Imaginative and beautiful art remakes this variant of the cautionary tale.
Writer/Artist: Shin Mashiba
What They Say
Dreams on the menu this volume: a restless soul, a murderous beauty, a woman afraid of falling apart, a grieving lover, an unforgiving son, a suicidal actress and a mysterious voice on the other end of a lonely young man's phone.
Black framing sets off street view of the Silver Star Teahouse with Hiruko-san, the baku, in the foreground; the back cover insert is of the proprietress of the teahouse, Mizuki. Print is crisp and clear, a definite plus for such detailed artwork.
The cover of Yumekui Kenbun only hints at the artwork inside. In these stories, set in the Taisho Era (1911-1925), Shin Mashiba borrows on the prevailing international styles of the period (art deco and art nouveau), so readily taken up in Japan during this first generation of its modernity. Current character designs aren't so different from the prevailing designs of that time, and the modern versions form a visual bridge between the past and the present. Where Mashiba really invokes the styles of the past is in the environments and backgrounds of the teahouse and the dream states. The drawings can be heavily detailed with an emphasis on light and dark, and a panel composition and placement that emphasizes the closed and confining world of the dreamer. This is an imaginative blending of old and new.
The text reads clearly and without hesitation and the voice of the characters is distinct. Sfx are very few and translated via replacement. Surprisingly, this successfully avoids marring the artwork.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The Silver Star Tea House doesn't get many patrons. Those who do visit are greeted with great correctness and courtesy by its proprietress, Mizuki, but she knows they are there for more than tea. They have come to see the baku, Hiruko-san, who can rid them of the demons and terrors that plague them by guiding them through their dreams and consuming the dream much as one would eat a meal. But as with so much in life, there is a price to be paid for the service and sometimes the result is not what is expected.
The stories here are episodic, each dream and dreamer dealt with in turn and not without some twists. The volume opens with the a young servant, whose dream of seeing his mistress before her death, but not being able to find her, is recurring and troubling. There is more than one surprise here, the least of which is the Hiruko-san's attitude. Subsequent stories, each labeled as a special "night", concern a man much too infatuated with a screen actress; a young woman haunted by her lover's suicide; a man who has found the perfect woman in his dreams; the dream of a woman whose lost body parts reflect her loss of memory, and a young woman whose boredom has triggered a most dangerous dream. All of these are beautifully rendered, but night number five, "Characters", is a standout. A man is visited by a dream that recurs on the anniversary of his father's death. Always haunted by his father's death and what his part in it could have been, his dream takes him back to that day in his boyhood when it happened. The difficulty for him in resolving his dream lies in that the elements of the storeroom where his father died, his father, and even he himself are all represented by kanji, white letters in a black background arranged in the shape of the objects they represent. This imaginatively staged dream is successfully deconstructed by Hiruko-san, who, in an uncharacteristic departure from the indifferent and opportunistic stance he takes with most dreamers, even manages to provide some solace to the beleaguered man. Too bad he can't be as considerate with all of his dream clients.
This is only the introduction to the realm of the baku of the Silver Star Teahouse. Later volumes will elaborate on the dream world, on Hiruko's past, and how the teahouse came to be the home of the Hiruko-san.
This series has a lot of elegance and style that greatly enhances and elevates this material, short stories of a similar vein to those in xxxholic, Pet Shop of Horrors and Nightmares for Sale. Shin Mashiba does not slavishly copy the illustration art of the period; he imbues the work with just enough of a visual cue to trigger the notion of a time past, but retaining modern sensibility. when I first saw this art I was reminded of Winsor McCay, the author of "Little Nemo" and the author/illustrator Maurice Sendak of "In the Night Kitchen", a work greatly influenced by "Little Nemo". Both these works share similar subject matter with Nightmare Inspector, that of the territory of dreams.
There may be a common subject matter and a superficial similarity in the styles, but Mashiba's departure in the nightmare realm is in the atmospheric effects of panel composition and placement. There is a stillness and a sense of the sepulchral due to the small, tight and detailed panels that only emphasize the feeling of "otherness". A wonderful example of how art contributes to the effect of a story.
This is a pleasure to look at and read. Highly Recommended.