All You Need Is Kill is an amazing manga. The premise is incredible an the story’s setup is instantly engaging. The manga delivers the narrative in a way that keeps you stopping from time to time to guess what might be happening next. Honestly speaking, I was able to guess through the story fairly well. But that is not necessarily the sign of bad storytelling. In various cases it can be a sign of thoughtful narrative progression and in the case of All You Need Is Kill I definitely find that to be the case.
I haven’t read the original light novel/graphic novel by Hiroshi Sakuraza nor have I seen the film adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, so I don’t know how the stories might differ from this manga version, storyboarded by Ryosuke Takeuchi and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. But speaking of the manga version, the basic story follows our hero Keiji Kiriya who is a new recruit in the Japanese ranks of the United Defense Force. The United Defense Force is an international military force working in cooperation to fight against the global menace of alien creatures known as ‘mimics’. These mimics are just plain weird and extremely difficult to explain; especially without giving out too much plot information. The story begins when Keiji Kiriya wakes up after a dream where he is killed in his first action against the mimics. His dream is so vivid and the death experienced within it so real that he is immediately horrified and confounded upon waking. As his day continues he notices it progresses eerily similar to the dream with minor changes here and there. The major events of the day however remain pretty much the same. Whenever he wakes up, the weather, the meal in the cafeteria, the initial actions of his comrades, the arrival of the american special forces and the behavior of people he does not interact with remain the same. It takes him two cycles to realize that he isn’t having a strange recurring dream but is truly reliving the same day in which he will definitely return to the previous day; Actually it’s more like 30 or so hours. On day three and four he is so scared that he freaks out and tries to escape his dilemma by running away and by killing himself. After that he realizes that he is stuck in a time loop that he assumes can only be broken by surviving to the end of the day. Accepting that he will experience an insufferable day regardless of how he might try to escape he comes to understand that the cause of his pain is now his greatest asset. So he decides to use trial and error to ‘level up’. Using trial and error to improve you skills was actually the original basis for the story from what I have come to understand. The original writer, Hiroshi Sakuraza, was said to have come up with the idea after hearing about an expert gamer who would reset his games after death in order to get better and better at the game. So like that player, our hero Keiji uses each day to practices new fighting techniques against the mimics. He tries different weapons. He improves his physical and mental capabilities. Mind you that he is actually dying and feeling all of this pain each time he tries out his new tactics on the battlefield. He learns from the legendary Rita Vratasky (AKA The Full Metal Bitch), the best mech suit pilot and most effective weapon against the mimics in the entire world. Eventually, Keiji becomes a cold blooded bad ass whose prowess on the battlefield begins to rival that of Rita Vratasky.
The set up and premise of the story are spectacular. I love the Sci-Fi basis for the entire plot. And the way you are introduced to the story is immediately gripping. It leaves you with enough answers not to feel lost but also keeps you in the dark about enough stuff to get the gears in your head turning in anticipation. The truly impressive thing about the setup is the sophistication of the stages that Keiji goes through in his transformation from terrified trainee to bad ass mimic slayer and onto complicated champion of the human race. He starts out terrified, just thoroughly confused and scared out of his mind. Then he just wants out. It’s too much for him to take. He is trapped in hell. And then he learns to like fire. He acclimates himself to the very deepest pits of hell to become the sharp edge of humanity’s sword in the battle against the mimic invasion. And finally, he reaches a point where he understands that the pain he went through is so much more than a personal hell. While his numerous time loops were hell for him, it was ultimately a necessary advancement for humanity.
An overlooked element of the manga that people might not necessarily find important in the story, but I certainly did, was the loneliness. Keiji’s loneliness is never ending. And the saddest thing to realize about his solitary existence is that of all the days that he has relived, he only gets to experience two days of true companionship. The best days of his life will have been the shortest period and a period that only he will remember. It’s terribly sad but deeply moving.
One of the great things about Keiji as a character is that although he becomes a cold-hearted killer who sees each day as merely a necessary means to an end. He still cares about the other characters in the story. He wants to end the hellish loop of that single day but he wants to end it the right way in the end. He wants to end the day with his comrades alive. He does his best to save as many of them as possible. There is a cool comment he makes at the end of the manga about the color of a mech suit that really sums this up.
The manga is also visually stunning. The art is well done. Takeshi Obata delivers some gruesome death scenes that are graphic enough to convey the reality of Keiji’s plight but still not so graphic as to take away from the story. It really helps you to appreciate Keiji’s level of dedication. He is dying a gruesome and horrible death every single day, over and over again. So he is choosing to go out and face that pain in an uncertain attempt to change his future. It’s crazy. Those eyes too. The way his eyes are drawn when he is deep in the heart of his endless time loop cycle just evokes a true connection with who he is as a character. Invariably one of the most important plot points in the narrative.
Now, there are always weird plot points that leave you theorizing and postulating. I have a number that All You Need Is Kill left me with but I ain’t no spoiler so I ain’t gonna say shit. But I can say that it left me with enough to reread the manga a couple of times and think about it even more. There are going to be a lot of discussions about this in my future. I urge anyone who likes good narratives to give this one at least a first read. And that, by default, is telling you to read it a bunch of times. Enjoy.