Title: Perfect World (パーフエクトワールド)
Author: Rie Aruga (Story & Art)
Genres: Josei, Slice of Life, Romance, Drama
Published: 2014 – Present
Volumes: 8 [Ongoing]
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha
English Publisher: Kodansha International
Available to Purchase in English?: Yes (Indigo / Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
This Review is Based On: The first 2 volumes
Synopsis: A company get-together reunites 26-year-old Tsugumi with her high school crush, Itsuki. In the years they’ve been apart, Itsuki has realized his dream of becoming an architect–but along the way, he’s also suffered a spinal cord injury that’s left him in a wheelchair. Seeing Itsuki again rekindles Tsugumi’s feelings for him. It also forces her to confront her own hidden prejudices. Itsuki’s disability seems like an intimidating obstacle at first, but soon, Tsugumi discovers that her world feels imperfect without him. (Indigo)
One of the best things about my bookstore job was getting to shelve in the store’s manga sections, as it gave me a brief glimpse at some of the newest titles my store was carrying. I no longer work there but I still have a list of manga I’d noted that I wanted to read, or at least look into. Perfect World was one of those titles.
While I admit I’m guilty of reviewing a lot of titles from the same few genres, I do try to pick things outside of my box every once in awhile. For example, I like to cover LGBTTQIA+ and josei works (Blue Flag, Usagi Drop), sci-fi and fantasy titles (FLCL, Dragon Half, All You Need is Kill, Berserk) and manga which deal with heavier topics such as mental health issues and grief (A Girl on the Shore, My Brother’s Husband). I don’t want to review only romantic dramas or romantic comedies.
So when I read the synopsis for Perfect World, I thought it would be a perfect pick for a future review. It seemed to be both a romantic drama and be an informative way to teach people about a particular disability. Was the title as good as I thought it’d be? I think the best way to describe my thoughts is to split it them in half and discuss both the good and the bad.
What does Perfect World do really well? It’s a very honest and insightful look at individuals with paraplegia and the struggles they face stemming from their disability. In particular, medical complications are highlighted as being potentially dangerous if not caught in time. For example, Itsuki loses a toenail and bleeds through his sock without realizing it. He also gets bed sores that he can’t feel, and he’s prone to infections in his body. Other issues Itsuki must deal with including the risk of tipping his wheelchair over if the ground is not smooth, or if there are any grooves or gaps in the ground that the wheels of his chair can get stuck in. And of course, if the entrance to a building has no ramp, only stairs, then Itsuki is not able to enter it on his own.
Perfect World also notes that there are mental struggles that people with a disability may struggle with. In the first 2 volumes, this mainly manifests as what the manga calls “disability acceptance,” which is exactly what it sounds like. It refers to someone learning to accept that they have a permanent disability which has changed their life forever. Itsuki also struggles with a condition called Phantom Limb Pain, which seems to manifest more when he is alone and in a negative headspace; it appears to ease when he is distracted or talking to someone (like Tsugumi).
Lastly, Perfect World nails beautifully that people with disabilities are still very capable and that their disabilities don’t have to hold them back. Itsuki is able to achieve his dream and be a successful architect, for example, and a young man he mentors named Haruto is able to play on Itsuki’s wheelchair basketball team. Itsuki is able to date and be loved, as is Haruto. Itsuki can even drive thanks to a special custom vehicle!
Much of the first few chapters revolve around Itsuki’s insecurities about being disabled and Tsugumi’s doubts about whether she’ll be able to be a supportive enough partner for him given that she’s never dated someone with a disability before, nor does she know anything about paraplegia. Notably, after his accident Itsuki retreated inside himself and rejected the idea of ever again being in a relationship, especially after he pushed away his high school girlfriend post-accident. He knew that life would be difficult for his potential future partner and resolved to live alone instead. Therefore he must push through these doubts and learn to trust Tsugumi. Meanwhile, Tsugumi’s insecurities tend to manifest as her freaking out over Itsuki being sick and/or hurting himself because she doesn’t yet fully know what she needs to know about about dating someone with a disability, so she overreacts and panics.
If you’ve read this far and you’re wondering why I only read 2 volumes despite having such positive things to say about Perfect World, let me tell you about what I didn’t enjoy.
The first issues I have is that I feel that the series moves very quickly. Within the first 2 novels Itsuki and Tsugumi have already confessed their feelings, they’re working together, he’s had some health scares, and we’ve had interference from two jealous people who are trying to break Itsuki and Tsugumi apart. Oh and Tsugumi told her family about her new relationship with Itsuki and they weren’t supportive. WHOA. You know what Perfect World feels like to me? A shoujo manga, not a josei. The josei titles I’ve read in the past typically have a little more depth, their drama developing more slowly.
And my second issue with Perfect World ties into the first a little: it’s my irritation with Tsugumi as a character. She and Itsuki are both fairly young, so I give her some leeway for her immaturity, but overall I find that she’s… kinda annoying. She falls in love very easily, acknowledging that she had a crush on Itsuki when they were in high school, so romantic feelings were already present and Tsugumi was able to build onto those when she reconnected with Itsuki. This gave me some concern when I was reading Perfect World because if in my personal opinion, if you’re getting into a relationship with someone with a serious disability like paraplegia, you should have a certain level of “maturity” and knowledge, no? You should acknowledge that the disabled person you’re becoming close with is putting their feelings and more importantly, their trust on the line to date you, so you should be fairly certain that this is the person you want to be with romantically, right? Maybe you should slow down and spend some time with this person and their life before trying to take your relationship with them to the next step?
Anyways, this annoyance was compounded when a pest from Tsugumi’s past reappears (conveniently once she’s started dating Itsuki) and makes it very clear that he’s still interested in her and wants to date her, despite knowing that she has a boyfriend. And this was after we already had someone from Itsuki’s life get very defensive about Tsugumi’s new role in his life. It is just a lot of drama very quickly, and while it helps reinforce that Tsugumi and Itsuki have to talk through their difficulties and insecurities and actually communicate with each other, it gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach quite early on. As soon as Tsugumi started telling Itsuki, a young disabled man who is already incredibly insecure about letting someone into his life to love him, that she was “only friends” with the pest, I had to put the series down. Bad things can only happen from there.
How could Perfect World have been done better? I feel like if the series focused more on Itsuki’s paraplegia and how it affected his everyday life, the ways how people with similar disabilities are sometimes unfortunately excluded in daily life, and the conflict with Tsugumi’s family (to start) , then Perfect World would have been a more effective josei title. Those issues could be expanded out into Tsugumi and Itsuki’s future together (where they wanted to live, whether they wanted children), Itsuki’s future as an architect, and maybe increase Haruto’s profile within the series too.
As I specified up above though, I only got 2 volumes into the Perfect World. So maybe Tsugumi grows up after some of the conflicts I read about, maybe all the love interests from the past go away, maybe Itsuki wants to date someone else. I don’t know if the conflicts I was reading about got better. What I can say is that this title got very shoujo-ish very quickly, and as soon as the drama spiked I was out.
Do I Recommend This Title to Others?: Sure. It’s worth a read, if only for the informative and honest portrayals of people with paraplegia and how they experience daily life.
Final Score: 7/10
Author’s Note: And with that, this is the last manga review for 2020. I hope you enjoyed my entries! Researching new titles to read and review has really expanded my view of manga (and my physical collection as well, lol). I’m always open to new suggestions if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future review. Happy New Year everyone! <3