~by Doton Yamaaki
Breathe Deeply is the first work by Doton Yamaaki, a husband and wife creative team, to have been translated into English. Breathe Deeply was originally published in Japan in 2010. I had never heard of the manga or of the creator before seeing the title listed in One Peace Book's catalog for 2011. I read and quite enjoyed Yumiko Shirai's Tenken, One Peace Books' first foray into publishing fiction manga; that alone was enough to interest me greatly in Breathe Deeply. If Tenken was any example to go by, Breathe Deeply promised to be an engaging and distinctive work. I was really looking forward to reading it and was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to receive a review copy of the book. While I wasn't previously familiar with Doton Yamaaki's work, the pair has apparently received several awards for their creative endeavours.
Sei and Oishi are two men who were profoundly affected by the loss of their beloved Yuko to a heart condition when they were young. Fifteen years later they are still haunted by their memories of her and are driven by them to find a solution to her illness. Sei a chemical engineer, has met with recent success, creating a polymer-based artificial heart. At the other end of the scientific spectrum, Oishi is struggling to have his research into regenerative cells accepted. Both of the men's work is cause for some amount of controversy within the scientific community. Just as they vied for the affections of Yuko when they were younger, they continue to compete in pursuit of their goal, convinced that their own theories, beliefs, and ideals are the correct ones. But even on the verge of a breakthrough, both Sei and Oishi must still deal with their guilt and their grief.
Scientific inquiry can be cutthroat and ruthless. While I don't feel Breathe Deeply has an agenda, other than to tell a compelling story, generally speaking the engineers are portrayed in a slightly better light than their peers in the medical school. More of this has to do with the researchers themselves rather than their actual work. The Chief, for one, is a horrible person even if she makes a memorable character. (I can't say that I was unhappy when she has to deal with the consequences of some of her actions.) On the other hand Oishi, a stem-cell researcher, is one of the most sympathetic characters in the entire manga, even considering some of the terrible things he has done in his past. The depth and complexity of the the characters and their relationships, particularly the awkward one between Sei and Oishi, is one of Breathe Deeply's strongest points. The two men are somewhat antagonistic toward each other, but their shared bond over Yuko's loss also serves as an important source of support and strength.
I enjoyed Breathe Deeply a great deal; although the story can be a touch melodramatic at times, the manga remains emotionally convincing throughout. Yuko is absolutely critical to the story. Just how important she is to Oishi and Sei is readily apparent in Breath Deeply's. The manga easily shifts between the present and the past. I would hesitate to call them flashbacks because the memories are still so real and vital to the two men's current lives. The artwork aids in the transitions--past events being colored in lighter shades of grey--making the story easy to follow and naturally flow. The artwork also features photorealistic backgrounds and landscapes, using shading more than screentones. I am very happy I had the chance to read Breathe Deeply and hope to see more work by Doton Yamaaki available in English in the future.