Kappa, Bean-Counters and Nue - oh my! A monster-oriented tale of long ago starts on the right foot.
Writer/Artist: Nina Matsumoto
What They Say
Yokaiden is the story of a young boy's adventure in the world of spirits - the yokai - to find the impish creature who caused his grandmother's death.
Folklore and legend have always held a special place with me. I have never found it easy to resist the stories handed down from one storyteller to another through any number of generations; the stories that fill the woods and the streams with creatures that are elusive, mischevious, strange, funny, fearful, and always fascinating. Yokaiden plays to this side of me very strongly. It is a story that teems with the kinds of things I have always liked in western folklore, combined with the (for me) novelty of learning about the creatures the Japanese people have invented or discovered for themselves throughout their creative history.
The plot begins in a traditional way - all the better for it, if you ask me. Hamachi is an orphaned boy living in feudal Japan. He lives with his grandmother in a small village, selling bamboo shoots to make a living. He's just like any other nine-year-old boy, really; except that he loves the Yokai: the imps, ogres, sprites, goblins and general monsters of old Japan. His hero is Inukai Mizuki, the famous scholar who sought out all the facts, tales and lore about Yokai that he could find, and put it all down into a book that Hamachi has practically learnt by heart. When he runs across a real, live, honest-to-goodness Kappa caught in a trap, it's as though his wildest dreams have come true.
But dreams can be nightmares as well as pleasant dreams. When Hamachi finds his grandmother's soul has been sucked away, presumably as revenge for setting the Kappa's trap, he sets off on a journey to the Yokai realm to get her soul back, armed with little more than a sacred rope and his knowledge of the Yokai and their ways. The Yokai and the humans have never been on the best of terms, so Hamachi has a lot of bad blood to overcome. And if he can't overcome it the penalty will be high. Most Yokai are harmless when left alone and only play practical jokes on humans from time to time. But some are much more dangerous: a few are said to be able to devour souls.
The story is agreeable enough at the start, though having a taste in monsters will certainly hurt nobody. There's a self-awareness in the storytelling from time to time ("I'm an orphan! A classic, archetypal orphan!" wails the hero at one point) but it's used sparingly and never wears out its welcome. Yokaiden takes the time to establish its characters, so this first volume is spent mainly on introductions and getting Hamachi into the Yokai realm. But I like the shape things are taking, and the sense of humour sprinkled liberally throughout the book. If you never believed there were monsters under your bed, but sometimes wished there were, this just may be the series for you.