Manga-ka: Tooko Miyagi
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: September 2010
Synopsis: “In a small quiet village – There is a folk story of a beautiful female demon; nobody knows who she is but the locals calls her “Oni.” The story has it that she killed people and collected parts of their body to make a perfect human figure. A young man named Sho, is spending his summer with his grandmother and meets Oni while he’s taking a walk in the woods. Blinded by his beauty, he is lured into Oni’s house… nobody can hear him crying for help…”
Tale of a White Night is a collection of short stories: four horror tales and one fantasy story. It’s a strange collection in that the fantasy story sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only is it a different genre from the rest of the book, its tone is totally different and the style so dissimilar from the other chapters that I wondered if the same manga-ka actually drew it. It’s not a bad story, but it’s just strange to cap off a series of horror shorts with a high fantasy piece.
The first story in the collection is the one detailed in the back page summary, though there are a few more twists to the tale than the summary suggests. Sho has dropped out of high school because he finds it all boring. For lack of anything better to do he goes to live with his grandmother in the mountains. There he spends his days riding his bike through the forest. One day he meets an ethereally beautiful girl (the manga’s cover-girl) and goes with her to her home. She seems equally taken with him, especially with his legs. Could she be the oni that his grandmother warned him about, the one who steal body parts from beautiful young boys and girls?
Like I said, there are a lot of twists, though some of them only work in a kind of twisted dream logic (or maybe nightmare logic would be the more appropriate term). The next story is another example of a plot that hinges on strange twists. The story is centred on Kazumi, a high school student. Recently a childhood friend of his died, making people mutter that the boy was cursed. Ten years ago Kajiwara (the dead boy) and two friends of his used to play at an old storehouse. Eventually it was revealed that the kids were playing some pretty bloody ‘games,’ killing cats and other animals. Now, ten years later, two of the three boys are dead and the third one is crazy. Kazumi is curious about what really went on at the storehouse, and becomes determined to find out what evil force is behind it all.
This story was very spooky and atmospheric, and I liked how through each reveal things just got worse and worse. But the final reveal of who was behind it all (while a spooky image and surprising at first) is a big letdown. The story has to do back flips just to explain it, and the blasé way the characters accept it makes it seems like the manga-ka is trying to convince the readers (“See? The characters buy it. Why don’t you?”)
The next story is actually pretty funny in a morbid way. A young girl finds herself in the mountains with no clue of how she got there. She runs into some fox spirits, who try to explain to her that she’s dead. Unfortunately, not only is the girl too clueless to get it, but the fox spirits aren’t too bright themselves, getting distracted by food or anything too complex. The interaction between the girl and the fox spirits is amusing largely because of the girl’s spacey personality. But just because the story has some darkly funny undercurrents, it doesn’t stop things from ending on a terrifying note. In fact, though ‘The Fall’ has more light-hearted moments than the other horror tales that doesn’t stop it from having the scariest ending.
The next story revolves around a good-old fashioned curse. Ever since Tohru was a child, he could see a white hand in the woods by his parent’s house, beckoning him over. The only other person who could see it was Fukiko, his older cousin. She warned Tohru not to ever follow the hand, but apparently she did not take her own advice as she soon went missing. Ten years after her disappearance, Tohru returns to his parent’s house. The white hand is still there urging him into the woods, and this time Tohru has no choice but to follow.
I really liked this story because while it has its own weird ghost-story logic, it holds up. It reminded me a lot of ‘The Ring’, in that there is a curse that just continues on and on like a chain, drawing in anyone who gets too close.
And then we have the fantasy story, ‘The East of the Sun, The West of the Moon.’ Jildora is a remulus, a race of people who were driven out of their homes by the Tiberians after losing a war. Jildora lost everything in the war and has only revenge left. She wants to track down the Remulan who betrayed her people to Tiberia. To help her she goes to Bishop Raul Helvim, a powerful young man who might know where to find the man she’s looking for. Jildora is touched by how kind Raul is, and falls for him. But is she willing to put aside revenge for love?
It’s not a bad fantasy story by any stretch, it’s just so out of left field. It’s really weird to read a string of spooky stories and then suddenly a fantasy. It’s a tonal shift that is really hard to get over (it would be the same if the fantasy story came first and the horror stories afterwards). Plus, it’s long. While the horror stories are all about twenty to twenty-five pages, the fantasy story is 71 pages, making it by far the longest story in the book. It just seems odd that this series, which is being marketed as a horror manga, has such a large chunk of it dedicated to fantasy.
The art used for the two genres reflects the divide between them. The horror stories are drawn in a very shiny, shojo style, like a more moody version of Ai Yazawa’s art. The art in the fantasy story is a bit plainer, looking very much like a sword and sorcery anime from the 90s. The layouts in the horrors stories are interesting and often more abstract than liner, giving the proceedings a surreal atmosphere. The layouts in the fantasy segment are much more straightforward, empathising the action.
Despite it only being about 2/3 a horror manga, I would recommend this to anyone who likes spooky stories. Some of them rely on solutions that are a little out there, but even when the plot falls through the art and atmosphere is satisfying. I wouldn’t recommend it to fantasy fans though, as while the fantasy story is good, it’s not great (and it’s definitely not as good as the horror shorts). Though I guess I should admit that I am much more of a horror fan than a fantasy fan, and if you prefer the latter to the former you might have a very different opinion of the book than me.