Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Thomas Zoth
Review Date: Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Toilet Hanako and pervy detective Aso face off against Japanese urban legends in this shonen horror series.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Sakae Esuno
Translation: Satsuki Yamashita
Adaptation: Bryce P. Coleman

What They Say
Japanese horror stories and urban legends come to life! The "No-Mouth Woman," "The Man Under the Bed," and the "Human-Faced Fish" are supposedly just rumors. But what few people know is that just at the moment when someone believes them to be true, they becomes reality and appear before them! Enter Daisuke Asou - folklore detective!

The Review!

A disappointingly mediocre release from Tokyopop for this title. For the cover, Tokyopop modified the Japanese cover to feature just Aso and Kanae on a mostly black background. While the Japanese cover is an unholy red and pink mess with a jumble of art, it is nonetheless dynamic and memorable. The creepy eye-sprouting flower in the corner is especially, and appropriately, eye-catching. Tokyopop saw fit to move this flower to the back, where it's much less noticable. Tokyopop kept the brain sprouting sensor arrays in the lower right corner and added a blood splatter for the upper left. The main characters are front and center, which I think it's a huge mistake, considering the human character designs are the weakest part of Esuno's art. Besides the flower, the back cover displays a short synopsis, the Older Teen rating, and the icon signifying the Horror genre.
While the cover isn't as thick as some other publishers', the cover for this volume is an improvement over some previous Tokyopop releases. Paper quality is good, and there are no printing errors. No extras save for a single-page commentary providing some useful context for the urban legends used in this particular volume. The translation is solid, except for two issues: One pedantic and one critical. First, I couldn't help but wonder if "allegory" was really the right term to use to describe the physical incarnation of urban legends. The Japanese word "guuwa" can be translated as allegory or fable. Thinking that fable would be the more accurate term, I did a few minutes of research on the nuance of "allegory" before I realized that nobody cares. More people, I expect, will care that most sound effects are left untranslated. Unless a panel exists only to provide a certain sound effect, or the sound effect is featured in a dialog balloon, it is left as is with no note to its meaning. For shame.
Esuno's art is a mixed bag. He can draw very nice, detailed backgrounds when he chooses to, and his monster designs are appropriately creepy. My favorite is his rendition of the slit-mouthed woman on a space-rending rampage. His character designs, on the other hand, are attractive, but generic and unmemorable. Aso's face in particular is incredibly basic, and he seems to switch between only three or four basic facial expressions. Art quality also takes a hit in the action sequences, especially when characters are shown running in the final chapter of this volume. The characters' bodies are roughly drawn, almost as if Esuno was cutting out detail to make the action easier to animate. Of course, since the images are static, one wonders why he left the art in what looks to be a half-finished state.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Yes, Japanese horror fans: The Hanako of the title is Toilet Hanako, the spirit of the young girl who haunts the school bathroom. In brief, Toilet Hanako and an eromanga obsessed young private detective investigate cases involving urban legends that have somehow manifested themselves physically in this world. The three cases in this volume feature the axe murderer under the bed, the kuchisake-onna or "slit-faced woman", and the fish with a human face. As premises go, it would be extremely difficult to come up with a story more appealing to me than this one. Unfortunately, this first volume has many weaknesses that prevent me from giving it the high marks I so dearly want to give.
The story begins with schoolgirl Kanae Hiranuma knocking on the door of the Aso detective agency. At school, Kanae apparently overheard some girls telling an apocryphal story about an axe murderer hiding under the bed of a young girl. For some reason, Kanae becomes posessed by this story, and is terrified to go to sleep for fear she will be murdered if she does so. Seeking solace in an online chat forum, Kanae is told by a stranger with the handle "Hanako" to seek out private investigator Daisuke Aso, as he specializes in cases such as this. At her wits' end, she decides to seek him out.
Aso turns out to be a young man whose office shelves are filled with pornographic comics. He offers Kanae a porn mag and a cup of tea: The former she declines and the latter she accepts. She tells Aso about the strange noises she has heard under the bed since she first heard the tale of the axe murderer. Daisuke tells Kanae that she has been posessed by an "allegory", a manifestation of an urban legend that haunts a person like a ghost. The detective is reluctant to take the case, so Kanae decides to leave and return home. Weeping, she tells Aso she's just happy someone finally believed her. After being berated by his assistant, Hanako, Aso decides it was a mistake letting Kanae go home alone, and attempts to call her. There is no answer. He grabs a gun and heads off to Kanae's house, hoping it's not too late to save her from her grisly fate.
With a setup like that, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, quite a bit. There are several problems in this volume that prevents the series from reaching its full potential. First, as is common with introductory volumes, the chapters are completely episodic with very little character development. This is is a shonen series, so it follows a typical enemy of the week format: You have the good guys and monster face off, the good guys win, and then a new monster is introduced. What makes this especially problematic is that from art to story, you can tell Esuno has put most of his energy and focus on his monsters, to the detriment of his recurring human characters. As Aso, Hanako, and Kanae are the star characters of the series, one hopes Esuno will deliver on further developing their personalities, which he only hints at in this volume. Another strike against the volume is that fact that the story of the Human Faced Fish, which takes up half of the book, is a complete misfire. The two twists at the end are completely ridiculous, so the volume ends on a sour note.
While Terror of Allegory doesn't live up to its potential in this first volume, I still have faith than Esuno will deliver. Revelations about the nature of the allegories and the power they have over reality, and hints about a special power that Aso can use give the impression that there is more depth to the world and characters than Esuno has thus far revealed. It's not yet a must-read, but for horror fans, it's a light and entertaining volume.
In Summary:
While I'm absolutely in love with the premise of a private detective who investigates Japan's entertaining urban legends, the first volume of this series fails to take full advantage of its potential. There are only three episodic stories contained in the volume, and the last of the three misses the mark with some goofy plot twists. Regardless, the volume is fun with some nicely creepy moments, and it hints at better things to come. On a scale of "beautiful" to "not beautiful", Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is currently a solid "so-so".

Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C
Text/Translation Rating: C
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 10.99
Pages: 224
ISBN: 978-1427816085
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Hanako and the Terror of Allegory