Happiness has been a crazy ride the past couple volumes–will any of the characters be able to escape with their lives? Let’s find out.
After everything that has happened in the past two volumes, Happiness Vol. 5 almost seems quaint. Don’t get me wrong, quite a bit happened here and everyone but Yukiko has their fate up in the air by the end of the book. Even more questions have been raised as well and given that we ended on a time skip, who knows what’ll happen next. The future is unclear and after everything, this both excites and terrifies me.
But, as intrigued as I am by where the manga is going, I do have issues with the story and writing. The first is the time skip itself in the last chapter, which just came off as so abrupt that I didn’t even realize it happened until a few pages in. It literally feels like it came out of nowhere and cuts off the past portion of the story with little resolution, raising some questions in a not so satisfying way. The second issue is how breezy and decompressed the manga was. Now, this series has always been that way, but it felt more egregious here than usual with its use of double page spreads, and entire chapters are dedicated to one small focus. This makes the whole book go by way too quickly for its own good; you close the book feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Top it all off, with how little really happened and how stretched the plot is, it feels like the plot could have been condensed down into two or three chapters instead of the five.
Despite those complaints, I found the character work to be great. Well, with the characters present at least, since Makoto and Nora are out of the picture after the first chapter. Yukiko has been constantly seeking the truth about what has been going on, and here her arc hits a high point. She gets too close to the truth and suffers for it, though she gets off much better than anyone else did. However, there’s another subtle arc point here. At the beginning of the series, she was very aloof and didn’t really have many friends at all, growing closer to others because of Makoto’s influence on her. Developing attachments and friends again actually saves her life. Yuuki has lost all will to live at this point and just wants to die, finally realizing the consequences and horrors of his actions. While he is persuaded to keep going, he’s not the same person. He’s better able to control his bloodlust instead of just giving in, saving Yukiko’s life and showing he still has some humanity left within him.
I wasn’t initially sure about Sakurane; I thought he could go either way and we wouldn’t really know where he truly stood until he met either Yuuki or Makoto. The time has come and we know the answer, but are still left in the dark. He knows a lot more about vampires than he lets on (he knows about the agency) and he has his own zealous, evil goals. His interactions with the characters are terrifying, but his true motivation and his reasons are still unknown. I’m intrigued to see what happens, but I have one criticism. I feel he should have entered the picture sooner so the writer could’ve built him up. That way the reveal with him and what he does would feel truly shocking rather than just surprising.
Oshimi’s art is still a wonderful sight to behold in this book. Despite my issue with decompression, the layouts are well put together and how the characters and scenes are displayed show a great sense of flow and movement. The tradeoff is that the layouts and page structure can feel somewhat dull; some are just squares and rectangles squashed together. Double page spreads aren’t as visually stunning either, outside of the second to last chapter when the art gets surreal and cerebral, reminding me of how Migi was depicted in Parasyte. The characters are drawn superbly, conveying so much power and emotional weight in their faces and body language that each high and low just hits you like a ton of bricks. Chapter 23 is probably the visual highlight, containing all the best and most haunting imagery–the greatest strengths of the book. It’s sight to behold and as extra mention, I have to give props to the cover. I usually don’t comment on them, but this one is simple, yet so eye-catching with how the characters are presented and how one is walking away, fading off into the distance.
Happiness Vol. 5 is a disturbingly beautiful volume that feels too quick for its own good. Following two fantastic books, its flaws, such as the decompression, are far more noticeable than they would otherwise be. However, for whatever weaknesses this volume may hold, it was one of the few titles this year that I could not put down after starting it. I cannot recommend this series enough, especially with how things are proceeding now.