Yokai Doctor would benefit from focusing more on the story and less on the fanservice.
Writer/Artist: Yuki Sato
Translation: Stephan Paul
Adaptation: Stephan Paul
What They Say
Yokai are mysterious, troublemaking spirits and demons that have tormented Japan for centuries. Kotoko's grandfather exorcised them for a living, but Kotoko never thought that her family lineage was an asset. Then she meets Kuro, a yokai doctor. Yokai have doctors? Now Kotoko is learning firsthand that healing the yokai is a lot more challenging than getting rid of them!
Includes in-depth translation notes and a preview of the next volume!
The entire book interior is printed in black-and-white; a few pages in the middle of the book look like they were converted from color to black-and-white. The artwork uses a lot of dark shading, and fortunately the print quality is up to snuff here; solid blacks have a much more consistent shading from page-to-page than in most budget-priced releases. Panels with white-on-black text show that the print quality isn't perfect, though, since the black background bleeds enough onto the text to make it hard to read in a few places.
For extras, there's a one-page nonsensical "preview" of Volume 2 (anything that remotely discusses the plot is bleeped out) along with a more traditional next-volume excerpt. As is standard for Del Rey releases, this excerpt is presented in raw Japanese.
Overall, the artwork is above average. The yokai have an interesting mix of standard manga-style artwork with traditional Japanese artwork designs; there's a particularly good two-page spread of Kuro holding a stethoscope up to a mass of yokai that looks fantastic. The human character artwork, on the other hand, is generic if technically sound.
The lettering is a tad small in places; otherwise the script reads fine. Extensive cultural notes are included, and are extremely helpful for a series that deals this much with Japanese mythological creatures.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The structure of Yokai Doctor's first volume is slightly different from most English-language manga adaptations, because it explicitly acknowledges that the first two chapters were standalone "pilot" episodes that got expanded into a full series. These two chapters serve to introduce the series's high-school-aged protagonist Kotoko Kasuga, who can see spirits that are invisible to everyone else. (The English script uses "spirits", "mononoke", and "yokai" at different points to describe what Kotoko sees; I'll be the first to admit that I don't really how the three terms differ, so I'm going to stick with familiar English "spirit" in this review.) Soon after the Kotoko introducers herself to the audience, she's rushing her into meeting a classmate named Kuro who has an unusually large parade of spirits following him around school. Even though Kuro's a sort of social outcast, Kotoko is interested in knowing him, especially once she finds out that he can also see the spirits that are invisible to most people.
One hole in Kotoko's abilities is that she can see evil spirits but can't actually get rid of them. That doesn't stop her from telling her classmates that she can -- she figures there's no harm in lying about something they can't see anyway -- though it lands her in some trouble when she's asked to take exorcise a haunted hiking trail. Kuro tails her there, waits until the very real evil spirit prepares to kill her and her friends, and rescues Kotoko with his yokai doctor skills. In other words, Kuro has the ability to cure evil spirits of their sicknesses, which gives him the perfect excuse to hang around Kotoko so that he can ogle her under the convenient excuse of teaching her the skills to heal spirits.
Moving the plot discussion aside for a bit, a significant part of the volume is spent lobbing cheesecake fanservice at the audience. It only seems to get worse after the two standalone chapters are over, since Kuro is re-introduced afterwards as a spirit in the guise of a high-school student (seemingly giving him carte blanche to ignore all normal human social constructs). In any other medium, a character who has zero friends, can't hold conversations with other people, and regularly talks to his dead mother would be presented as a serial killer in the making; but since this is shonen manga, we're supposed to see him as a sympathetic character. It doesn't help that the fanservice routinely gets in the way of the plot: for example, the first "proper" chapter of the extended series is a virtual replay of the first standalone chapter, only now it's taken from Kuro's perspective. Shifting the narrative from Kotoko to Kuro doesn't add anything new to the story besides giving Kuro a chance to repeatedly talk about how much he likes breasts, which makes the entire chapter feel like it's just there to take up space and make teenage readers snicker at the word "boobs".
To be fair, the closing chapter is an improvement of sorts over the ones before it, since it tells a moderately interesting story about Kotoko treating her very first patient, an injured oni. While the fanservice is still laid on pretty thick (large parts of the story take place with Kotoko in her underwear for no apparent reason other than because it can) it at least has the advantage of having an ending that I didn't expect.
So far, Yokai Doctor feels like a poor man's xxxHoLic or Mushishi. It shares significant parts of these two series' basic formula -- cataloging exotic supernatural creatures that only a select few can see or treat -- but fails to deliver on the well-done characterization and compelling storytelling that made them successful. Instead, Sato seems content to pad out the volume's pagecount with stale humor and pointless fanservice. If you've ever found yourself wondering what xxxHoLiC would be like if Watanuki had the social grace of a small child and Himawari repeatedly stripped down to her underwear, well, Yokai Doctor might just be what you're looking for; otherwise, I just can't recommend this volume to a wide audience, though I wouldn't be surprised if it found a niche within fanservice-hungry circles.