In a Japan of the near future, an irreversibly fatal disease of unknown cause has become epidemic and the country faces an existential threat.
It is 2033. For the last 20 years or so, a disease known as Thanatos has been spreading relentlessly across Japan. No matter what their circumstances or physical condition, those who are stricken fall prey to an urge to immediately kill themselves, and no means has been found to suppress that urge. It is impossible to tell when the disease might strike, and an international team of scientists remains unable to identify the cause. With a daily toll of some 8,000, the Japanese population is dropping rapidly; for young people between the ages of 10 and 19, one in five are dying. Oddly, only Japanese are susceptible, not people of other blood. Foreign residents have left the country, and the Japanese have become international outcasts: not only are they no longer able to travel outside Japan, but the export of automobiles and other “Made in Japan” products has been shut down. With the economy in free fall, the country has become dependent on aid from the United Nations and various donor countries for its survival.
The protagonist is high-school senior Chianki. He lost his father to Thanatos when he was a year old, and since then has been raised singlehandedly by his journalist mother. During his early years they lived in Tokyo, but when he was in middle school his mother’s work required a move to the small city on the Sea of Japan coast where they now live. At school he is on the judo team, but he isn’t very motivated, and mostly spends his time thinking about how to get his girlfriend Rieko to sleep with him. With the threat of Thanatos constantly breathing down his neck, he doesn’t want to die a virgin. The story centers on Chianki’s coming of age against the backdrop of a Japan that has become isolated from the wider world and appears to have reached a degenerate “end time.”
The pace of action picks up when Chianki and Rieko decide to check out the Kame District on the waterfront. The area is said to be a ruined ghetto, and people don’t even like to talk about the place, let alone set foot there. Once there, they come upon a group of 16 foreigners, all men, who have remained in Japan for one reason or another but due to ostracism have found their way here and established a cooperative, self-sufficient community. Chianki and Rieko are welcomed as friends, but as they deepen their acquaintance through multiple visits, Chianki’s classmates begin to regard him as a pariah in their midst. A short while later, the class vice-president and the robust captain of the judo team kill themselves from Thanatos in quick succession, and Chianki is overtly shunned as a bringer of calamity. Then a member of the foreign community falls under suspicion of being a terrorist and is killed by police. Communications with the remaining members are cut off, and the entire community disappears. Chianki and Rieko run away from home to search for the missing men . . .
Though the story is set nearly two decades in the future, the world depicted very closely resembles the Japan of today, and it is clear that author Tatsuya Mori is deliberately probing the nature of the Japanese national character. Through these two bold young protagonists, he invites readers along on a highly stimulating thought experiment.