There are insecurities that come with the start of any relationship.
What will I bring to this relationship?
Why would they like me?
Maybe it would be better just to stay in isolation.
In the manga series Perfect World by Aruga Rie the difficulty of starting a romantic relationship as an adult is explored.
In adulthood the start of a romantic relationship often includes the added burden of matching career goals, future family plans, & thoughts about reliability.
In this story Kawana, age 26, reunites with her high school crush, Ayukawa, at a work dinner.
She is impressed to see he was able to achieve his dream of becoming an architect. She herself is still quite lost. While she had previously wanted to become an illustrator, she is now trying out a new career as an interior designer.
She is excited to discover they will be working together, and can't help but notice Ayukawa has only become more handsome since high school.
Then he says he will be leaving first, and as he gets up from the table Kawana sees that something big has changed since high school:
Ayukawa is now in a wheelchair.
The coworkers explain it was the result of an accident he had in college. One of the female staff remarks that even though he is handsome she could never date someone with a physical disability. It's such a shame.
The comment strikes Kawana hard. Even though she is not able to respond to the woman directly, she leaves with a head full of uncomfortable questions.
Isn't it wrong to think in such a finite way about theses things?
What would actually be different about dating a physically disabled person?
And yet, she is also honest with herself. The truth is that when she saw him in the wheelchair her own feelings for Ayukawa subconsciously retreated.
Is she a bad person?
Both Ayukawa and Kawana are burdened by insecurities brought out by contemplating a potential relationship between them.
Ayukawa has made up his mind to pursue his career goals, but he has hardened his heart towards love. He only sees the burden, heartache, and stigma he could add to someones life.
Even if Kawana truly loved him, he believes she would be better off loving someone else.
Not only does he have limited mobility, but his condition comes with the threat of further complications, decreasing quality of life, and even the threat of death looming over him.
Kawana on the other hand struggles with feelings of self worth and capability. She still doesn't feel like she has "made it". She is very aware of all the things she does not know. And she's a bit of a people pleaser.
She's inclined to put others wishes before her own.
While she is the one who falls for Ayukawa first, she does not want to burden him with her feelings.
Even if he agrees to enter a relationship with her what could she do for him that would benefit his life? She feels useless.
She's a designer, not a nurse. And she knows nothing about how to help him in an emergency.
Kawana may be almost annoyingly naive, but it also might be her hopeful naivety that allows her to pursue Ayukawa despite her uncertainties & the difficulties they would endure together.
Through working together and a growing friendship, she witnesses the harsh realities that fill Ayukawa's life & her heart opens further to him.
From the outside Ayukawa seems well adjusted to his new normal, but can that ever actually be true?
The strength she sees in him sparks a desire to become stronger herself.
So whats the problem? Why do these insecurities keep them from one another?
Because unfortunately the question of "Am I burdening you?" comes with a crushing sense of guilt.
Mature thoughts about happiness, protection, & burden are explored through Ayukawa's character as he struggles knowing there are certain things he cannot provide or guarantee to Kawana.
Ironically, Kawana, completely able bodied, struggles with the same thing.
Volume one of this manga is only a tiny intro to where this story will go. There is so much more I want to discuss! I will review the entire series as soon as it finishes.
It's a series written with a strong sense of story logic, and therefore how it ends is going to matter to my final impression overall. Whether a happy or sad ending, I really hope it sticks to the story logic.
In subsequent volumes the characters will run into issues with:
And a natural disaster.
But they will also meet other individuals who rely on wheelchairs. This will show them there are plenty of relationships which are exceptions to the "ordinary".
As both main characters find themselves making a decision where there is no clear right or wrong answer, this becomes a story about wading your way through the expectations and advice of other people to reach your own clarity.
And about learning to trust that the person you love can make a decision that is right for them.
Thinking you know what is best for everyone is a poisonous way to think. It is not honest, because you can only be honest about yourself. And it will likely destroy everything rather than help.
I think anyone can relate to this story of reluctance at starting a relationship, even if you do not directly relate to the core barrier to this couples happiness: physical disability & illness.
So please give this manga a try! And look forward to further thoughts from me 😄.
Have you read Perfect World? Tell me about it on instagram or here in the comments!
WHERE TO BUY
Kodansha Comics currently offers Perfect World as a digital only English release.
I bought a physical copy of the Japanese volume from Kinokuniya.
Thanks for reading!
Header made on canva.com
Images included to identify & promote this manga were taken by me.