it just another romantic comedy destined to be forgotten shortly after being read. It is a work that poses the sort of introspective questions essential to all-time classics being remembered as such.

- Can love survive the tests of time; can it even transcend death?
- Can one be forgiven for falling in love with another, after being separated from their beloved?

Make no mistake: NG Life should be read with the reader smiling from cheek to cheek. However, understanding the sorrow hiding underneath the laughter is what makes the humour especially touching. There is no joy without pain, and there is no depth to a comedy if it is not grounded by the realistic struggles of life. NG Life is worthy of the highest grade because of the perfect balance between heart-warming comedy and soul-destroying tragedy.

::Story:: (9.5/10)

NG Life's lead, Keidai, is a troubled young man. He has always had memories of the days when he was a lion-fighting gladiator/mercenary of Pompeii, some 1,900 years earlier. Married to the most desired woman in the land, the best of friends with a trusted comrade, and with a cute little sister - no man could have been happier than Sirix Lucretius Fronto. However, Pompeii was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption; everyone dying and poor Sirix not being able to keep his vow to his wife, Serena - leaving her to die all alone, in darkness.

Even more troubling for our most troubled of leads, in his present life as a Japanese high school student, he can not seem to avoid encountering reincarnations of people he knew 1,900 years ago. Whether it is the former whip-wielding, overly-protective older sister of his love (now a womanising man!) or the woman he once loyally served, they are all in close proximity. As happy as Keidai is to be seeing old faces again and finding proof that he is not crazy, he can not help but view his new life as NG (No Good) because of the genders and roles of the people from his memories being altered to the point of mental agony.

His mother? The reincarnation of his little sister. His father? The playboy rival he fought with for the hand of his beloved Serena. His wannabe girlfriend/best friend, Mii? His MALE best friend from his previous life. His next-door neighbor? Naturally, his former wife... who is now a guy called Yuuma, with every intention of developing muscles and winning the heart of Mii. And, of course, it goes without saying that only Keidai happens to remember anything about their time as Italians; Mii listening to (and believing) all of his ramblings, because of the one-sided love she holds for the man who introduced himself to her by crying, hugging and expressing shock over her gender, all at once. (A pick-up technique sure to leave a lasting impression!)

In the hands of another writer, NG Life could very easily have gone in the direction of hard-hitting drama as the present selves of individuals with tragic pasts attempted to avoid repeating the same sins all over again. But that was never the intent of NG Life's author. While the story made me come close to crying and pulled on my heart-strings during some of the sadder parts, the intention was clearly for readers to read with a huge grin on their faces throughout, and - in my case at least - it most certainly succeeded. The only flaw of note is that the story ended rather abruptly; not following the characters as they took their relationships to the next level. But this is a complaint I could throw at practically every series dealing with romance and it would be harsh of me lower my score because of this alone.

::Characterisation:: (10/10)

Keidai may have good looks and athletic skills on top, but he also happens to be a complete dork; much to the delight of manga fans worldwide. Truly, his likeability factor is through the roof because, even though to the unknowing he may appear perfect, his honest stupidity makes him incredibly endearing--as does the Italian playboy confidence he occasionally displays. His tendency to randomly hug those closest to him in his former life - completely oblivious to his identity in the present - leads to much hilarity. His former wife (Yuuma; now male) was his first 'huggle' victim, and he did the same to his former male best friend (Mii; now female). Mii soon realised he had no huggling hidden agenda after he proceeded to treat her like a guy; openly expressing his fondness of her and even denying that they are lovers by suggesting neither of them is female. He also frequently loses himself in thought over the prospect of being led down the path of homosexuality by his reincarnated wife; making agonised poses on his desk in class and amusing his peers greatly by doing so. The girls in his school view him as some sort of comical idol, and it is easy to understand why: few more entertaining characters exist.

