Story & Art by Koma Natsumi
Supervision by Koji Suzuki
Character Provision by Kadokawa
Translated by Caleb Cook
Lettered by Lys Blakeslee
Sadako is one of the most storied horror characters in literature and cinema. A vengeful spirit who kills anyone who watches her videotape within one week unless they show it to someone else, she’s captured the imagination of horror fans and has starred in countless novels and films, including international adaptations. Yen Press provides a handy summary of some of the most notable entries in her franchise at the end of this book, and there’s been a lot, including other manga adaptations. Where this one differs is that it’s not a straight adaptation of the character, but not quite a parody either. This story reimagines Sadako being discovered by children in a post-apocalyptic world, a setting in which she has been forgotten, and thus not feared. This puts Sadako in a strange spot; how can she continue to curse a world that’s already dead? Moreover, if there’s no one left to see her tape, would she even continue to exist?
Sadako is a tragic character. While her full backstory in the novels is complicated and convoluted, her core motivation is getting revenge on a world that shunned, betrayed, abused, and murdered her. I haven’t seen every installment of this franchise, but I imagine there’s not been a whole lot of empathy for Sadako in the more straightforward horror stories. Her cruel life, as originally written, was just context to explain why she’s a vengeful spirit killing people. Most pop culture depictions reduce her further to a type of monster or gimmick that acts upon instinct rather than a person pursuing a goal. What makes Sadako at the End of the World so remarkable is that it’s a story in which people are kind to her. Throughout this book, she’s distrustful that the kids will abandon her when they find out who she is. She’s braced herself for people to reject and fear her as they have for so long. Instead, she receives the love and validation she truly longed for. The two kids consider her a friend, genuinely enjoying her company and spending time with her. Everyone she meets thinks her psychic powers are cool and appreciate their usefulness. Even when people realize what she is, they lovingly accept her with all of their hearts, and wish for her happiness. Ironically, at the end of the world, Sadako is finally no longer alone.
In turn, Sadako ends up helping the stragglers of the apocalypse find peace and contentment in their lives before the end. Even after learning about how few people remain, Sadako still pursues her revenge, and death befalls all who encounter her. However, her attempts to frighten backfire and she ends up helping people with unfulfilled dreams have one last hurrah. She allows a hair stylist a chance to make someone’s hair beautiful, provides an elderly actor a stage to give her final performance, and helps a fellow cursed spirit to pass on peacefully. She becomes two lonely little girls’ first friend, and immortalizes them through the memories they’ve made together. The survivors of the apocalypse she meets are all struggling with loss and loneliness. Being alone in the world, truly, is something more frightening than Sadako could ever be. So rather than being a curse, Sadako’s companionship ends up being comforting to them. She gives them someone to help, entertain, empathize with, and love. In doing so, Sadako’s curse is recontextualized as an act of kindness, providing lonely folks an opportunity to realize their dreams they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Koma Natsumi’s love for Sadako permeates the book. They clearly see the tragedy and humanity in her, providing nuance and an arc to her character that lesser stories would forget. References to Sadako’s origins and lore run deep, like her relationship with her mother, or how her story was inspired by the japanese folk tale “The Dish Mansion of Banchou.” Rather than gratuitous cameos, Koma uses these references to contrast Sadako with other characters and develop her character through her relationships with them. This Sadako isn’t a simple vengeful monster. She’s a person who thinks about her own mortality, her reason for being, her regrets, and her dreams. She’s allowed to be the protagonist of her own story, and even if her story’s ending isn’t the happiest, she’s at least been allowed her own happiness.
Koma Natsumi has a soft, wispy aesthetic that fits the melancholic mood of their story. Their linework is thin and their designs are fairly simple, with perhaps the most detailed character in the story being the elderly woman. The little girls have adorable round faces, big eyes, and floofy hair and generally look cute. That soft and cute design sense doesn’t lend itself much to horror, so Sadako’s design never really stands out as creepy, which hinders the few moments that do try to come across as unsettling. Regardless, the art successfully captures the tone of the story and the panelling effectively draws one into its pace, so even if the book’s final moment doesn’t shock it does still carry a fun amount of suspense.
Sadako at the End of the World is a wonderfully empathetic reflection on the Sadako mythos. It understands the tragedy of the character and works to give her a sense of fulfillment and closure most other interpretations don’t. It imaginatively reframes her curse as something comforting in its post-apocalyptic setting, giving her the opportunity to help rather than hurt. The story’s final chapter is called “We Love You, Sada-chan,” and truly, this book is a loving tribute to her. If anything, Sadako’s curse is that she so thoroughly captures the hearts and imaginations of every horror fan who sees her, which is why her legacy will forever linger. Even at the end of the world.