It’s a new start in a new town for siblings Minato and Akira Lee and their mother, Noe. But Minato is the first one to notice the strange – and huge – shadowy figures that pass through their high school. Can anyone else in the town see them? If so, they don’t mention that they’re there. Rising above the streets is a vast, thickly-forested hill that gives Akira disturbing dreams. They’re told to beware of wild boars. Cats have been disappearing. Then one evening at home, Akira spots a strange little creature outside her open window and gives chase. The creature vanishes – but leaves behind a tiny lens. Akira shows Kei and Ito, her two new friends at her after school club, the next day. They go together to a certain shop, run by a being that is not human, to ask for advice.
Akira, Kei and Ito are eager to start an investigation club to look into the strange and disturbing occurrences and Minato joins them. Kei takes Minato around the town (Minato has no sense of direction at all) and Ito takes Akira. But it’s when the shop owner tells them that the lens has been claimed by a certain ‘Hirata-san’ and that Hirata has left a note of thanks that the mystery begins to thicken…
Shima Shinya’s distinctive graphic style came to our attentions last year when Yen Press brought us the psychological murder mystery manga Lost Lad London. What stood out there was her skill in creating interesting, different characters and evoking the atmosphere of a real place (London) through her very unmanga-like art. Manga, of course, is a very broad graphic form, embracing art styles as varied as those of Junji Ito, Asumiko Nakamura and Ryo Sumiyoshi (to name but three with strikingly different work) so it’s always a pleasure to encounter titles from the pen of a relatively new mangaka, bringing new and different techniques to tell their stories. And here, unlike Lost Lad London, Shima Shinya takes her characters into the realms of urban fantasy – and science fiction. The narrative has elements of urban fantasy in that the setting is roughly here and now but with these vast shadow apparitions of wild animals (a fox, an antlered beast…) it seems to be hearkening back to folklore and legends rooted in nature. But then with the very real appearances of the non-human beings who have learned to communicate with humans and come from another dimension or parallel world, the story takes us into the ‘what if?’ of classic science fiction. Shima Shinya’s graphic style is ideally suited to suggesting to the reader that all is not as it should be.
Where this manga shows them to be a little less skilled is in the depiction of hands. This might seem an unfair criticism to make as the mangaka is so good at portraying her characters through their facial expressions and reactions. Nevertheless, several panels stood out to me because – as it’s the kind of story in which the reader is primed to notice strange and unnatural things – I was wondering whether Kei’s father’s blobby fingers were telling us something about him or had just had to be dashed off in haste for a deadline. Given the high quality of most of the artwork, these elements stand out. Nevertheless, this first volume (of four) creates a creepily destabilizing atmosphere as we follow Minato and Akira and their friends as they try to unravel what on earth is going on in Touka-cho. There are no big shocks or scares but the gradual build-up is very well handled, making the reader want to keep turning the pages. It’s also a relatively quick read, using several panels without dialogue and keeping the explanations from becoming over-complicated.
Given the age rating (Teen) this would make a great addition to a secondary school library, especially as it taps into the ‘young cast investigate a local mystery’ genre very effectively. Also, for those interested in the depiction of non-binary characters, Minato, the elder sibling uses ‘they’ and ‘their’ pronouns; early on, their mother says to them, “If you don’t like the new school, you don’t have to go” which sets up questions in the reader’s mind, suggesting without saying that Minato has maybe encountered prejudice in an earlier school. But the main issue Minato currently faces is their lack of a sense of direction!
Translation for Yen Press is by Eleanor Summers with lettering by Abigail Blackman (both provide a smooth read) and the second volume is due out in December 2023.
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.