Review: ‘Shadow Life’ Is A Quirky, Yet Poignant Look At Life And Death

by James Ferguson


Kumiko is not ready to die and she’s taken matters into her own hands by capturing Death’s shadow in her vacuum cleaner. She has another chance to right some wrongs and deal with some regrets in this powerful graphic novel.


Kumiko is getting older, but she’s not ready to give up her independence, much to the dismay of her daughters. She’s moved out of the assisted living facility they put her in and found a small place to herself. Determined to do everything on her own, she’s enjoying the simple things in life like finding odd things on the street, swimming in the local pool, and capturing Death’s shadow in an old vacuum cleaner. That’s right. When Death came calling, Kumiko didn’t answer. Now she’s dealing with another set of problems.

Shadow Life hits you with this quirky, yet poignant premise right away. You can’t help but sympathize with Kumiko, regardless of where you are in life. Imagine being told you can’t do something as simple as walking to the store on your own, something you’ve done a million times before. It’s hard to accept new limitations, especially when they’re placed on seemingly simple things.

Writer Hiromi Goto quickly establishes Kumiko as this scrappy independent woman. You would love it if she was your grandmother because you just know all of her visits would be full of fun and warmth. This makes the events of Shadow Life all the more riveting as we care about Kumiko from the jump. Even though we see everything from her perspective and that comes with some dangers, we’re still cheering her on as she stares down Death and makes it clear she’s not ready to go.

Artist Ann Xu paints a somber portrayal of Kumiko’s life. The opening scenes are quiet with a pinch of sadness. Despite living on her own terms, Kumiko is all alone. She’s pushed away friends and family to get to here. When Death does come by, it slinks in slowly from the shadows, like a predator stalking its prey. You can spot it in the background as it gets closer and closer to her.

Xu does a tremendous job at showing the banal aspects in Kumiko’s world through an intriguing lens. Something as simple as taking pills every day becomes a harrowing experience when some of them disappear or Kumiko can’t remember when she last took them. You can see the worry and concern on her face as she tries to piece together what’s going on and what it might mean for her well being. She’s fought so hard to get here and she may have to give it all up if she can’t prove she can live on her own.

The encounter with Death is quirky and funny at first, but the longer it’s trapped in Kumiko’s vacuum cleaner, the higher the stakes get. That may be the entry point, but what keeps you turning the pages is this fascinating examination of life and death. Our time on this planet is limited. Sooner or later we all die. Whether or not we’re ready for that is a very individual thing. Shadow Life shows one woman’s journey and how she gets another chance to right some wrongs and deal with some of the regrets of her life. It’s something few of us get, which makes it so very powerful and compelling.

Shadow Life from First Second Books is available now at your local comic shop, bookstore, and Amazon.

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