From the stack: Line

December 25, 2006

Yua Kotegawa’s Anne Freaks (ADV) has earned a fair amount of critical praise this year, and deservedly so. It’s a bracingly executed piece of teen nihilism. It makes sense that ADV would support that with release of another of Kotegawa’s works, Line. (And since it’s only one volume in length, readers can be happily certain that the publisher won’t abandon it in the middle.) Line isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s an energetic diversion for readers who want more Kotegawa.

In it, a pretty, popular high-school student finds a cell phone at the train station and finds herself racing against time to prevent a string of suicides. Chiko fights the clock and what she fears are her own failings of compassion, picking up allies along the way and finding reserves of strength and ingenuity that weren’t immediately apparent.

This is familiar territory for action-movie aficionados, where creators have realized that the cellular phone is a much more versatile prop than the personal computer. Sitting at a keyboard is so 1990s, but the jarring ring of handheld communication still has the power to put events in motion and keep them there. It even borrows a bit of emotional resonance from suicide black comedy Heathers, with Chiko’s clash of popularity and conscience.

She’s an appealing lead. She’s not as overtly unkind to marginal students as some of the kids in her circle, but she doesn’t contradict her friends’ casual cruelty or try and prevent it. She’s an unlikely friend to the despondent, but that makes her increasing commitment more involving.

In a clever twist, Kotegaway gives Chiko a sidekick who, under more conventional plotting, would be the lead of this kind of story. Bando is bright and ostensibly kind to the classroom rejects, but she’s even more detached than Chiko fears Chiko is. Readers might be conditioned to a certain response to both Chiko and Bando, and Kotegawa plays with those expectations in fun ways. The dollops of shôjo-ai between the two add an additional layer to their dynamic.

In spite of intriguing characters and a promising plot, the narrative itself doesn’t maintain momentum very well. Line feels too short to exploit all of its possibilities in the way Anne Freaks can. I’m not going to criticize Kotegawa for sacrificing pulse-pounding action for character development, because the choice caters to my tastes, but the tension of the story never seems to reach its full potential. It’s appealing in its slightness, though.