Scary Books Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Art Rating: B-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: Dark Horse
  • MSRP: 14.95
  • Pages: 231
  • ISBN: 1-59307-476-X
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Scary Books Vol. #01

By Josephine Fortune     March 21, 2006
Release Date: February 08, 2006

Scary Books Vol.#01
© Dark Horse

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Kazuo Umezu
Translated by:Kumar Sivasubramanian
Adapted by:

What They Say
The spine-chilling influence of Japanese horror cinema has taken hold of Western audiences, with many of these terrifying films being adapted from classic manga stories. The acknowledged grandmaster of horror manga is Kazuo Umezu - known as "the Stephen King of manga," with several of his stories being adapted to film - and Dark Horse Manga is proud to bring his Scary Book horror anthology to Western readers for the first time. Reflections offers two feature-length tales of terror: "The Mirror," in which a narcissistic girl's reflection begins to take ruthless command of her life; and "Demon of Vengeance," where a sadistic warlord bent on seeking retribution for his selfish and reckless son's injuries finds the tables of revenge turned against him. Find out what Japanese readers have known for many years - you haven't been scared until you've been scared by Kazuo Umezu!

The Review
The master or horror in anthology format!

This is a brand-new title from Dark Horse that they're releasing as part of a horror-centric manga lineup this year. This and Reiko the Zombie Shop were the first major series to be released in this line, though they have a few more great-looking series coming up as well as some one-shots.

The packaging for this title is pretty subdued. The front cover features artwork from the interior of the main character getting grabbed by her reflection tinted blue. The rest of the front cover is also blue with a really tiny pattern running through it. The font treatment for the title, Kazuo Umezu's name, and the name of the book are all excellent choices. All the fonts are very tall, thin, and condensed, and it lends itself to creepiness. The back cover is pretty plain and simple, with no illustration. The series title, book title, and Umezu's name are arranged in a header (with the title in Japanese ghosted behind it) above the summary, which is a block of justified text that spans most of the back cover. It's very simple, and I think the style compliments the content of the book. The text is treated much better than it is on the back of Del Rey's covers.

The extras aren't really much to speak of here. In fact, the only extras we get are a color image reproduced in black and white on the first story's title page, an illustration for the second story's title page, and a disembodied face on the last page in the book, on the other side of the page with the reading instructions (the "you're going the wrong way!" page). We get translation footnotes whenever there's a sound effect in a panel, but other than that, nothing. No ads, no anything in the back, which doesn't bother me since that means all the pages were filled with comics.

The translation was excellent. There were no grammar or spelling errors, and everything read really well in English. The adaptation was also very good. I don't know if it was just because I read Orochi first or if this is a clear goal Umezu has in mind, but it feels like all his stories are somewhat nostalgic, where they do or could've taken place 20-30 years ago. They both start off retrospectively too, which may be why I think that way... but getting back to the point, the translation sort of sticks with this, where the language is somewhat formal and it feels like it's someone mature looking back on a situation that took place a long time ago. I disliked the way the sound effects were treated here. Dark Horse went a completely different route with them. There aren't very many of them, and what's there is untranslated, but instead of leaving them alone or putting a translation near the sound effect, all the translations go underneath or on top of the panel the sound effect is in, in the borders between panels.

The artwork is extremely detailed. There's a lot of attention paid to minute details in both the backgrounds and the characters. The backgrounds, as a matter of fact, look fantastic. While not terribly original, there are very few instances of people floating on a plain white field, and every detail in the setting is illustrated. The mansion is the best setting, with even wallpaper patterns depicted as well as the large ornate mirror, the furniture, and everything else that should be there. There's not a lot of screentone used, so everything is done with pen strokes, a style I tend to favor when done well. The only real problem I have with the artwork lies with the character designs. While all the characters have rather subdued designs and look not out of place when dealing with the supposed everyday setting, they all look very much the same, and the designs are rather plain at that. Telling the characters apart wasn't a problem in the first story since there's only a handful (well, except for the main character and her reflection, you know), but it became more of a problem in the second story, and I can foresee it being a problem in later volumes as well. One more thing I really like about Umezu's style is his use of panels. He makes use of extremely small panels to tell the story in, and it seems to make the story flow a lot better. The detailed art also looks really good in these small panels. To give you an idea how small, I just flipped open to a random page, and I counted ten panels, three of them larger than most of the other ones. It's quite unique, and it makes the pages look very interesting.

