Author/Artist: Nina Matsumoto
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “Yokai are Japanese spirits, and young Hamachi is fascinated by them. Now he continues his quest deep into the Yokai realm in the hopes of finding Madkap, the kappa he believes has killed his grandmother. Armed with nothing but a sacred rope and a lucky kappa’s foot, Hamachi has made two friends to help him on his journey: Lumi the talking lantern, and newly awakened, the umbrella that once belonged to his grandfather! Their first stop is the home of the legendary fox spirit the Ninetails, who promises to help in Hamachi’s quest if Hamachi can retrieve three lost items. But can Hamachi really find them, or does the Ninetails just want Hamachi to fail so he can keep the human boy as a pet?”
This book of Yokaiden opens with a handy exposition for those who may be picking up this second volume prior to the first; told via a short comic. Though perhaps a little taxing to those already familiar with the story, it shows the artist’s attention to audiences of both sorts and does so in a manner more entertaining than a simple paragraph recap. Regrettably the new material doesn’t feel nearly as ingenious.
Soon after the fairly satisfying-recap, the plot of this second volume falls sadly victim to a classic pratfall – the mini-quest arc. Hamachi, in an effect to garner information from a plotting kitsune Queen, is sent on three separate quests to retrieve items by the kitsune’s request. He meets several new faces along the way, some helpful and some hindering, and they alone prove a fun aspect to otherwise uninspired plot device.
Though the artist states her reasoning during the book’s final pages, there’s still something just too cut and dry about the storytelling to feel as engaging as it should. When reading a story about a boy out for vengeance (of sorts) against a yokai who killed his Grandmother, in a spirit world populated by demons and gods no less, one comes to expect a little more on the excitement scale.
Part of this fault lies on Hamachi himself; he still fails to really achieve a strong presence as a character. His trusting nature and naivety has already run itself out on the novelty scale. It’s to the point when it often feels more frustrating to the reader. What is he even going to do when he finds the Kappa he seeks? Tell him to apologize? It hardly lends itself to a sense of suspense.
On the other hand Hamachi’s open nature does maintain a sense of wonder to the book that works well with the informative nature of the exposition. While the story itself slows little to explain the new faces, it pauses between each chapter with detailed explanation of the creatures. It does chop up the story a little unevenly but it’s an excusable trip up when the information itself is so interesting.
Speaking of interesting, the continued appearance of Kyumon Zaigo, a yokai-slaying samurai now loose in the demon world, is a much-appreciated return. He can be an amusing distraction in the way he reacts to things while at other times feels a nicely grounded character for the very same responses. Then the rest of the time he’s just busy looking pretty cool. Following him is a nice occasional change from Hamachi. I wonder though how the series will go when the two cross paths again.
Nina Matsumoto’s art style is another consistent grace to the story’s benefit. The yokai renditions are wonderfully realized and stand out well amidst some less than memorable human designs. What’s truly most impressive about the art is the inking – done traditionally and very indicative as such, its rough nature and styled strokes complement the Japanese-folklore of the plot fantastically.
This second volume of Yokaiden regrettably feels a like weak companion to the first in overall comparison yet it certainly isn’t without its remaining charms. The art is appealing, the yokai attention-grabbing in nearly all the right ways and the plot itself still carries much potential. While the span of the story from book one to book two falters on achieving its potential, it still leaves itself in prime position for a more engaging next volume and a plethora of fascinating legends to reference for it.