Ako and Bambi Volume 1 Review

Bambi is a rookie novelist who lives alone in a small apartment that he got cheaply because someone committed suicide in his block. This hasn’t bothered him until now, when he suddenly starts seeing a ghost girl by the name of Ako. She cannot remember how she died, or even what her life was like. Bambi is suddenly inspired to write a new story about a ghost, which gathers some interest, especially from one reader who seems to know who the mysterious ghost inspiration is…

The mangaka HERO will be known to those who know Horimiya, as she’s the author of the original story – which was originally a 4-panel web comic, before being adapted into manga by Daisuke Hagiwara. This series, Ako and Bambi, is HERO’s second story to be published in English translation, and she’s using the 4-panel format once again, this time for a supernatural mystery story. This is interesting, as the 4-panel style is usually reserved for quick comedy sketches. So, seeing the 4-panel style in a new context, where instead of each 4-panel being a self-contained sketch, it flows on from one to another to create a whole story, is fascinating but takes getting used to.

But despite its intriguing style, I really struggled to get into this story. Normally I blast through manga volumes quite quickly, but I kept putting this book down and picking it up again, only to put it down once more. This is due to multiple reasons. Let’s start with the style choice of storytelling – the 4-panel style means that you can fit in a lot more story into a single volume; the panels are a set size, so you can fit two rows on each page and flow through a story very quickly. However, the manga does a very poor job of setting scenes or transitioning from one set piece to the next. I don’t know enough about the 4-panel style to know if it’s an error with the style itself, or the mangaka herself, but this manga bounces from one POV and/or scene to the next, with no panel spared to show where we are or set a mood at all. HERO doesn’t show much of the backgrounds either, and this is also an issue. For Bambi’s apartment, it feels very cramped with little details in what the apartment holds, only showing the computer, window and bed – giving the impression of a studio apartment, but the same vibe also carries over to the school, Bambi’s old home and so on, which I’m sure aren’t supposed to feel so small. Its not the framing that’s the issue, its the lack of detail in said backgrounds and set up panels that makes everything crammed and limited, like the world is super small. Instead, the manga relies on the characters telling you where they are, like Bambi saying in his flashback about how he’s thinking about leaving school; this is fine for some of the time, but doing it all the time gets tiresome.

This also leads into my next point about why I failed to click with this; it’s very much a story about telling not showing. It’s not just the characters clunkily telling the audience where they are, but it’s also in the stakes and lack of mood. A ghost story is supposed to have some atmosphere right? But there is none; most of the manga from Bambi’s POV takes place at night-time, as he likes to work with little noise, but there’s nothing to illustrate that on the page outside of him saying that he likes to work at night, no building of a scene of him being alone at night and having his peace disturbed by a random ghost. Call of the Night manga was very distinct in its style and shading because it was set at night, it was like a character in itself, but for Ako and Bambi I never really got absorbed into that night-time routine. The story could have easily taken place during the day, and none would be the wiser.

There’s also very little tension here; there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the leads, and besides Bambi’s initial reaction to meeting Ako, we get little else from him in terms of how he feels about all this and any relationship building, aside from getting free writing material from her. They do have some conversations, trying to help solve Ako’s mystery, but there’s little investigative work and relationship building before the first twist comes in. Midway through the book it’s revealed that for Ako, it’s more complicated than just ‘being a ghost’, which is an interesting twist that could have worked in another series, but here it’s painfully dull and makes the story drag as it leads to more talking and little showing of the effects of this. This twist introduces a third lead – Yamashiro – who comes into the story, meets Ako and they talk like they’re just catching up over coffee, dropping important plot points with little to no fanfare. This should be a big reveal, a way to put the early ghostly interactions into a new light but because we get so little of Ako and Bambi beforehand, it really doesn’t land, let alone deliver the emotional gut-punch it’s trying to be.

HERO is obviously comfortable with the 4-panel art-style, because the characters at least look distinctive, and she makes the best use of each restrictive panel as possible. There is a unique colour palette to it, black and white with a mix of light blue and purples; I found they helped make the main character designs pop out a bit more and make a stark contrast between Ako and Yamashiro (I won’t say why it’s important for spoiler reasons). I do however think that the manga could do with better side character designs as one of Yamashiro’s classmates looks like Bambi’s double, and I really thought they went to the same school for a few chapters.

Translation by Jan Cash for Yen Press is well done, with very detailed four pages’ worth of translation notes, including facts about Japan’s takes on spirits and ghosts which is appreciated. Volume 2 is due out on 18th June 2024.

Forgive the pun, but Ako and Bambi has little spirit in it, despite one of the leads being a ghost. It fails to drum up suspense, excitement or even set up its various locations on the page in a convincing and interesting way. There’s a good story in here, but for me, I had trouble getting invested in it. Perhaps others will, but I will be leaving this mystery unsolved.

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

5 / 10


By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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