The first story features a beautiful girl named Emi who lives in a house locally known as the Mirror Mansion. The mansion gets its name from the giant mirror on its main staircase, a mirror the girl grows up admiring herself in daily. She keeps a steady boyfriend for a number of years despite a number of suitors, and the story starts off with the night he tries to force himself on her and she breaks up with him during a storm. She has been having inexplicable feelings of someone watching her with a great deal of hate and not wanting to go home, but all these fears seem ungrounded. When she gets home, a number of small household accidents happen to her... all were avoided, but all were things that could have potentially caused serious injury. As the storm rages that night, the girl gets up and is drawn to the mirror. When she looks in at her reflection, the reflection looks back and begins talking to her. Emi doesn't believe her reflection is alive, but the reflection tells Emi she is not the real Emi and begins making things in the room throw themselves at Emi. The reflection eventually reaches through the mirror and begins strangling Emi, and just then lightning strikes the mansion. Emi blacks out, and when she wakes up, she finds herself in bed. She wonders if it was just a dream, but as she prepares for school, she finds her shoes, bag, and uniform gone. She rushes off to school, and she finds her bag there already, along with several people asking her about events that she had apparently already done that morning, including asking a geeky boy named Wakatono out on a date. She also gets in trouble over a paper she allegedly did this morning that was written entirely backwards. The day continues like this until her physical examination, and when she goes to change back into regular clothes, she finds them replaced with filthy rags that other students tell her she put there herself. She spots herself from behind on her way back home and begins chasing her through the city to taunts of "beggar lady," and eventually goes back to Mirror Mansion. She doesn't beat her double though, and she's thrown out of her own house by her maid and her own mother. Throughout the story the reflection taunts and stalks Emi as she tries to get everyone to believe she is truly herself. The reflection also starts harming her friends and family, including her boyfriend. The only people she has on her side throughout are Wakatono and Wakatono's baby sister Mitsuko, who Emi befriends. Emi must use resources at her disposal and the help of those friends to regain her life and try to protect herself from her own reflection, who repeatedly tries to eliminate Emi from her own life.

The second, much shorter story titled "Demon of Vengeance" is a dramatic departure. It takes place in feudal Japan and features a swordsman and his son looking after the only son of the ruler of the local kingdom. The ruler's son is temperamental and puts the swordsman's son through a variety of small cruelties, and when he physically lashes out at the swordsman's son, the swordsman can no longer stand it. He strikes the ruler's son, making him fall facedown onto the blade of his sword, blinding him. The ruler is furious, and puts the swordsman through a lifetime of torture and subjects the swordsman's son to whatever injuries befall his own son. It eventually turns into a tale of revenge not only for the ruler, but the fallen swordsman as well.

