Mania Grade: B
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- Art Rating: B
- Packaging Rating: B
- Text/Translatin Rating: A
- Age Rating: 18 & Up
- Released By: Viz Media
- MSRP: 16.95
- Pages: 224
- ISBN: 1-56931-787-9
- Size: B6
- Orientation: Left to Right
Orochi Vol. #01
By Josephine Fortune
January 02, 2006
Release Date: October 01, 2002
© Viz Media
Translated by:Yuji Oniki
Adapted by:What They Say
Two sisters. One perfect. The other... not. What begins as a dark tale of sibling rivalry turns into something all together different when a young girl named Orochi - who possesses a strange supernatural power - enters the picture. What is the secret of the Monzen family? It is only years later, when Orochi, in an unusual form, revisits the sisters in their adulthood that the secret is revealed, and along with it, the true nature of these blood sisters. Capturing both the wonder and terror of childhood with haunting and beautiful art, Orochi: Blood is a Gothic masterpiece from one of the all-time great manga storytellers, Kazuo Umezu.The Review
A girl's best friend is apparently not her mother.
The edition I unearthed in a comic shop recently is a Pulp edition, but I'm almost positive there was an older edition before this one. I don't have my old Viz catalogs to confirm that, though, and some internet research has only turned up different cover art for the edition I have. If there was an older edition, it would explain the higher price point since it's old material stuck in a new wrapper... but otherwise it's sort of expensive, even for a Pulp book.
The cover features an image I'm not that fond of, three disembodied, blonde, blue faces morphing together against a black blood-spattered background with Orochi falling upside down in front of them. Aside from the image, I'm actually quite fond of the cover. The image is enclosed within gold foil trim on a black background. All the text is done in gold foil (the "Orochi" part of the title and the Kazuo Umezu "Classic Suspense From Japan's Master of Manga" line below the image), with the exception of the word "Blood" in the title, which is printed in red ink and is pushed out in relief. The back cover features simply a black field with a gold foil block of text containing the summary as well as a headline and publication information. The ISBN scanner bars (or EAN/UPC codes, whatever) are in a white bar across the bottom of the back cover. I actually kind of like the really simple, classic-looking logo for this release, and I love the cover save for that image.
It is flipped, which is unfortunate. But the presentation is quite unique putting that aside. It starts off right away on the first page with a title page featuring mostly a color image by Umezu in black and white, and from there we get the entirety of the comic, with no chapter breaks or pauses in the story. Facing the last comic page is the page which contains all the publication info. After that, we get a seven page biography/bibliography on Kazuo Umezu which is one of the nicest features I've ever seen in a manga. It's comparable to what Viz did with Phoenix, but I preferred the Umezu presentation because it was more graphic-heavy and contained much more information about his other works, along with sample artwork, as well as the rest of Orochi. No ads or anything else in the volume, just Umezu.
The translation is extremely good. There were no spelling or grammar errors at all, and it read really well in English. Since this series was written in the late sixties and translated in (what I think is) the mid 90s, it is quite a mark of quality to keep the older dialogue fresh as well as preserving the mysterious and heavy atmosphere of the story. The sound effects are all translated into English and overlaid, but there aren't very many instances of the sound effects overlaying the art, so it's not as visually jarring as the English overlays can be in other Viz titles.
