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Manga Yokai Stories: Ghostly Tales From Japan Review

Manga Yokai Stories: Ghostly Tales From Japan Review

-Written by: Chris Schaben

I don’t know about you, but Halloween just might be my favorite holiday. I love the feeling of the crisp autumn air, consuming all things pumpkin-spice, seeing all the unique costumes, and watching horror movies (both good and hilariously bad). So when I saw that we were getting Manga Yokai Stories Ghostly Tales From Japan Manga a little over a month before Halloween, I was pretty intrigued to check it out. Needless to say, I wanted to get a jump start on the spooky season.

The 7 short stories presented in this book have a long and rich history. A forward at the beginning of this book gives a good retrospective on how they came to be. In short, Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek writer who lived in Japan, originally collected these stories from old Japanese texts or were told to him by various Japanese citizens back in the early 1900s. These ghostly tales are retold by Sean Michael Wilson and illustrated by Inko Ai Takita in this book. Just seeing the cover reminded me of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series by Alvin Schwartz, with those super creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammell. However, like the title suggests, Manga Yokai Stories: Ghostly Tales from Japan is presented completely in manga form.

I think when it comes to a collection of stories, there will always be some you like and some you dislike. Out of these 7 stories in particular, I might remember 2 or 3 of them later on. They were all just...okay. Though there are Japanese names and references throughout, the stories themselves could have easily taken place anywhere in the world. These are the same types of stories with the same plots that you’ve likely already heard in western ghost stories. Therefore, the title of the book was a little misleading to me. Maybe it’s the use of the word “yokai” in the title. I always thought of yokai as distinctly Japanese inhuman creatures, similar to demons or monsters. However, these stories are mostly focused on the spirits of deceased humans. Based on my light research, it seems the more synonymous word for our American concept of ghosts in Japanese would be yurei. Regardless of whether I’m assuming correctly or not, the stories in this book were not what I was expecting based on the title and cover. There are yokai in one of the stories called nuke-kubi, which are bloodthirsty heads that fly around at night, and a “pest-god” that looks like a man with wasp wings briefly appears in another. But other than that, these stories are strictly about human spirits rather than the evil or mischievous monsters I was hoping for.

The flying heard (nuke-kubi) are a welcome example of yokai (pg. 49)

Though Sean Michael Wilson undoubtedly adapted these stories into short snippets for the teenage demographic, they all seem to end abruptly without much of a conclusion. Maybe it’s because of my high expectations that horror needs to have some kind of twist, but the stories ended exactly the way you would expect them to. The ghost is usually laid to rest and there always seems to be a happy ending with no lasting repercussions. So sue me if I wanted more death, dread, and despair to befall the protagonists. Instead, they all get to move on with their lives as if the haunting by these ghosts was barely an inconvenience.

The rotting, skeletal woman (pg. 124)

As far as the art goes - it’s good, not great. My greatest criticism is that many of the women are very generic in their design. The spirits of the two women in “A Dead Secret” and “The Screen Maiden” are practically identical. On the bright side, though dark in theme, Inko Ai Takita is very good at drawing corpses. The sight of a rotting, skeletal woman and a woman with dead, open eyes and a fly crawling on her face were enough to make me shiver. At least they looked different from the two aforementioned women in the worst way. The living men, on the other hand, are much more expressive and distinct looking in their designs for some reason. Takita plays a lot with different hairstyles and facial hair patterns in this regard. The decapitated heads (the nuke-kubi) are also highlights of her art in this book.

Very little difference in the appearance of these women from "The Screen Maiden" (pg. 21) and "A Dead Secret" (pg. 7)

In terms of the horror element, none of these stories are the kind that will keep me from sleeping or having nightmares. As I said before, I’ll probably forget most of them in a few days. But that’s not to say you should completely skip this book. We all have our own fears, both in real life and in fantasy. For me, I get creeped out by possessed children or dolls, neither of which were present in this book. But maybe flying heads or vengeful ghosts of ex-wives will be enough to send a shiver down your spine. You might want to pick it up if you would like some mild scares before Halloween. As for me, I’ll be seeking other books or movies to give me the chills.

Manga Yokai Stories Ghostly Tales from Japan Manga

These classic Japanese ghost stories are based on those written by famed author Lafcadio Hearn between 1890 and 1904. Here, they are retold by award-winning comic book writer Sean Michael Wilson, who has garnered a worldwide fan base for his manga adaptations of works of Japanese literature, including such classics as The Book of Five Rings and The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts. Wilson's skillful adaptation of Hearn's ghostly tales—along with superb manga illustrations from UK-based Japanese artist Inko Ai Takita—make these fascinating stories come to life. This book is in traditional Japanese reading order—from back to front—so that fans and manga lovers can enjoy an authentic reading experience.

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