Happiness Vol. 3 - Manga Review

Makoto Okazaki might be thirsty for blood, but he’s not the only one…

The Lowdown

Makoto’s life has been changing drastically since he was bitten, but one of the positive changes to happen to him are that he’s made some friends for the first time. Still, it hasn’t been easy to hide the way his body’s been changing, and he finds himself growing more and more uncontrollably thirsty. After leaving Yuuki’s house, Makoto is ambushed by the thugs who he defended Yuuki from, but ends up being rescued by a boy named Saku who has similar powers to him. Yuuki arrives on the scene and is bitten, and Makoto drinks his blood for the first time. Now, Makoto is in the hospital, but Yuuki is nowhere to be found. The only lead that Makoto has is the mysterious girl Nora who originally bit him, and he sets off to find Yuuki.

How Was It?

The previous two volumes of Happiness were primarily concerned with Makoto’s slow changing as a result of his powers intersecting with his awkward high-school life, and this volume delves strongly into the multitude of experiences of those who are similarly bitten. It continues to be an depiction that emphasizes both loneliness as well as the process of creating attachments to others in a way that is integral to the adolescent experience, and I enjoyed the way that this volume levied this to highlight the effect of the transformations endured by these characters. For example, we see Makoto really wondering in a profound way if he can ever go back to having a normal relationship with his family, and this is contrasted strongly with Yuuki, who experiences the same sort of question with a drastically different outcome. This forced them to confront questions about their own belonging in earnest, and I thought this resonated quite nicely in showing the depth of their plight.

The overarching plotline in Happiness Vol. 3 isn’t filled to the brim with fast-paced action, but what makes this volume interesting is the methodical way that it explores the boundaries of the human relationships of these characters as they become less human themselves. Makoto’s storyline forms the bulk of this volume as he seeks out Nora and grapples with how to deal with his family now that he is becoming less human, and we see his transformation continue to unfold rather methodically over the course of this volume as things become steadily more dangerous for him. An excellent scene that underscores this shows Makoto telling his concerned friend, Gosho, about what is really going on with him. I liked that the way here that he has to extend himself into a vulnerable position simply by confiding in another person is made clear, and Gosho’s reaction is similarly handled in a way that emphasizes the nuance of her emotions in a couple powerful panels.

Contrasting strongly with Makoto’s experience is that of Yuuki, who finds himself transforming after being bitten in the previous volume, and the result of that in this volume is explored as his relationships are subsequently tested. We were introduced in the previous volume to Yuuki’s difficult relationship with his mother, and this is explored as he increasingly embraced Makoto as a friend. This plays into this volume in an important way as we see Yuuki’s reaction to his increasing thirst intersect with his existing relationships, and this provides an interesting catalyst as he both he and Makoto are forced to escape at the end of the volume. Their respective storylines come together here to end off this segment of the story, and I thought this was a great way to end the volume because we get to see them reflect together somewhat uneasily about the state of their existence in a way that emphasizes their continuing need for attachments with others. This brought the story together in a cohesive fashion, and I continue to appreciate the way that Happiness stays true to the intrinsically adolescent themes that inform this series.

Much like in the previous volumes, the art in Happiness Vol. 3 adds to the reading experience by emphasizing the sensory effect of Makoto’s transformation. For example, smell marks emanating from others are used to represent Makoto’s growing thirst, and I found that this really helped to get across the sheer impulse of his body quite powerfully in a couple of scenes. Once again, we also see Makoto’s word rendered in increasingly abstract ways to represent his view of the world slowly becoming warped, but this is taken one step further in this volume as the presence of darkness in a number of panels is used to emphasize an increasingly horrorish vibe. This is particularly apparent in the chapters showing Yuuki’s transformation, and darkness takes over more and more of each panel before reaching a fever pitch in a couple of dark scenes. The night sky also continues to be portrayed in a way that reflects Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and I enjoy the way that this emphasizes the change in perception of the world that accompanies Makoto’s transformation. My only complaint is that this volume doesn’t do anything beyond what we’ve seen in the previous volumes with some repeats of the same themes, and I hope that we see some more experimentation to push the boundaries of the art a little bit more heading into the next volume.

Final Thoughts

Happiness Vol. 3 is an enjoyable continuation of Makoto’s story as he struggles with the transformation that he is undergoing. The exploration of themes part-and-parcel to the adoenscent experience such as the need to figure out where one fits among a web of human relationships is done well in the context of Makoto and Yuuki’s respective struggles, and I found myself engaged with their stories. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t a series that you read for the thrills, but is instead one that is a strong emotional and sensory experience that connects well with themes of growing up in the context of the supernatural elements at play. Do pick continue to pick this series up if you are looking for a potent take on coming-of-age that uses its supernatural twist to engage with this strongly.  


Happiness 3
By Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness Vol. 3 was translated by Kevin Gifford and published by Kodansha Comics USA on February 14th, 2017. Created by Shuzo Oshimi, the series runs in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine.

Verdict:

B+

Date of Publication: February 14th, 2017

Author: Shuzo Oshimi

Translator: Kevin Gifford

Editor: Paul Starr

Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA




Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka