Happiness Vol. 2 - Manga Review

Makoto Okazaki’s body is changing and he doesn’t know what to do about it. Although his former bully, Yuuki, is now his friend, Makoto has some bigger problems to deal with now that he’s been bitten in this new series from the creator of The Flowers of Evil.

The Lowdown

Makoto Okazaki is a normal, if a little bit meek, high schooler struggling just to get through his days at school with all of the awkwardness that entails. However, he’s got bigger problems on his hands after getting bitten by a mysterious girl in the night, causing him to develop an unquenchable thirst for blood. With his body changing rapidly, school looked to be getting even worse for Makoto after he punched his bully, Yuuki, but it turns out he may have turned Yuuki into a new friend after Makoto gets him out of a scary situation with some thugs. Still, Makoto’s body is changing, and his thirst remains along with the lingering questions surrounding his transformation.

How Was It?

Awkwardness is part and parcel of any exploration of the teenage experience, but one of the things that made Happiness’ first volume was the way that is portrayed the awkwardness of its main character, Makoto, in such a stark yet relatable light. We immediately saw his strain in trying to just get through the day in high school, and this examination of the teenage experience through this lens continues in large part during the first part of this volume as Makoto deals with the fallout from saving his former bully Yuuki. I enjoyed this stretch quite a lot because of the way it served to flesh out the personalities of the characters in play here – we see Makoto reluctantly become friends with Yuuki and Shiraishi while trying to navigate his other friendship with Gosho, and what made so interesting was because we can feel Makoto’s general discomfort at reaching outside his comfort zone in a strong way. This is all before his powers come into play at all, and I really liked that this series continues to take time to explore Makoto’s viewpoint quite vividly outside the scope of his powers before drawing upon this to make the impact of his transformation appropriately contextualized.

More than any other series, Happiness stands out as a unique sensory experience in the way that the portrayal of Makoto’s story relies heavily on the depiction of his senses to ground his transformation as opposed to the overarching story taking the spotlight. This first volume of this series depicted the beginnings of Makoto’s uneasy transformation after being bitten, and this volume continues this process in earnest as he reels from this. This is especially true in the second half of this volume as he tries to navigate his developing relationships with his new friends while feeling the effects of his transformation. For example, we see Makoto struggling in trying to repress his thirst at the sight of his new friend Shiraishi while they are over are Yuuki’s house, and I really liked this scene because of the way it linked together Makoto’s awkwardness at interacting with friends he isn’t entirely comfortable with alongside his transformation. I liked the way that Makoto’s transformation becomes grounded in this relatable teenage experience in finding Shiraishi attractive and finding the situation to be a little too much to handle, and this made his experience particularly fascinating to witness.

The way that Oshimi-sensei depicts Makoto’s slow transformation over the course of this volume as things escalate bears longer description as part of what makes this series quite unique. Over the course of the second half of this volume, we see Makoto slowly lose his grip on himself, and the art reflects this in a number of different ways. The most common is a distortion of perspective with lines beginning to blur, and Makoto’s perspective become progressively more distorted to reflect his deteriorating state. This is eye-catching, with a standout panel depicting Makoto’s view of the city after his almost full-transformation reminiscent of van Gogh’s The Starry Night. We also get a spread utilizing water-colour to represent a break in Makoto’s reality, and I thought Oshimi’s ambitious use of different forms of art style to represent Makoto’s experience was a really cool part of this volume.

Happiness’ emphasis as more of an artistic experience as opposed to putting together a thrilling story has become apparent in the first two volumes of this series, meaning that readers looking for the most cohesive plot may be a little bit disappointed in the early going. The plot so far has been more about portraying the various facets of Makoto’s experience at school at with his friends in tandem with his transformation, and I found myself becoming a little bit less invested during the second half of this volume as the focus shifts to the more supernatural aspects of the story. There are a lot of unanswered questions broached in this volume, and the plot is a little bit vague and simplistic in terms of some of its beats with the emphasis instead placed on exploring the way Makoto perceives these events. While this series has succeeded so far in marrying the experience of Makoto’s awkwardness along with the vivid depiction of his transformation, it hasn’t quite been able to dovetail this into an exciting plotline just yet, and I definitely hope that this is something that is accomplished in the coming volumes.

Final Thoughts

Happiness Vol. 2 stands out as a strong experience for the way that it vividly depicts Makoto’s awkward high school life as well as the effect his transformation has on it. While there isn’t a lot of action here, Happiness is unique because of the way that it stands out as an artistic experience thanks to Oshimi-sensei’s willingness to use different artistic techniques to emphasize Makoto’s senses. This is definitely one to read for anyone looking for a raw yet artistic experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Makoto’s story continues. 


Happiness 2
By Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness Vol. 2 was translated by Kevin Gifford and published by Kodansha Comics USA on November 29th, 2016. Created by Shuzo Oshimi, the series runs in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine.

Verdict:

B+

Date of Publication: November 29th, 2016

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