I’ve been wanting to write something about this story for a while now, it’s one of the ones I keep returning to reread through every-so-often. I had considered trying to do a review of it, but ultimately I just want to talk about this story; to share it with others who may otherwise never know of it. So, spoilers will feature, but I’ll take care to limit them as much as possible; I wouldn’t want the enjoyment of the series to be ruined. A word of warning however: Chapter 15.5 is completely unrelated to the rest of the story, not even using the typical “Life” naming scheme. It was a one-shot included as an extra in volume 2 yet it has been known to confuse readers wondering exactly what relation the young couple that features has to the main cast. Succinctly, none.
Itoshi no Kana is a delightfully heartwarming slice of life story from Yutaka Tanaka, existing in three volumes that detail one year from when Daikichi Amano loses everything in his life and moves into an old, rundown apartment building said to be haunted, only to discover the truth to the stories.
Years before, a girl watched the sunset from her window as she took her own life. After stabbing herself in the chest repeatedly the last thing she saw was the passing sun, thinking how pretty it was just before she died.
Turns out, she’s still hanging around the building. And she’s pretty happy to have
a beer gopher company. In fact, initially Dai finds her exuberance quite offputting; there’s little more annoying when you’re trying to sink into nihilism than a perky stranger finding joy in the world. His temper is cooled (it’s a pun, you’ll understand if you read it) when he goes to grab her only to dive straight through her body instead. This also serves to dispel (aren’t you glad I didn’t use exorcise?) any remaining doubts he had about her spiritual qualifications, because seeing someone float through the air in front of you as they chug your beer is something you can talk yourself past. Dealing with this revelation in an entirely considered manner Dai starts to apply himself to the task of getting utterly plastered; the conversation between the two of them eventually making its way to why Kana killed herself in that room so long ago, something not even she really remembers.
All she can say is she was overwhelmed with the feeling that she didn’t want to die at night, and so chose to end her life with the ending of the day.
Thinking on his own situation, Daikichi starts to muse on how deep the night is without artificial light; rather obviously drawing the comparison between the cloying darkness around him and how bleak his life currently seems. Within his mind he starts to consider Kana’s course of action, only to be scolded by the girl herself; her being quite aware of what he was thinking.
Laughing derisively at her admonishing, Dai idly wonders about the lack of scars on her body given the injuries she inflicted upon herself, reaching out a hand towards her chest for emphasis. Except, rather than his hand passing through her as happened previously, this time he instead finds himself palming her breast to the great surprise of them both. These two lost souls then proceed to spend the night together, finding in each other the absent feeling of being alive as opposed to just existing. When the next morning comes, Dai awakens to a morning just like any other; the feelings and depth of the night before driven back by the light from the window. Apprehensive, he lifts back the blanket next to him to reveal Kana’s sleeping face. Her eyes open and they smile at one another, and that morning becomes the first morning of their lives together. In a very profound, almost quasi-literal way, the first morning of a new life for them both.
And so the two of them go from there; Kana helping Dai to not give up on life, and Dai in turn helping Kana to regain some of what she gave up so long ago. As time passes their lives intersect with others, to varying degrees, but always in such a way that the people involved regain sight of what they had stopped valuing. In particular, another girl called Utako eventually moves into the building escaping a rather horrifying past of her own, and visibly improves in her state of mind after befriending the two.
It’s not all straightforward though; much of what happens is quite bittersweet and only the fact that Dai and Kana have each other, and by extension those they interact with have them, do they manage to remain positive.
Their stories are told with a very minimalistic visual approach, interspersing the graphical scenes with entire panels of stark text which works well to create a sense of severity to events; the happy times are balanced by more serious occurrences which serve to reinforce those happy scenes and emphasise why finding happiness is so important. Often the deeper parts of the story use a more poetic style of prose to impart a romantic (of the artistic genre) sense of reflection coupled with a solidity which heightens the impact of what is presented to the reader, as well as reinforcing the fact that more occurs than we are allowed to know.
And this too is a deliberate stylistic aspect which I think works well. In the opening pages Dai states that he has no desire to talk about what happened to him prior to the commencement of the story, and he never does. Likewise, we are told that Kana’s death was a minor event in the grand scheme of things, soon forgotten, and she herself cannot remember the details of what happened or even her own full name. Whilst she insists she isn’t concerned with such matters anymore, the loss of her usual genki attitude whenever the subject comes up is its own statement and when Daikichi goes looking for information about her and can only find four lines referring to the fact she ever existed, the indifference of the world brings him to tears.
Ultimately though, that the world is so callous is not a negative. It merely is. And though life can be overwhelmingly hard at times, it remains true that what you make of it determines what you get out of it. Though Kana died many years before and has been confined in a derelict building by herself ever since, she remains cheerful and exuberant; happily using her ghostly existence for mundane tasks (such as using ghost flames as light sources, or floating to easily clean the ceiling) and taking immense joy in what could be thought of as simple things: beer, television, beer, pranks, beer, spicy food, beer, and beer. And sex.
For there is quite a lot of sex, quite explicitly shown, though not to a degree which could be considered hentai. Nor would I call it “fanservice” for it is not there to titillate; it serves to show how Kana and Dai live their lives and enjoy living together. An easy contrast can be drawn between those scenes and the far more fanservice-y volume covers, which stand out for the contrasting atmosphere they imply compared to the story proper. The sex is touching (pun not intended) and uplifting (pun entirely intended for the one time that is literally true), and fortunately not undermined by anything else that happens; even when Utako moves in there is never any suggestion that she is a possible threat to the relationship between Kana and Dai. Also, with the scenes narrated from Dakichi’s point of view, Kana is adorable and it brilliantly serves to show the reader what Dai sees when he looks at her. Which leads me to another thing I appreciate the story doing: whilst the majority of the story is given from Daikichi’s perspective, from the second volume it does frequently switch to follow Kana instead making the story feel much more about the two of them rather than just Daikichi alone.
Because it really is their story. Neither would be doing as well as they do without the other. Indeed, it’s not so hyperbolic to say neither would be alive without the other, for one of the underlying essences of the story is how Kana seems to become more substantial, more alive, as she is loved and loves in turn.
As mentioned before, the story proceeds through three volumes over the course of a single year: it was originally meant to continue but was cancelled, fortunately ceasing in a place which works astonishingly well for the overall progression. The art itself is not the greatest it must be said; the quality is somewhat inconsistent, ranging from messily simple to quite gorgeous, but the feelings the images evoke make such a concern rather trivial. Likewise such questions as “How does a ghost eat or drink?” or “How can a ghost catch a cold?!” are not important enough to necessarily hazard the immersion of the reader: the story is not about how the world works but rather what you can do with your time in it. Kana does these things therefore she is able to do them, and no reason to think otherwise is ever suggested. Indeed, these points do occasionally come up in-universe, and I would really suggest the reader not give it any more attention or consideration than that spared by the characters themselves.
Though I will not be linking directly to any place where it can be found due to the explicit content, I would urge anyone (of appropriate age : | ) to seek it out should they wish a reasonably short story with a disproportionately large impact to take them on a wonderful emotional journey.
The world is harsh and uncaring, and yet full of beauty; none moreso than that which can be found in the love of others. And whilst the past is important, as it led us to where we are now, it is the present which determines our future.
And now onward to more reviews.