Fox Tales Review

If you’ve followed my other reviews of Tomihiko Morimi’s books then you’ll know I am a big fan. Although his debut work Tower of the Sun proved somewhat disappointing the last time I covered one of his books, that didn’t stop me from eagerly jumping at the chance to talk about Fox Tales. Does it prove a return to form? Let’s find out! 

Fox Tales is a collection of four stories set within modern-day Kyoto and loosely revolving around the curio shop Hourendou and the supernatural. The first of the four tales, Fox Tales, sets the tone for the rest of the book. We follow a nameless university student working part-time at Hourendou with owner Natsume. One of his tasks is to deliver goods to clients, one of whom is Amagi who lives in a mansion in an isolated area of Kyoto. 

Natsume warns our protagonist that Amagi is strange and to under no circumstances give him anything he requests, no matter how harmless it may seem. Our main character often finds himself unsettled to be invited inside when he makes deliveries to Amagi who is shut away in his mansion without even any lights on. He does heed Natsume’s words…for a while. Unfortunately, he soon gets drawn in by Amagi and then many strange occurrences start happening around him, Natsume, and his girlfriend. Including the sighting of a strange creature that looks like a fox but could be far more sinister… 

The other three stories included here are The Dragon in the Fruit, Phantom and The Water God. All of them begin similarly to Fox Tales, with an unnamed main character starting in fairly ordinary circumstances only to find themselves wrapped up in something more supernatural. In The Dragon in the Fruit, our lead spends time with an older student at his university who loves reading and has a vast collection of books at his home and has plenty of exciting stories to tell of his own. 

Phantom sees a student enter into a small community as tutor to the son of a liquor store owner, but despite quickly making friends with everyone, he ends up embroiled in hardship when a mysterious ‘phantom’ is reported to be attacking people. The Water God focuses on the protagonist who is mourning the loss of his grandfather with his family, although the more they talk about their departed loved one, the more they realise something strange had been happening in the mansion he called home – something that may stretch back decades. 

What strikes me most about Fox Tales is that it’s not whatever supernatural thing that’s tied into the interesting story, it’s about the atmosphere that Morimi creates. It’s similar to other horror novels where the idea of something unnatural being present is often far scarier than whatever that thing happens to be. Fox Tales starts the book off well in that regard since its main character has very little to go on regarding Amagi (and Natsume’s distaste for him) and when he starts experiencing encounters with the unknown, it’s always something just out of sight. Present enough to strike fear into him, but never close enough to truly know what ‘it’ is and only serving to fuel the imagination, due to a lack of understanding. 

The other stories are a bit of a mixed bag in terms of execution. Along with the first, Phantom ended up being my favourite whereas the other two I feel needed fleshing out a little bit more to be fulfilling. The Water God also struggles from the timeline jumping around, which can make it hard to follow at times if you’re not paying enough attention. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of these tales are outright bad they just don’t quite hit the high barrier that Fox Tales set. 

Looking at the book as a whole rather than individual stories though, this is a very compelling offering from the popular novelist. For as much as I have some minor issues here and there, there’s no denying that Fox Tales as a collection is a real page-turner. Morimi sets the scene well, giving us enough detail to picture the streets of Kyoto easily and become engrossed in each of the stories, which takes talent when there are only 60~ pages per story. It’s creepy and unsettling in all the right ways, remaining on your mind long after you put the book down to rest. 

But it’s not morbid either, nor is it outright explicit horror, it’s just touching on the themes. This I think helps it both appear realistic and also appeal to a wider range of readers. Certainly, these stories are rooted in folklore as much as they are in anything supernatural and it’s very easy to imagine these situations playing out in reality as opposed to being fantastical, which is perhaps one of the reasons they prove so compelling. And then you have the mystery element of wanting to get to the end of each chapter and see what happens. They’re very rewarding to read in that sense. 

It’s impressive, too, that Fox Tales is only Morimi’s third publication (Tower of the Sun and The Tatami Galaxy being the two beforehand), but already you can see why he has become such a well-regarded creator. Fox Tales includes many of the things that I love about his works and very few of the flaws I saw when reading Tower of the Sun. Knowing it’s one of his earlier works also helps explain some of the flaws with the narrative of The Water God compared to his later output like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl which also jumps around a lot, but does so more smoothly. 

Fox Tales has been brought to the West by Yen Press where it’s translated by Winifred Bird and has been released in an attractive hardcover format under the Yen On imprint. The translation by Bird reads well with no problems, which is always nice to see. I do wish there were some translation notes included as there are a few very specific Japanese terms that I think could have done with an explanation for those unfamiliar with them, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means (especially with Google always at hand). 

Overall, Fox Tales is an excellent showcase of Tomihiko Morimi’s strengths. Taken individually, some of these stories have flaws. However, as a collection, Morimi has nailed the creepy atmosphere and engrossing nature of what it means to have a story about an unseen supernatural element unfolding around its cast. Like many of his books, this is a memorable one!

Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.

9 / 10


When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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