Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Author: Nina Matsumoto
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $10.95 US
Rating: T (Ages 13+)
Release Date: Now Available
Yokaiden … not just another monsters and ghost story.
Once in a blue moon a manga comes along from a first time author that is not only a brilliant first try but also a unpredictably well told story that makes you wish the next one comes out soon. Nina Matsumoto brings us a surprising told of old Japanese folklore with her own witty sense of humor that makes Yokaiden a rare manga gem, indeed.
Volume 1 of Yokaiden introduces us to a nine-year old boy named Hamachi Uramaki who has always found yokai (the name can apply to spirits, demons and even monsters) interesting. He idolizes the author of a book on yokai – a mysterious fellow by the name of Inukai Mizuki – and wishes to one day write and illustrate his own book on the subject. While everyone in the nearby Shamoji Village thinks he’s not right in the head for believing in such a thing, they sympathize with the young orphan who lives with his grumpy grandmother that constantly berates the boy.
One day, while out chopping bamboo to sell in the village, Hamachi encounters a Kappa, a half-turtle-half-bird yokai that has his webbed foot nearly mangled by a bear trap. Helping the annoyed yokai, Hamachi is happy to be of service even though he had to hack off the injured limb. It’s clear to the Kappa that the old woman living by the river might be to blame and swears revenge on her. Meanwhile, Hamachi heads to the village marketplace to sell his bamboo wares when he meets a samurai without a master (otherwise known as a Ronin) named Kyumon Zaigo who is looking for food and shelter in exchange for slaying a few yokai. This, of course, does not sit well with Hamachi who gives the ronin a good tongue-lashing.
When Hamachi comes home he finds his grandmother dead in a most unusual pose. The only possible suspect is the Kappa Hamachi saved in the woods. So gathering a few items that include a sacred rope he ties around his waist, Hamachi’s departure (with a nod to Marv from Frank Miller‘s “Sin City“) is but the beginning of an interesting quest to avenge a dead grandmother. While encountering yokai such as the Grime Licker (who licks the grime off dirty bathtubs), Bean Washers (speaks for itself) and a Namahage (an ogre that slices the skin off the feet of delinquent kids). Thanks to his guide and knowledge of the yokai, Hamachi does find the yokai realm.
In the other side, Hamachi saves a talking paper lantern from a group of yokai bullies and then encounters a living umbrella that once belonged to Hamachi’s grandfather. Yeah, I said a talking paper lantern and a living, breathing umbrella. You see, neglected household items can turn into yokai after years, which explains the sudden disappearance of your stuff. Unfortunately for Hamachi, not all yokai are friendly, such as the Nue (a monster with body parts of various different animals) that attacks him and his new friends and is hunting them. In the middle of this is Zaigo, the Ronin, who is suddenly talked into going to the yokai realm to save Hamachi.
Yokaiden seldom takes the theme seriously and thus gives it a humorous twist that actually works for the volume. Even the four-panel comic strips at the end are just as funny as the genuinely amusing moments in the story. Matsumoto hands her story superbly and her art – while not strikingly beautiful – has its own unique look that doesn’t copy the artistic style of other manga-ka.
Volume 1 of Yokaiden will not disappoint anyone looking for a manga that’s not only interesting and filled with a colorful cast of creatures but also a unique story that makes this a manga well worth picking up. Never really taking itself serious from the very start, following a young boy on his search for answers behind his grandmother’s death will not fail to keep you reading until the last page.
MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Hamachi has always had a fascination with yokai and has made it his mission to see and befriend as many of them as possible in order to write his own book on them. When his grumpy grandmother dies, Hamachi presumes that it might be the work of a yokai he helped out and thus sets out to avenge her death. It’s a good start to a good story.
Nina Matsumoto’s artwork isn’t gorgeous but she uses her own style and it works wonderfully enough to be pleasing to the eye.
Delightfully inventive, utterly charming and completely entertaining, Yokaiden’s first volume tells a wonderfully compelling story filled with interesting creatures and plenty of humor. Hamachi’s journey to the yokai realm makes for an adventure that is wonderfully unique and engaging.