Many manga and anime tackle themes and topics that many would consider dark. Boy’s Abyss, rather than tackle, jumps headfirst into a cacophony of these themes within moments of its start. The story follows Reiji Kurose in the countryside town he’s always lived in and believes he’s never going to be able to leave. His grandmother suffers from extreme dementia, his brother is a demanding shut-in, and he doesn’t feel like his mother can handle the two of them on her own. Because of this, despite his own desires and career or life prospects, he resigns himself to the fate of living where he always has, getting a job once he finishes school, and supporting his family.
As far as expository detail goes, this is mundane, but that works with this manga. Unlike a fantasy-oriented shonen, where this incredibly quotidian existence gets shattered by the introduction of some magic power or global conflict, this is the entirety of what begins Reiji’s story. Rather than something fantastical, the element that throws his routine off is meeting a famous pop star, Nagi Aoe. Reiji is confused as to how a beautiful idol could end up in such a random town working at a convenience store. Meeting her pulls him into a complicated series of events, all of which are buoyed by his circumstances and suffocating future.
Coming away from the first volume of this manga I felt myself wanting more and bemoaning a single volume not containing more chapters. On the one hand, this could be considered somewhat of a pacing issue, with the beginning chapters of a story being mostly set up and leaving the reader largely craving more detail without having been given enough early on to feel content with. Personally, I don’t think this is a wholly bad thing. Boy’s Abyss very much is a story with many parts, pieces, characters, and coalescing narratives. While some of the writing could certainly be smoother, the many people involved and the town they make up are more than reading to find out about.
A Compelling Narrative
Reiji’s introduction and foundation are incredibly compelling for many, but especially one, reason: they’re depressingly sensible. Reiji’s choice to stay home to support his family is one that makes a lot of sense given the situation he’s in. Early in the volume his teachers and friends attempt to push him in different directions but fall short of offering a reasonable or convincing alternative for him. His situation is the type that is necessitated by circumstance and is frustrating because it feels like there is no one to direct blame at. He loves his family deeply and doesn’t feel like he’s allowed to feel resentment toward them, let alone express it. And because he cares about them deeply, he feels the need to help them and support them with a smile on his face, never revealing that he feels like his life is entirely devoid of purpose and meaning.
Without spoiling anything or going to far into the more sordid details, volume 1 deals with issues of suicide, depression, sex, and deep-seated forms of harassment. Boy’s Abyss does well to make sure its characters’ inner thoughts are expressed when necessary. At times this can make the dialogue drag somewhat as thoughts and feelings need to be worked at least semi organically into conversations. But given how much of the story is about how circumstances affect individuals, rather than the circumstances themselves, I think this works just fine.
The art style of the manga conveys a strong sensation of melancholy Skies are often empty, facial expressions strained, and backdrops completely empty so as to direct all focus at the characters. At times it will make you feel as empty inside as the characters on the page. Even more, it will draw you into their emotional state such that it feels natural, even obligatory, to extend incredible empathy and compassion toward these fictional characters. I find myself hoping that Reiji’s life changes (for the better) and that all of the townspeople find some way out of the sad lives a lot of them lead.
Dark Times to Come in Boy’s Abyss
Overall this first volume was a solid introduction to a story I’m quite intrigued to keep reading. At times it comes off as very angsty (and it is) but that certainly comes with the territory of this kind of plot. That aspect, even when overdone, is relatable for anyone who has either been a teenager and/or felt trapped by their life and the path they feel like its taking. I plan on reading more and I think the story will only get better. You can learn more about Boy’s Abyss on its official website via Viz. Volume 1 is available now and Volume 2 releases on July 18th, 2023.
BOY’S ABYSS © 2020 by Ryo Minenami/SHUEISHA Inc.
Anime Corner received a review copy of this manga.