In an unexpected twist for a manga, Livingstone (Ribingusuton) combines the experience of mangaka Kataoka Jinsei, popularly known for his work on Deadman Wonderland, with the experienced playwright Maekawa Tomohiro. Originally published in Kodansha’s weekly Morning magazine, the series is adapted in English under Kodansha’s American branch with seasoned pros Alethea and Athena Nibley providing the translation.
Opening with four pages of stunning color, Livingstone follows the daily grind of Sakurai Shouzou and his partner Amano in their somewhat unconventional line of work: seeking out souls that have strayed from their destined path and presenting them with the option of life or death. Confronted with their first victim, a 36 year old man at the brink of suicide, the story quickly reveals that their line of work is motivated by the fact a person’s soul is actually a physical stone called a psycholith. A person’s psycholith has the power to predetermine the majority of their life’s course, but when a soul encounters an untimely end it shatters, sowing the seeds of disruption and despair for anyone who might come into contact with it. Therefore, Amano and Sakurai plead their case with the beleaguered salaryman. Sakurai wants to convince him to either extend his life, which would prevent him from feeding into the negative cycle of the shattered soul of a child that’s stained the apartment where he lives. On the other hand, Amano’s blunt approach is to simply ask him to die so his psycholith can leave its physical shell and find its purpose in another life.
The story follows along in an almost procedural path from there, with Sakurai and Amano encountering more unique cases of psycholiths that have strayed from their destined path. The unique conceit of worldbuilding found in Livingstone is well served by Maekawa and Kataoka’s skill in storytelling. Each piece of the puzzle of just how the task of tending to psycholiths works out and why Sakurai and Amano have been called to this bizarre line of work is revealed with a natural fluidity that doesn’t leave the reader bogged down in unnecessary details. The story also excels in a very unique brand of “show not tell,” with the reader seeing hints of Sakurai’s darker past and Amano’s true nature but with neither character revealing the true story of their origins until it suits the moment.
Kataoka’s experience in character design and paneling does wonders to help the somewhat darker themes of the manga find their own life on the page. With a style that borders on the edges of comical and grotesque at times, Kataoka’s characters are lively and realistic, playing well off the themes of life and death as well as the unique circumstances that Sakurai and Amano find themselves in.
The story is also served well by the exceptional talent of the Nibley twins with their translations. Not only does each character’s unique voice come through distinctly on the page, but they’ve also included exceptionally detailed and relevant translation notes at the end of the volume. It should be noted as well that the English adaptation does a phenomenal job in matching the lettering of the original, which helps to set the emotion and mood on the page.
Despite the prevalence of life and death on its pages, Livingstone manages to deal with the subject matter at hand without treading into gruesome territory. Instead, it presents a unique, character driven story that delves into a world that handles philosophical themes with a poignant grace. It’s unconventional, but fun, and certainly a manga that will leave you thinking.