Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yōkaiden, vol. 1

By Nina Matsumoto
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Be careful for what you wish for, because sometimes you will get it. Too bad you don't know any better.

Hamachi is living with his gruff (and not in a kindly way) grandmother after the death of his parents when he comes across a yokai, a Japanese demon/spirit that can have any number of origins or attitudes. The fact that there are so many of them means that there are more for Hamachi to learn about, much to his grandmother's disgust. Her disgust is so great that she lays a trap for one which Hamachi secretly rescues. When Hamachi learns that his grandmother laid the trap, he tries to overlook it, but the yokai that was trapped by it steals her soul while he is away. Upon his return, he decides to go to the yokai homelands through a portal to recover his grandmother's soul, or at least talk to the yokai that took it. Once in the yokai lands, he begins to make friends and enemies, but is still a long way off from confronting the yokai that has his grandmother's soul by the end of the first volume.

The manga at first starts fairly serious and straightforward, but as the volume continues, the story becomes more meta and self-referential. I don't think that is a good way to go, how serious one should take the story needs to be consistent, otherwise readers may feel that they are being manipulated (in a bad way.) To a certain extent, Hamachi is too naive and idealistic. He claims that he has read the books about yokai, so he knows that some are good, and is open to those but he seems to refuse to believe the truthfulness of those same texts in that some yokai are harmful and dangerous. Some amount of caution and learning from the dangers he is exposed to should be expected, but he seems impervious to them. After nearly having his own soul stolen, he just laughs it off. That sort of fits with the more metatextual aware Hamachi from later in the volume, when he seems to be more aware that he is in a story, but not so much in the beginning of the volume. It is this uncertainty over what the nature of the story is that robs it of tension and storytelling power.

Yōkaiden, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga



Kris said...

I'm not really seeing much in this review which explains the rating.

I never once read this book thinking it was "serious" or "horror." It's obviously a comedy book, and does reference itself from the beginning (perhaps not by the kid, but definitely by the first yokai). The kid is also obviously a straight-forward comedy exaggeration of the young idealist. You gave it two stars because you expected seriousness and didn't get it?

I enjoyed the book for the light hearted, make-fun-of-itself comic that it was. It made me laugh out loud. Much better stuff than I would expect from an OEL. Anyone in doubt should read the first few pages in a bookstore.

Prospero's Manga said...

Well, people can honestly disagree about ratings. 3 is intended to be an average read on this site, representing a title that everything well and makes no major storytelling missteps. I chose to give it the rating not because I was expecting seriousness when I opened the book, but I was expecting something more serious after reading the first chapter. The attitude of the Kappa, his ruined leg and the trophy taking of the Kappa's leg pointed to a happy go lucky character that was facing a more serious world. But that changed over the volume. Take the first appearance of the ronin, fairly serious and dedicated, to his last appearance in the volume, where his agreement to go into the yokai's world is taken as an opportunity to do a comedy gag.

I would think to give a more honest appraisal of the what the tone of the book is, you need not to read the first few pages, but a selection from the middle or the back of it.

At first, I was thinking I would just rate it 2 1/2, but the more I thought about it, the more the more serious tone in the beginning of the book bugged me, especially since that tone could have been evened out by some rewrites (as compared to new art.)

Now, that may not be a problem for some. Kris enjoyed it, but that just means we have different expectations. I hope that my reasoning is a little bit clearer. If not, I am more than glad to talk about this some more.


Kris said...

Thanks for the response! It's appreciated.

I did not get a serious tone from the beginning, especially after the bit of saving the severed leg (and the 4th-wall breaking comments by the demon character). It seemed the book was making fun of itself and the strange main character.

To each his own.