It’s time for New Year’s resolutions. If you haven’t considered it before, try expanding your manga horizons as one of yours. As it so happens, Anomal is a great place to start.
A series of shorts by author Nukuharu, Anomal is billed as “weird tales of horror and the bizarre” with “a peculiar vision of the world.” It’s not nearly as dark as that description sounds, though it is that visionary: It’s a book with stories that incorporates Japanese folk tales, especially those around yokai, from the author’s unique perspective. Two of the stories are dramas, three are comedies, and all have the thread of “the beautiful tragedy” to them.
The book is part of Gen Manga’s fall/winter offerings. The start-up company publishes underground, independent manga from Japan, with full artistic control going to author/illustrators. Their books also debut in the US, rather than Japan, or do so simultaneously.
This past year, Gen made the transition from monthly anthology publisher to publisher of full-length graphic novels, such as Anomal. The monthly anthology is still available online, while books such as Anomal are available in hardcopy through local book and comic stores. Gen plans to release one compiled graphic novel a month in the coming year and beyond, cycling through their various authors at intervals.
The translation for Anomal is solid; it leaves no room for want. It should be noted, however, that the book’s sound effects are not translated. Names of people and places are also not translated, though they are described off to the side when pertinent to comprehension, such as “Me-me-sama” being described as “Mr. Eyes” in a footnote. For the manga connoisseur, or those looking to increase their Japanese reading skill, Gen’s manga is the top tier before an actual Japanese version of a comic.
The lettering is done well — it has breathing room and is always legible. Yet, in the first two stories of the book, there are terms with asterisks — which marks them as to be translated elsewhere on the page — whose translations are missing. The book could use a few more page numbers and a table of contents listing each story, as well. The art is a simple but elegant style, with the printing lines sharp and the ink quality very high.
There are yokai-based five stories in the book, and each one is connected through themes of connection or wish-fulfillment. The first, Kaeshi or “Returner,” is a twist on an old folktale, focusing on a young artist as he deals with the gift of vision from a hundred-eyed yokai, and its subsequent responsibilities. Keiken Sosa, the second tale, is more lighthearted: It shows a day in the life of a detective and his assistant, Sherlock Holmes style, but with a twist: the detective must reenact everything with his assistant in order to solve cases! >i>Ayakashi no Kotodama is a period love story between a female yokai and a human boy who is able to sustain her life force with his words.
Ayakashi-Nushi, the fourth story, returns to a mix of humor and the dramatic by mixing the tale of a schoolgirl and a half-yokai boy as she, shonen-action style, gains the trust of yokai the world over through the power of hugs (and battles). The final tale, Kaguya, goes into sci-fi territory and plays with the tropes of schoolboy alien-girl fantasy (think Tenchi Muyo!) — Kaguya comes down from space to find a boyfriend — but only so that she can escape her arranged marriage! Kasane thinks he’s hit the shonen jackpot, until he discovers both Kaguya and her fabulous fiancé are as vain as his own desire for a girlfriend.
Anomal is a good book that plays with genres and keeps the reader interested because of it; here again Gen has preserved the artistry of manga for those who want an authentic, yet English-language, version. A gentle-heartedness pervades the book, sweetening the tragedies and bringing jubilance to the comedies. All in all, Anomal leaves one with the thought that the world is both beautiful and tragic — and it is he who holds himself back that loses out.