One thing to note about "the Stephen King of manga" is that his horror, based on this volume and the one volume of Orochi I read, is more psychological than it is physical. You won't see bogeymen tearing people to pieces or vampires terrorizing a small town systematically eliminating all the residents, but more like people fighting amongst themselves in dangerous circumstances or with dangerous stakes. I'm actually a bigger fan of physical horror, which is why I'm rather surprised to find that Umezu is the father of modern horror manga when people like Hideshi Hino and Junji Ito are doing very different (though in some ways still psychological) styles of horror today. Stephen King he ain't, but he's still pretty good. I put off reading the second story for a week after I read the first for a number of reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of that story, and I think I liked it a lot better than the first. Though it was set in the past, the story felt newer and maybe a bit more modern than the first. It was also based on the formula of karma circling back around all the characters (all four of the main characters were linked and had things happen to them based on what cruelties they may have done to the other characters), which is a theme that always makes me think of Phoenix. The second story was very Phoenix-esque in nature except for the ending, which was horribly disappointing even though... even though it went where it should have. But it had many elements of physical horror on top of the revenge/get what's coming to you themes I already mentioned, and there's plenty of violence for people who missed it in the first story. It's length and pacing are also perfect, I didn't think it was moving too fast and it ended where it should have. I loved that second story. The first story was really good too, but it was a bit less exciting and the pacing wasn't as good either (it drug a bit through parts). It was a lot more atmospheric than the second one, though. As I said earlier, this story seems to either take place in the past or perhaps was written a long time ago, but either way the look and language both lend themselves well to that slightly creepy 70s horror feel, which was probably what I liked best about that story. The plot itself was okay... I felt like perhaps Emi was being punished by her reflection for her vanity, but it seems like she could be a less likable character if that was the case. The beginning gave me the impression that perhaps she was going to be a bad apple, but I found myself feeling sorry for her through the duration, so maybe it was just bad luck instead. It wove itself a bit awkwardly into a more involved story than it perhaps should have been... while I was reading it, there were a few possible outcomes I expected and I didn't see the story really being able to go in any other direction, but it then seemed to artificially lengthen itself by involving Wakatono and Mitsuko, and the actual fate of the reflection sort of came out of nowhere and was a complication that wasn't at all foreshadowed anywhere else in the story. There was another element about the ending that involved backwards writing that bothered me a bit... it seems like it was a device that may have worked a bit better if Kanji characters are illegible backwards, but backwards English is just backwards English and can still be read. I'm picking on the story quite a bit, but it was still very good. As I said, the atmosphere was quite satisfying and gave the entire story a tension and feeling of urgency throughout. The story itself... I don't want to say it wasn't original, but I felt like I knew where it was going through a lot of it. The thing it did to overcome this was to not fall into these expectations and continue to surprise me. Emi is a surprisingly resourceful girl, and you sort of root for her throughout as she figures out more and more about how devious her reflection is. "Reflection" is flawed, but it is certainly still an entertaining story.

These were both one-shots with limited character development, so there's not much to say here about the characters except what can be taken at face value. All the characters in "Demon of Vengeance" were especially simple, but the charm in that story lies in watching the personalities work with and rub against each other. "Reflection" had Emi, who was the most developed character in the volume. As I said, it was fun watching her progress throughout the story, as she constantly made revelations, solved problems, and got out of situations that surprised me. You didn't really find out anything new or particularly exciting about her, but all the same... She wasn't one of those "extraordinary personality" types of characters who seems likely to take on the role of hero and do everything that she did, which is what I felt made her a good character. The reflection was her exact opposite, and for everything Emi figured out, the reflection did something more and more devious, so I really liked her too. The rest of the characters were just there to serve the plot I felt, including Emi's family and her boyfriend. Wakatono and Mitsuko are the only two other characters worth mentioning, and it's in relation to the comment I made earlier about them artificially lengthening the story. They were both great characters... they were very cheerful, supportive, and it was great seeing them there for Emi when nobody else would believe her, but as I said earlier, they seemed really tacked onto the main story even as they worked with it. This feeling may stem from the fact that these two are the only cheerful element that shows up in these stories, and because of this they just feel out of place. Other than that, there's nothing to say about the characters. They're not particularly deep, but they serve the plot well, and these are both plot-driven stories.

I was and still am extremely interested in this series. It's a pleasure to finally get to read the stories that supposedly inspire people like Suehiro Maruo and Junji Ito. It's surprising to see that they're psychologically instead of physically driven though, and like I said, I'm more interested in the gory horror stuff. But this was still a great volume. "Reflections" was a pretty good story and a solid read with a lot of surprising twists, and "Demon of Vengeance" was a really good story with a very disappointing ending. Anyone looking for a gore-fest should look elsewhere, but anyone looking for a solid read and a pretty good one-shot volume would do well to pick this up.


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