Manga-ka: Tsuta Suzki
Rating: Mature (18+)
Released: June 2008
Synopsis: “Akio Yamane’s ancestors have died young for generations, and he despises the cursed lineage his family has given him. Then one day, Akio falls ill! But when he unknowingly summons a protector god, a man with long ears and a tail appears before him, completely naked!”
A Strange and Mystifying Story is suitably named. Akio’s family has been cursed for many generations and everyone eventually dies from different incurable diseases. With his Grandfather’s passing, Akio becomes the last living member in the family but soon falls ill himself. Lonely and upset, Akio heeds his Grandfather’s last words and finds an old tooth hidden inside an incense stand. Out from the tooth came a great wolf-demon who tells his new master he has been serving his family for generations and can cure his disease if Akio should wish it of him.
This story has one of the beat executed plots I’ve read in a long while. The demon, Setsu, taking the disease from Akio was a really neat concept and actually gave probable cause for getting naked with Akio. Heck, the story was even handled well enough that the first sex scene felt like it fit there, not just tossed in to get the ball rolling between two leads. The author brings together a small but great cast of characters here including Akio’s coworkers, some of whom break the mold of secondary characters and become directly involved with the plot in a way that pleasantly surprised me. Setsu is such an enigma and I love his laidback attitude that seems to hide something else in his past with Akio’s family. I enjoyed watching the growing acceptance between Akio and Setsu and felt a real tenderness growing there in spite of the one-sided animosity.
As a bonus for readers, there are three short stories at the end of the book (one related to the title story). They’re great little stand alones and I especially enjoyed the one about an engraver and a young runaway in his house.
Now admittedly at first I was little unsure about what I thought about Tsuta Suzki’s artwork but midway through the book I knew I’d been sold on it. It’s a very clean style and the characters have great designs. Setsu was really attractive without it being obnoxious, or him having feminine features like some bishonen, and Akio was plain in design yet still distinctive as a character. I got momentary tripped up during a short story where a different man looked a lot like Akio but it’s a small quip and there were obvious differences when one looks close enough. Also beware one of the cutest older men you may see in a story! Overall the art really enhanced the experience having such well planned out pages and solid images that allowed for a smooth and enjoyable read.
Publishing-wise, while I have no qualms with the interior work (I find DMP usually does a nice job with translation and lettering), I do have some issues with the cover slip design. While I think I understand what the designer was going for with the weird font, I think overkill is an unfortunately suitable word here. The logo font is difficult to read, not impossible of course, but certainly requires more effort than most and there’s no way you could read it from a distance. Worse still is the synopsis on the back, written in small, jagged font. Sure it looks kind of cool, but can people read it easily? Not really. Ah well, with a story this good, you don’t spend much time on the outside though I certainly hope it doesn’t deter readers from picking this one up.
Altogether, I absolutely loved this book. A Strange and Mystifying Story’s pacing was exceptionally smooth with lots of information traded about with no pages bogged down in wordiness and the art was really nice. The plot had me hooked from the get-go and there were so many elements of this story I enjoyed. Don’t let any first impressions from the cover fool you, this is a really fun read and I certainly recommend giving it a go. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the second volume after this first one’s end, but I’m more than eager to find out!