Happiness Vol. 1 - Manga Review

Makoto Ozaki’s first year of high school is about to get a whole lot more bite after an attack awakens an awful craving within him in this story from the creator of The Flowers of Evil.

The Lowdown

Makoto Ozaki is a pretty unremarkable guy - his first year of high school is full of bullies, flaky friends, and plenty of girls he’s too afraid to talk to. On a walk of shame back to the video store to return a dirty dvd, Makoto is suddenly attacked by a pale, thin girl in an alley. After drinking his blood, she gives him a choice - die, or become like her. Choosing to live, Makoto finds that his world has changed forever with an awful thirst awakened in him, making his hormonal high-school life that much more difficult to navigate.

How Was It?

Shuzo Oshimi has a reputation for creating deeply psychological stories which deal with the process of coming-of-age as a teenager, and Happiness looks to be no different as it paints a compelling portrait of a life in flux in following Ozaki’s experiences after being bitten. This volume is a bit of a slow burn in the sense that there isn’t a lot of overt action or drama, but the word I would instead describe it as is methodical in the sense that Oshimi-sensei carefully lays out Ozaki’s drives before showing how this is affected by the changes to his life. Right off the bat, we see Ozaki is shown to be a bit of a wimp, but more than that we also see that he is almost pitifully awkward at times in his interactions with others as well as his thoughts when he is alone. This made him feel real in a fairly raw sense as a character who is generally unsure about his place in the world, and I thought this was a refreshingly unvarnished approach to characterizing him with regard to his development as a teenager. I’m sure many can relate to Ozaki’s trepedaciousness as a young teenager, and I thought that this provided a strong baseline to examine his growth from as the volume proceeded.  

The action doesn’t start in any real way in this volume, but the story does get rolling as Ozaki is attacked in the streets by a mysterious girl who bites his neck to suck his blood, and the rest of the volume concerns the fallout from this. You would be right to think that this sounds an awful lot like Tokyo Ghoul, but what differentiates Happiness is the way it takes a much more grounded approach in focusing on the slow changes to Ozaki’s mental and physiological state as a result of his attack. We see him very visibly attempting to hold back his urges to kill and have sex in the face of various triggers, and I thought that this was interesting because of the way that his newfound state is layered onto the typical urges that already present simply by virtue of being a teenager as well as those resulting from his school environment. We get a cool scene to end of this volume which shows him defending his former bully as some sort of penance for hurting him earlier in the volume, and I thought this was an interesting culmination to Ozaki’s arc in this volume because it continued to show his high level of inner conflict and confusion over what is happening to him. 

One of the things that most struck me about this volume was the way that Oshimi-sensei places a strong thematic emphasis on the Ozaki’s urges and senses throughout as a way of emphasizing his changes. For example, we see a few panels early on in the volume establishing Ozaki checking out girls as an example of his burgeoning sexuality, and this becomes progressively more common as the story proceeds and his urges become heightened. This ends up being expressed through scent trails more overtly later on, and I thought this was an interesting way to show him growing more and more restless as he begins to lose his humanity. For now, Ozaki’s new state seems to have the effect of amplifying his underlying urges, and I thought that this focus on the senses was an interesting way to examine the broader adolescent struggle against oneself that Ozaki already encounters before the beginning of this series.

The art in Happiness also has the effect of emphasizing Ozaki’s slow change in mental state while infusing an underlying current of horror to the proceedings. One of the things I noticed was the way that we would see the world from Ozaki’s perspective in a few key scenes where he would almost lose himself, and the tenuousness of his hold on himself was represented by a corresponding decay in the firmness of his surroundings. I liked the way that we would see a scene slowly start to disintegrate and become more grainy from his perspective to correspond with this loss of control and humanity, and this was combined with images becoming disfigured and distorted to help sell this sense of him losing himself in a strong way. We get a very real sense of Ozaki trying to hold him self back from forcing himself on others or licking a drop of blood on the ground, and I thought that this really emphasized his inner battle for control in a heightened way.

Final Thoughts

Happiness’ first volume is a compelling beginning to a series which promises a nuanced look at the themes of burgeoning sexuality interlaced with the adolescent battle for self-identity and control, but with a supernatural twist. While we really don’t get to see much of the bigger picture in this volume, I enjoyed seeing the slow depiction of Ozaki attempting to deal with his changes in tandem with his process of simply growing up, and thought that this volume took a particularly methodical approach to laying out Ozaki’s continuing process of fighting against his own nature and then against his new urges. This is definitely a series which should be of interest to those looking for a more mature take on the adolescent process of really coming of age, and I’m super interested to see how the next volume will build on this strong foundation.


Happiness 1
By Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness Vol. 1 was translated by Kevin Gifford and published by Kodansha Comics USA on September 27th, 2016. Created by Shuzo Oshimi, the series runs in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine.

Verdict:

B+

Date of Publication: September 27th, 2016

Translator: Kevin Gifford

Author: Shuzo Oshimi

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