Who here saw Edge of Tomorrow?
Given that it made almost $400 million, a large percentage of you, I wager. Intrigued by its blend of war-time action and comedy, this Groundhog Day-esque film garnered acclaim with both critics and audiences alike—not enough to merit an Oscar nomination apparently. However, some audience members may not be aware that the film is based on a 2004 Japanese science fiction novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka called All You Need Is Kill. As you can guess from the title alone, the novel has a more cynical tone right out of the gate, in addition to its radically different cast and plot. This is not to say that the film is a bad movie by any means, but for fans of the book, a more faithful adaptation of Sakurazaka’s novel can be found in the graphic novel by Ryosuke Takeuchi and Takeshi Obata.
At their core, both the novel and the film’s stories are about humanity’s war with the Mimics—a mysterious species whose origins are not explained—and a young soldier’s attempt to survive his first battle with the enemy. Despite being armed with the only weapons effective against Mimics, a suit of armor called a Jacket and a Pile Driver Gun, the soldier dies; however, unlike most dead people, he wakes up the next morning to find that the battle hasn’t happened yet. At first, he dismisses the memory of the battle as a dream, but after he is killed again and the déjà vu becomes too uncanny, he realizes that he is stuck in a time loop, doomed to, as the movie tag line eloquently puts it, “Live, Die, Repeat.” Desperate, the soldier trains, growing stronger with each loop, and hopes that with enough skill, he can live to see tomorrow.
Unlike the film, Takeuchi and Obata’s All You Need Is Kill follows Sakurazaka’s protagonist, Keiji Kiriya. Keiji is a fairly new recruit, having gone through training but has yet to see his first battle. This changes when the Japanese branch of the United Defense Force decides to launch an operation to liberate Kotiushi Island from the Mimics. To aid them is a U.S. Special Forces unit headed by famed warrior Rita Vrataski. We barely get to know Keiji before he gets killed that first time—in fact, the graphic novel opens with his gruesome dying breath as Rita attempts to calm him as he passes. On the surface, one can be forgiven for initially finding him bland, or the typical naïve, green recruit that grows more cynical and hard as the story goes (AKA a character arc we have seen hundreds of times before), especially compared to the funny everyman from the film. However, what helps Keiji stand out is the fact that he gets to explore more of the emotional toll that being stuck in a loop that ends with one’s death.
Much like the portion in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray keeps attempting to kill himself, there is a steady descent to exhaustion and resignation that burns away almost everything else about the character but the lust for combat and revenge—a transformation that Obata captures beautifully with the ever-increasing bags under Keiji’s eyes or the detached expression on what is otherwise an average, plain looking young man. It is Obata’s ability to capture the subtle fire or rage in Keiji’s eyes with his expertly implemented shading that really sells Keiji’s mental transformation, especially off the battlefield. From a story perspective, the progression of Keiji’s skills and the hardening of his mental state are gradual enough that the contrast to the timid Keiji at the beginning is enough to make most feel for the character and his futile struggles to avoid a gory death. Granted, because of his exhausted mental state and the tired look he develops as the novel goes on, there is a moment when he appears relaxed when he talks to Rita the first time that is off-putting and doesn’t flow with his depiction the panel before. It could be that we are seeing Keiji from her point of view and therefore it is more romanticized, but even so, it may seem abrupt for some readers. Another potentially out of place moment entails Keiji’s brief moment in his 80th loop with the base’s cook, Rachel Kisaragi, after she saves him from getting beaten by another soldier. After briefly acknowledging that he was holding back to save his energy for the battlefield the next day, Rachel offers him a date before he leaves. The scene pays off, as we get some insight into why Keiji may have joined the UDF and the source of his interest in mystery novels; we also get to see just how much more passionate and openly invested he gets about training instead of human contact. Still, given how little interaction Keiji has with Rachel beforehand or the day of the 80th loop, it may seem to progress too quickly. Overall, some minor rushed or abrupt moments aside, Keiji is a fine protagonist that differs strongly from his film counterpart, but works well as an exploration of a different, darker reaction to the loop.