This is the first and only volume of manga I've read by Kazuo Umezu, and it is the only volume of the famous horror mangaka's work that has been published in English. I found his artwork to be quite strange in that his style is quite detailed when it comes to rendering the characters and a lot of the backgrounds, but often these detailed characters would sit in flat black or white backgrounds, or backgrounds with the details fading off into said colors. But the backgrounds are quite lovely and set an excellent mood when they are present, and I think Junji Ito's style harkens back to his in many ways (Ito has a much more twisted, bizarre style, but a lot of the fundamentals can be seen here). I was also quite fond of his panel layouts. His pages are more or less set up on a 12-panel grid, and while there are quite frequently panels that will bleed through the grid borders, a 12-panel page reads extremely well, and Umezu does a really good job of conveying the action quite clearly with this many panels. I think I liked many small panels better than some of the larger panel layouts used today, though today's panels are admittedly more dynamic. The one thing I disliked about his style was how similar the character designs were. While I appreciate the fact that one of the main characters was overweight and it was never commented on (when was the last time you saw even a mildly overweight person where it wasn't a plot device?), otherwise his character designs are all very similar. It's interesting that only women appear in this comic (men will appear very briefly, only for a panel or two, and only at three or four places), but they all look the same. Orochi comments on how she and Yoshiko looked alike, but the character designs were almost identical, and the only difference between the other females were often the hairstyles. It's not so much of a problem here in this story since there aren't that many characters, though, and I think it really only threw me when Orochi entered Yoshiko's body.
Orochi quietly observes the lives of two sisters as they grow up. Kazusa, the older sister, loves her younger sister very much. Lisa loves her older sister just as much, if not more, but it becomes harder and harder to do so as she is constantly compared to the perfect Kazusa by their mother and often beaten for her inadequacies at something that Kazusa could do at her age. Kazusa always consoles Lisa after she receives admonishment from her mother, but Lisa is still upset by the fact she can't be just like her sister and her mother seems to be punishing her for it. She loves her sister so much that she even puts garbage in her food so that Kazusa will get sick and Lisa can nurse her to health again. As Orochi watches and Lisa grows up and begins to receive punishment for not being as good as her sister not only from her mother, but also from her teachers and classmates, she grows up introverted and antisocial. Kazusa grows up to marry a well-established gentleman who can be invited into her affluent family, while Lisa marries a businessman who will take her far away from the family life she hated so much. It all changes one night when, as Orochi watches, Lisa leaves her abusive husband and causes a fatal accident while driving drunk. Orochi shields Lisa so she will not get hurt, but the effort makes her go into her sleep ten years earlier than usual, and she loses touch with the sisters.
She wakes up in the body of a stranger she cannot control, which has never happened to her before. The stranger, a vagrant musician, is bought for three million yen by a kind woman and taken to a mansion. The woman explains that neither her nor her sister has an heir to inherit the family fortune, so the girl Orochi inhabits has been sought out as a distant relative of the family to come and live with the sisters. Her main function will be to nurse the ailing older sister and raise her spirits. All this is foreign to Orochi, and she can't control the body to ask any questions. After she meets the bedridden older sister, the girl who's body she inhabits asks the questions for her and she finds out that the two women are indeed Kazusa and Lisa Monzen, and twenty years had passed as she slept. Now Orochi watches as even stranger situations fold out in their adult lives, and everything comes to a head when emotions that had been bottled up for years are released.
