Hiiragi Yasase has led a quiet, respectable life until his dying mother tells him that he has an older half-brother. The bereaved young man visits the exotic pet shop owned by his half-brother Karasu, only to be profoundly shocked by what he finds there. The long-lost half-brother appears swathed in bandages like a mummy and is far from happy to see him. The cute fluffy angora rabbits and fennec foxes are merely a front for the renting out of yokai, supernatural creatures, loaned to fulfil the wishes of troubled customers. Why is Karasu so hostile to his younger half-brother? What knowledge is he hiding about their father? And how can strait-laced civil servant Hiiragi, with his glasses, suit and briefcase, ever forge a relationship with his decidedly weird and rejecting blood relation? The old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ proves as true for lonely Hiiragi as the customers crossing the threshold.
Although this is a ‘yokai of the week’ manga in that Hiiragi encounters different customers and different yokai in each chapter, Shin Mashiba is a good craftswoman when it comes to plotting and developing her story. Each supernatural event reveals more and more to the unfortunate Hiiragi about his brother and, as a consequence, the tie that binds them: their father. We see the uptight civil servant begin to discover hidden aspects of himself – even if they are revealed by some over-impulsive instinct to do ‘the right thing’ on his part. The reader can’t help but be drawn to him, in spite of his blunders. And then there’s his older half-brother Kasaru; can he be trusted, in spite of his shady dealings with the world of the supernatural?
Shin Mashiba’s artwork is attractive (the series was published in shonen magazine GFantasy from Square Enix) when depicting the main protagonists and effectively creepy when it strays into the world of the youkai, who are portrayed in the traditional Japanese art style (the image on the back cover brings to mind the iconic Hyakki Yagyou – The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons). The Seven Seas edition comes with two attractive colour plates (the same black-and white/crimson colour palette as on the cover) and a fluent, readable translation from Amanda Haley. The mangaka acknowledges all her editors and assistants by name and role and also, rather helpfully, adds a list of the main reference books that were consulted.
Inevitably, as in Pet Shop of Horrors and xxxHOLIC (CLAMP), two earlier manga series dealing with supernatural shops, there’s a slight danger of ‘he/she got what they asked for’ when it comes to granting the customers’ wishes – and that’s where the twist in each tale comes, because, as with CLAMP, the customers are not always the victims they perceive themselves to be but may be harbouring secret desires and feelings that could prove to be their downfall. If you like either of these series (as I do), you’ll enjoy Yokai Rental Shop even though it’s very much its own story; there’s none of CLAMP’s evasive (and sometimes downright frustrating) hinting and lack of closure. Shin Mashiba moves the story along at a satisfyingly swift pace, each chapter delivering another surprising reveal. The series is only four volumes in length (unlike her earlier popular supernatural series Nightmare Inspector which runs to nine) so expect everything to proceed at a brisk pace!