Rita is an equally engaging protagonist and possibly an even more well-rounded one. Known as the “Full Metal Bitch” (possibly a reference to the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, given that their suits are called Jackets), she is presented as an incredible warrior who went through the same hell as Keiji, but who is also capable of smiling, especially once she finds out that someone else knows what she has been through. The switch to her point of view halfway through the story is smooth, as we see her childhood in Pittsfield, Illinois and her desire to avenge the destruction of her town and family—to the point of stealing Rita Vrataski’s identity to join the UDF, despite being under-aged. We never get to find out her real name, as the author redacts it whenever it’s mentioned; it is a nice touch, as it demonstrates how much she has forsaken as she has become more eroded emotionally by the loop. Takeuchi and Obata are also smart enough to include scenes where she mishandles chopsticks; it is a subtle touch, one that not only dodges the risk of making Rita appear good at everything, but also emphasizes her foreigner status. They allow us to see the Full Metal Bitch with her guard down, that she retains her humanity despite the toll the war has taken, which makes the scene where she cries at discovering someone else who had experienced the loop all the more potent. Her romance with Keiji may seem a tad under-developed, but while not winning any awards, it is fleshed out as we get to see a montage of her and Keiji bonding; factoring the loops we didn’t get to see and overall, in the story, the characters bond plenty. Besides Rita and Keiji, supporting characters like Rita’s personal tech Shasta Raylle or Keiji’s friend Jin Yonabaru don’t get too much development beyond their story roles, but given the page constraints and Obata’s designs, they do the job of providing a point of reference for the loops sufficiently.
Granted, as well presented as the story and Rita’s abilities are, there is still some confusion about the nature of looping that may leave readers unsatisfied. Few mysteries are actually explained, as the Mimic’s origin remains unknown, as is their method for time travel. So there is confusion about whether Rita retained the ability to loop after she breaks out of her initial one and how that ability was affected when Keiji also got trapped in the loop—not to mention what would happen if she died outside of battle. Would she go back a day or go back to the most recent battle/save point? To be fair, once time travel is introduced in almost any story, headaches usually follow shortly behind and it does provide discussion among readers and engages them beyond just reading the story, so I consider this a plus, but it’s understandable if some readers are left frustrated or confused—it comes with the science fiction territory.
As for Viz’s presentation of the story, it is well put together and worth the $14.99 price tag for the combo pack. While the majority of the story is drawn in black and white, the story opens with some beautifully colored pages, as well as utilizing both covers to make up the front and back images. Between chapters are fitting quotes from the original novel (which Viz has also made available), and the pages are of good quality and are not easy to accidentally tear. It is just the right size to portray Obata’s gorgeous artwork. For a guy most would recognize for the realistic and dialogue heavy Death Note and Hikaru No Go, or the more cartoony Bakuman, he takes to the action-filled science fiction battlefield with ease; he captures the fluidity of Keiji’s and Rita’s swings—an impressive feat, given that he’s drawing them in armor suits—and the horrific gore that comes with many of Keiji’s deaths. They never cross the line to being exploitative or distasteful, but are given as much detail as the Jackets and backgrounds, which makes it worth taking an extra second or two to appreciate the gorgeous artwork on the page before moving on. All around, Obata knows when to best use shading to get the maximum emotional impact of a frame and his panel layout almost always progresses the story in a fluid but solid pace. There is only one occasion that his layout causes a little confusion, when all we see a close up on Rita’s face on the bottom of one page and on the next, we see the exterior of a Jacket, we assume that it’s Rita’s, but it turns out that the focus actually switched back to Keiji. A minor complaint, but it may throw some readers off.
All in all, there are very few nitpicks regarding Takeuchi and Obata’s All You Need Is Kill: with thought-provoking story, gorgeously detailed artwork, and solid character development, this is a Groundhog Day war story that belongs on any science fiction or action fan’s shelf.