As the above should highlight, the most impressive thing about NG Life is the handling of the characters. With the mostly memory-less present selves of the cast being focused on, and their past as Italians only briefly touched upon until the dramatic latter stages, I had no trouble caring about the tender central romance that progresses, bit by bit, between Keidai and the girl he has shared a "friendship alliance" of five years with, Mii. She is such a lovable heroine, always thinking of Keidai's devotion to his former wife and understanding how hard it is for him to convince himself that 'she' is now a 'he' called Yuuma. Her ability to read him, as well as others she is close to, highlights her intelligence and, when paired with Keidai, the chemistry they have makes her genuinely funny. They play off each other wonderfully and, come the end, I had a huge grin on my face as Keidai used some of his Italian charm on Mii -- forcing her usually poker-faced self to flee, blushing from cheek to cheek.

And the above is saying nothing of the supporting cast, whose role in NG Life is significantly more important than is normal. You see, in NG Life each new character reveals a little more of the Pompeii back-story as they become reacquainted with Keidai. This gives each of them a sense of purpose often lacking from other works, where secondary characters tend just to be there for the sake of it. The series only lasts nine volumes, and with each lovable new addition adding something new, there was never any 'mid-series filler' to get frustrated over. In fact, prior to the resolution of the main love story, the love woes of another pairing kept me completely hooked; their personalities and problems differing so much from the leads' that it was a welcome distraction.

::Art:: (9-9.5/10)

The distinctive sharp-chinned art style impressed me with its variation and the life it breathed into the characters' interactions. Like most shoujo, there was not a great deal of background work; most of the time attention only being paid to the characters once the locations had been established. However, there was never a wasted page throughout, with either a wide-range of facial expressions/deformed wackiness or text (NG Life has more text to read than most) preventing me from caring about the typical issues that plague shoujo works. Keidai had internal conversations with himself on numerous occasions, and even those small chunks of comedy gold entertained, so talented is the mangaka.

When judging any kind of art, the most important thing is to be able to FEEL the emotions of the artist just by looking. Even the most technically brilliant of drawings is a failure if it lacks personality and fails to get an emotional response. NG Life's art was bursting with emotion, from start to finish. Kusanagi's characters acted like they wrote their own dialogue, so natural were their exchanges, and the art suggested the characters moved her hand, all on their own. Such natural excellance is a true rarity.

:embarrassedverall:: (9.5-10/10)

It is worth noting that NG Life is 110% tasteful. In no way does it pander to those with boyxboy desires, as the read-up may lead some to believe. Whenever Keidai has spaz-attacks over seeing Serena's face through his mind's eye instead of Yuuma's male face, he freaks out in gag-like fashion. Even though his love for Serena is eternal and a source of endless internal conflict for Keidai as he edges closer to the love of his second life, Mii, it is made as clear as can be that he has no interest in men. Not once did my gaydar go off throughout the nine volumes. (In short: fear not, other manly men!)

In closing, NG Life is a fun-filled ride, sure to make most laugh from the bottom of their hearts and - occasionally - cry over the tragedy that haunts characters with memories of Pompeii's final day and all of the betrayal/murder that came with it. It is truly a series with everything; a shoujo that appeals to both genders. The series ending almost immediately after the leads got together was as irritating as ever (typical of a romance story) and Keidai's former self, Sirix, being a gladiator who refused to kill was too shoujoish for my tastes, but these and other minor issues are nowhere near enough to make me reconsider my view that NG Life is the best manga I have read to date. Go read it!

--------

::Extra // Recommendations::

NG Life is an amalgamation of Please Save My Earth (PSME), Maison Ikkoku and "romantic-panic comedy". From PSME, the past-life/reincarnation aspect and theme of love transcending the boundaries of the flesh was taken. From Maison Ikkoku, the suffering one goes through when separated all too early from a loved one. And these two drama-heavy, tear-jerking themes were then coated with the author's unique charm, which can easily make even the most depressing of subjects absolutely hilarious.

PSME could be described as NG Life's spiritual prequel. Not only are their unusual stories similar, they were serialised in the same magazine: Hana to Yume. I loved both PSME and NG Life, and although how the subject matter is dealt with does differ greatly, I STRONGLY recommend that fans of one of the two give the other a chance.
 
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