Author/Artist: Nina Matsumoto
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2008
Synopsis: “Yokai… Japanese spirits. Most people fear them, and a few people even hunt them, thinking they are horrible monsters to be destroyed at all costs. But young Hamachi wants to be friends with them! He sees them as mischievous creatures that could c-exist peacefully with humans if only given a chance. When his grandmother dies under mysterious circumstances, Hamachi journeys into the Yokai realm. Along the way, he encounters an ogre who punishes truant children, an angry water spirit, and a talking lantern. Will Hamachi be able to find his grandmother’s killer, or will he be lost forever in another world?”
Yokai – friends or foes? Young Hamachi believes potential friends so he disagrees with what the people of his village think of them; they can’t all be bad after all! But when vengeance is taken on his demon-loathing Grandmother by the very beings Hamachi has been supporting all this time, what’s a child to do?
Hamachi, the story’s lead character, is a yokai enthusiast. He loves yokai, he finds them all “neat”, and hates how other humans look down on them or label them all nuisances and murderers. He’s cheeky and optimistic to near fault but it serves him well as he traverses the yokai-busy bamboo woods around his home and cheerily ignores the jeers and pity-filled stares from villagers who sees his interest as a result of trauma or mental-issue after the death of his parents when he was young… or I should say younger. To my surprise, it’s stated mid-way through the book that Hamachi is only nine-years old, to which I didn’t find his personality or appearance completely supported. Then again, I could just be too accustomed to the youthful looks and naïve attitudes of archetypal manga characters so I don’t immediately associate these attributes with actually being that young.
Though as a character I found Hamachi pretty cute, I also found him a tad on the uneven side, I suppose because despite even the darker occurrences of the story, I never felt like he was ever really living in the moment. His nonchalant attitude over negativity seems a prevalent personality-feature and yet the story repeatedly tries to crack over your head that he has some kind of horrid temper, which never seems anything past simple verbal outbursts and not exactly what I would constitute as a bad anything. He’s most entertaining when he’s happy, ignorantly going about his own business and hearing about a third of what anyone says to him. It’s the kind of ignorance we love to read about but would hate to deal with in real life.
Part of what makes Yokaiden a lot of fun to read is that it plays on its stereotypes, never taking itself too seriously and using these attributes to give the whole thing a really light-hearted feel. Though there is the occasional more serious moment, even some of the moments that could easily prove the scariest are treated with a sense of irony that’s intentionally silly and effectively amusing. You wouldn’t think that a yokai talking about skinning the feet off of children could bring a slight smile to your face but thanks to some cheeky, albeit slightly horrific-in-context humour, I couldn’t help myself.
The style of the artwork is a hit or miss, with some fantastic monster designs but lacklustre humans, but the inking of this book really makes it shine. I love that Nina wasn’t stingy with the ink, filling the pages with lines of varying weight and style, sometimes solid and others pleasantly sketchy. It’s not only a fun visual style on its own but it compliments the story fantastically, really helping to set Yokaiden’s setting.
Just as complimenting is the work done by Del Rey, designing around the nicely textured cover art a very suitable logo and a pleasantly simplistic wrap around design. The font work inside is standard but well handled, especially with the superb sound effects, though with them being so well incorporated with the artwork itself, I’m not sure if credit for that falls with Del Rey or Nina Matsumoto.
Though the lead character has yet to completely win me over to his cause, varying as it is, this first volume still made for a really enjoyable read. Yokaiden wonderfully blends Japanese folklore and humour together for a story that’s a treat for the eyes and the mind. I really look forward to seeing where Nina is going to take it in volume two.