Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yurei Yokai to Kyuketsuki, desu ne?! (Ghosts, Demons, and Vampires, oh my!)

Recently I seem to be obsessed with ghost stories and Japanese monsters. Been reading things like Bleach, Tactics, and Yokai Attack! Been watching Ghost Hunt, Saiyuki, and mainstream Japanese horror. So, here are two of the paranormal stories that caught my eye.

The Waking Book 1: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall

I was a bit worried when I started this one. It is a Japanese style paranormal mystery written by an American. It had all the chances of just becoming a manga and anime-influenced rehash of Japanese culture with no real ideas of how modern Japan functions or grasp of Japanese culture. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Kara is a 16-year-old girl from Boston who moves to Kyoto prefecture with her father, an English teacher at a prestiguous Japanese high school. They have both always wanted to live in Japan and, after the death of Kara's mother, the move is both wanted and needed. Along with worries about fitting in, Kara faces the trauma and stangeness of several suspicous student deaths that appear to be caused by the murder of a student in the Fall. Is it supernatural? Or is it only the victim's sister trying to get revenge?

The strongest parts of this story are Randall's ability to evoke the beauty of Miyazu City, his well-drawn characters, and his obvious grasp of Japanese folklore and love of horror. Kara details her love of the city and the people who live there in simple but striking language. She references both anime and American cultural standards (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz) but doesn't only see the world through pop culture eyes. She is also a good judge of character and a normal teen; she doesn't like everybody and she questions here choices in friends, fashion, and behavior, especially in a country where propriety is everything. I love that Randall refuses to use both the American and Japanese stereotype characters and instead creates characters that are foremost teenagers and secondarily Japanese.

The folklore, of course, was one of the main draws for me as well. Was it a ghost? A monster? and if so, what kind? Japanese monsters are very different from American ones. I was genuinely surprised by what the outcome was. The plot was well thought out and masterly crafted. The bullying was important, but not simple. The monsters were both supernatural and human.

I look forward to the next installment in this trilogy, Spirits of the Noh.

Ghost Hunt by Fuyumi Ono and Shiho Inada

Now for a manga with similar topics.....

Mai Taniyama is a typical teen in high school. When Shibuya Psychic Research comes to her school to investigate a possible haunting, she becomes an assistant on the team after causing the usual assistant (Lin) to be injured and destroying an expensive camera. The school also hires a Buddhist monk (Takigawa), a Shinto miko (Ayako), a Catholic priest (John) and a psychic medium (Masako). This becomes their first case together and the series continues with multiple cases of varying creepiness and validity.

Mai discovers that she has her own paranormal power (dream prognostication) and has an unhealthy crush on the head of the company, 17-year-old Kazuya Shibuya (Naru the narcissicist, for short). After the case, she is also hired as an office assistant. This mainly involves making tea....

In any case, the cases are fascinating and some of them are quite scary. Japanes folklore and paranormal science intertwine in every case, as the team uses whatever is available to them to help their clients. Occasionally, the plot is a bit formulaic, but that is to be expected in an episodic manga such as this.

Originally, this story was a series of "light" novels in Japan. That is what they call their YA. It was highly popular and was later adapted into manga and anime form. The manga is still being written and is supposed to follow through to the end of the novel series. The anime is complete and ended before the end of the current manga volume.

So, a creepy time had by all? These two are a great pick for your horror lovers out there, especially if they would like something a little different. And they both promise to serve up plenty of yurei, yokai, and kyuketsuki!!!


Anonymous said...


Jenn H. said...

I had to know what that meant. It's Chinese: Tell yourself first, what kind of person wants to be, and then step by step the necessary steps.