Manga-ka: Shin Mashiba
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “Dreams on the menu in this volume: a childhood friendship that has lost its innocence, Kairi caught up in his own delusion, a sinister trap set for a Baku, an inn with deadly secrets, a sea of drowned memories, a mother’s forgotten item, a man confined to an elevator, and Hifumi’s family affairs.”
Of all volumes of Nightmare Inspector, this one took the most reread to grasp what was going on chapter to chapter. Dialogue is relied on heavily to explain some pretty out-there conclusions, and many of the stories lacked that ‘oh!’ moment that previous stories had when foreshadowed events would eerily come together in a conclusion you likely didn’t suspect. While endings are still generally a well-kept secret here in volume eight, they never felt as coherently planned as before.
Still, for the haphazard nature that many of the stories were presented in, you need to give credit to the writer for putting together this many different nightmare excursions over eight books. To keep things a little different, the majority of the episodic portions of this one take place in locales outside the usual teashop. That said, it does seem like the artist may be running out of fresh ideas when some ‘what a twist’ endings feel like recycled versions of older instalments while others feel too out there to pack the same relatable punch.
Take one chapter for example, where Hiruko and Hifumi spend the night in a supposedly haunted inn in hopes of discovering the cause of nightmares suffered by those who stayed in one particular room. The end result, while suitably creepy enough to live up to the series’ self-imposed standards, was bizarre even by my standards. So the bath is the inn’s… what? And the ghost is whose what-now? Though fairly well explained at the end, it was still weird enough to leave me momentarily tripped up, but at the same time reminscent that this kind of inanimate object influence isn’t anything new to the series itself.
Other stories, like one about a boy trapped in an elevator, manage a great roundabout way of keeping the readers on their toes. Just when you think the story has played its final card, around the corner you go to another twist with the final destination proving the greatest weird-out of them all (though for decidedly different reasons than one may think).
Related to this point, though in way likely nonsensical unless you’ve read the volume, is the art style. This book drove home some of the issues I’ve had with the art since the beginning, in particular the near-indiscernible ages of the characters. Though visually I’m led to believe that I’m seeing someone in their mid-teens, I instead learn that they’re in their mid-thirties. It can prove more than a little distracting sometimes, being pulled out of the plot for a moment to re-grasp something you likely never questioned in the first place. But, the art isn’t without its consistent charms, found mostly in the Asian-English gothic hybrid style and I still can’t help but want to pinch the cheeks of the adorable, though often sour, Baku Hiruko.
The book also sports several recurring characters making return appearances, such as the other Baku who is currently on the hunt for any and all information on Hiruko’s past, and the exuberant owner of the Delirium who finds himself deep in his own self-absorbed fantasises after a failed trip to the washroom. Chapters like this have become a common part of Nightmare Inspector, extra weird stories for comedy’s sake that come at the end of the book and follow the story’s lead recurring cast in one silly excursion after another. They’re oddly paced with more happening at once than the regular situations but not without providing their own brand of amusement.
With only one volume to go, Nightmare Inspector still feels poised to end on a strong note despite some of the floundering impact of its horror-elements. With past volumes managing some pretty potent stuff, however, I look forward to seeing if the same kind of climatic drama can be achieved in the book’s finale.