“How are things going over there? I hope you’re having fun. I’ve…found myself a strange partner…”
Mashiro Unohana is writing to her older sister. The fourteen-year-old may be short in stature but she makes up for her lack of height in other ways: a kindly nature and the ability to see ghosts. She’s never confided this to anyone else for fear of being labelled weird but she keeps noticing the spirits of animals, people…and even stranger beings that seem to be neither one nor the other.
After a hair-raising encounter with the lingering spirit of a pet cat that is not nearly as cute as it first seems to be, Mashiro is rescued by a prickly-natured crow lady called Bazu. Mashiro passes out after the encounter with the cat spirit and Bazu, desperate to find a way to revive her, kisses her. Mashiro wakes up to find herself in the company of Bazu and Nelly who explains that she runs the Boundary Preservation Society. The cat spirit that Mashiro encountered was a Noman, a spirit that has stayed too long in this world and – in the case of the cat – had become a threat to the living. Only now does Mashiro realize the danger that she was in, because of her ‘gift’ to see spirits. The society, Nelly tells her, exists to prevent Nomans from becoming evil spirits. Bazu, it turns out, is a special kind of Noman, an X-Grade who works for the society – and now that Mashiro has been kissed by Bazu, a contract has been formed between the two of them, or, as Nelly bluntly puts it, “Starting now, Mashiro-chan, you are her master!”
There is another way out for Mashiro: a special pill that, if she swallows it, will erase all memories of the society, Nelly and Bazu and the contract/bond she’s formed. However, Mashiro might be small in size (Bazu calls her “Squirt” to her constant annoyance) but she’s strong and determined in nature. She refuses the pill and takes up the challenge. And, of course, it turns out that there’s a ghost of a student haunting her school, a powerful A-Grade spirit who’s trouble and needs exorcising…
This is the first manga I’ve read by Neji. She has an attractive graphic style and, looking at her bibliography, I see that she’s specialized in yuri (or, rather shojo ai, if we’re still using that term for softer f/f manga of a less sexual nature). However, this is also a supernatural story so, away from the everyday classroom scenes in Mashiro’s all-girl school, there needs to be a certain element of menace and danger in the ghosts that she encounters. This manga, however, relies on creating an unsettling atmosphere or setting up a disturbing encounter for Mashiro, rather than going all-out for in-your-face horror. The majority of ghostly creatures that we see (through Mahiro’s eyes) are rather small and even cute – and the relationship between Mashiro and Bazu while veering toward the romantic (the magic bond created and maintained by a kiss), also has elements of younger sister looking up to older sister which is especially poignant in Mashiro’s case. And the story is told in ‘Letters’, referencing the opening theme that Mashiro is writing about her exploits to her older sister. Neji is skilful at telling her story in graphic terms, using differently sized panels and page turns for big reveals.
The translation by Leighann Harvey for Yen Press makes for a fluid read. The book comes in the smaller trade paperback format and has a striking colour illustration at the front. With only another volume to go (the series is already complete at two volumes) I imagine that Mashiro’s story will be resolved relatively swiftly and concisely.
Dear Noman makes for a gentle supernatural read and falls on the subtle side of scary for those seeking out ghostly chills with a light sprinkling of shojo-ai to add a little spice.