I actually bought this blind when I saw it in a comic store not long ago. I knew it was Umezu, I knew he was supposed to be the best (as they do award the Kazuo Umezu award to the horror manga artists), and I really didn't know anything else other than it was expensive. I was surprised to find it was one self-contained story within the volume, and I was rather disappointed when, in the back, the Umezu essay explains that this is the last volume in the six-volume Orochi cycle. I probably wouldn't have bought it had I know it was only part of the story, but it was interesting all the same. The only part the fragmented saga had me confused with was Orochi herself, whose role is never explained. You assume that, while she watches, no one knows she's there, and she's obviously a supernatural being who has some power (she saved Lisa's life in a car accident), but besides that, she basically serves to narrate the story and little else. I found that to be a fairly interesting element, and the essay in the back suggested Orochi is never explained and is merely a character that can be used by the reader to insert themselves into the story, which is fairly accurate. One other thing I was a bit saddened to find out about is that this isn't even really a horror comic in the strictest sense of the word. It is certainly supernatural, mysterious, dark, and a story of suspense, but it was missing several characteristics I like to have in horror manga (some form of... horror or supernatural force that needs to be stopped, violence, gore, shocking situations). It seems like a missed opportunity to bring over the master of horror's horror manga, but it was a fine story aside from that. It is actually quite interesting to have it told from Orochi's third person perspective (her narration is all first person, but she knows exactly only what we see in the story ourselves, thus the third person), as the knowledge of what's going on in the Monzen house is slow in coming and quite gratifying to get bit by bit as Orochi uncovers the details herself. The situation is actually quite mysterious, and it kept me guessing for quite some time. When I thought I had everything figured out, I found I was fooled, which means I'm reading manga aimed at my age group. The ending is also pretty twisted, and like I said, I didn't see it coming. The atmosphere is absolutely perfect (very gothic, dark, and foreboding). The pacing's quite strange though... it didn't seem to go too fast or too slow, but having so many panels on one page made it seem quite long and gave a nice flow to the action sequences, and I found I had finished the volume before I was questioning how long I had been reading. I feel as if I have not adequately described the story, but I don't know how else to describe it... it is quite elegant, and is told in such a way that you don't ever question it. I was entered into the narrative quite efficiently. The one thing that was a little jarring was when Orochi went to sleep and woke up twenty years later. The narrative was actually so smooth I found I was irritated by this interruption and temporary disorientation. Suffice to say, it is quite the story that's packed into this volume, and while I didn't find myself jumping off my seat and running out to tell everyone I knew how good it was, it was satisfying to read, all the same.
There are really only four characters at the heart of the manga: Orochi, the girl she inhabits named Yoshiko who plays the main role and yet only a small role at the end in retrospect, the embittered younger sister Lisa, and the rather detached and sanctified older sister Kazusa. Yoshiko is almost a non-character, because Orochi inhabits her body as she's going about her routines at the Monzen house, and Orochi even gains control of it herself after awhile, thus we never really find out much about her personality. We learn a little about the girl's life before the situation, and we also find out how the girl got herself into the situation in the first place, but other than that she's a blank slate and not that important. Orochi, more or less the main character, is also somehow a blank slate. She gives the narration in a rather neutral manner, and while she does take interest in the girls and she obviously likes them enough to save their lives and keep watching them as they grow up, she never explains why she does what she does. Nothing is really explained about Orochi, and like I said, it's a bit of an issue and I feel like not having the other volumes of the series made this character a bit more mysterious and unfamiliar than perhaps Umezu intended. But judging from the essay in the back, Orochi is supposed to be exactly that, so maybe we're not missing much. Lisa and Kazusa are exactly as I described them, no more and no less. Both were good girls in their youth, and Lisa grew up bitter and resentful as a result of constantly being compared to her sister. Thus she has a lot of aggressive tendencies in her adult life. Kazusa is probably one of the most important people in the story, the key really, and yet the least is explained about her. She's always a level above the other characters, doing good things perfectly, and when she's sick she takes to Yoshiko as a friend quickly and becomes a mother to her. But for not getting much depth to her, she does wind up being an interesting character in the end. There are some important side characters like the Monzen matriarch (Lisa and Kazusa's mother) and Yoshiko's surrogate parent. Both women are very similar in that they force things on the girls in a very militant fashion and also against their will, but that's about all those two characters do. No truly deep characters, but the cast is interesting and focused enough that I didn't miss them. Deeper characters would've ruined it, and I enjoyed the character's reaction to things just how they were.Comments
I... I actually don't know how good this manga was. Certainly the story was fantastic, and like I said it lead me on without my knowing and provided me with an extremely interesting cast of characters. But, like I said, I didn't feel myself jumping for joy after I had read it. It was better than mediocre and one of the better one-shots I've read, but certainly not the best. Pair that with the fact it was the last volume in a series we didn't see the first five volumes of, and you have yourself a manga that is definitely not worth seventeen dollars. I did like it though, and even though it's not a horror manga strictly speaking, if you find it for cheap somewhere, it's definitely worth picking up.