Yokaiden is an American comic book drawn in what some would call the “Manga Style”. That fact alone has probably convinced a lot of people reading this review to press the back button and never give Yokaiden any more thought.
When one thinks of comic books drawn in the “Manga style” (I will openly state my belief that there’s no such thing) they often think of two-bit artists, shamelessly aping the conventions of the media without giving any real consideration to their work on its own merit, using the “Manga Style” as a crutch to get the attention of publishers.That mental image, however, and let it be known that I state the following under no uncertain terms, is something that does not apply to Yokaiden and to dismiss it with such an ill-informed sentiment will ultimately cheat yourself out of a read more than worthy of your time.
Written and drawn by Nina “Space Coyote” Matsumoto, an Eisner Award-winning artist who has gained a lot of attention with her Simpsons work (Her Death Note parody “Murder He Wrote” being the work that won her Eisner), Yokaiden is a shonenesque story of mild-mannered Hamachi Uramaki, a young boy who travels into the realm of the Yokai (Spirits, Monsters and various other figures of myth) to avenge the death of his Grandmother at the hands of a Kappa he saved from a bear trap.
Following the events of volume 1, volume 2 starts with Hamachi and his two companion Yokai, Lumi the lamp and (the later named) Kuzu the Umbrella, being sent on a quest to find three treasures by the Ninetailed Fox in return for telling him where to find the Kappa. During this he encounters and battles Yokai, runs into Humans with their own goals within the realm, and recounts some of the more tragic moments of his past. The story moves at a brisk pace and it’s one of those books where you mean to read a chapter and then suddenly, you’re at the back of the book having spent your time reading everything from the front to the cover. It’s that sort of graphic novel.
Yokaiden takes its mythological background with both a responsibility to present itself correctly and a hint of silliness. Yokai are rendered in various manners. In particular I found myself pleasantly surprised to see a Ninetailed Fox rendered as a room-sized fox-woman rather than a slender twenty-something girl with fox ears more suited to the furry fandom.
It has to be said, however, that when there’s the chance for hilarity, Matsumoto doesn’t miss it: a human running around in a Tengu costume with a hilariously anachronistic “Hi I’m a Tengu!” badge on him, a stoic Samurai having issues dealing with dead beat mother yokai and her (really) heavy baby, Hamachi taking his adventure though the bizarre and deadly world of the Yokai with a happy-go-lucky naivety not unlike Dragonball’s own Son Goku, and a sense of straight man/comic foil comedy with Lumi’s deadpan comments are only some of the comic’s highlights.
Matsumoto’s art style suits the setting well, using brisk lines emulating a thicker brush set more akin to Japanese art of the time depicted in the comic, and with the tones tending to keep to more solid “colours” over dot and line patterns to follow that trend. Matsumoto also shows that she’s done her homework, with pages between chapters describing the yokai that appear in the chapter previous in intricate detail.
Overall, I would recommend Yokaiden as a worthy addition to anyone’s manga collection in spite of its non-Japanese origin. It’s a shame that we don’t have a release date for volume 3 yet as I ate this volume up very quickly and I’m gagging to know what happens following the tense climax that comes at the end of the book.
A great yokai yarn that sits well in any collection, but I wish they’d hurry up on production of volume 3.