Random Musings: Nightmare Inspector

I’ve really been enjoying this month’s Horror Manga Moveable Feast. Earlier this week I noticed that no one had yet mentioned Shin Mashiba’s series Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun, which I’m quite fond of. I commented on this on Twitter and also noted that I regretted not coming up with something for the series myself. Lori Henderson, who is doing a wonderful job hosting the Feast over at Manga Xanadu, caught me and encouraged me to go ahead and write something up. And so, please allow me to take a brief moment to show a little bit of last minute love for Shin Mashiba’s Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun.

Nightmare Inspector is set in the last few years of the Taishō era in Japan. This series is the only manga that I have read that has been set in this time period. In fact, I haven’t read very many novels that take place during this time, either. The Taishō era lasted from 1912 to 1926. The time period, while not as romanticized as feudal era Japan, is well suited for a series about nightmares and anxieties. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. There was an underlying turmoil in Japanese society as its mores, social structures, and political systems were shifting and changing. The increase in Westernization was a concern for many. The Emperor was weak and in poor health. And on September 1, 1923, Tokyo and the surrounding areas were devastated by the Great Kantō earthquake, an event that is important to Nightmare Inspector, as well. The Taishō era was a difficult and trying time for many in Japan.

The basic premise of Nightmare Inspector is fairly simple. Hiruko, once human, has become a baku, a supernatural creature that devours dreams and nightmares for sustenance. The bloodier and the more painful they are for the dreamers, the better tasting they are for him. Those unfortunate enough to be plagued by their nightmares come to the Silver Star Tea House seeking Hiruko’s aid to be rid of them, hoping to find some peace. Hiruko doesn’t tend to be malicious, but he’s not exactly benevolent, either. He gives his patrons exactly what they ask for, and that can be terrifying in and of itself. Their nightmares are tied very closely to their realities; affecting one has profound effects on the other. Very few of the dreamers find a happy ending and even for those that do it is very bittersweet. Hiruko, whose past is slowly revealed as the series progresses, must also face his own darkness.

The exploration of the nightmares is one of the most interesting elements in Nightmare Inspector. The creativity and imagination that Mashiba exhibits is impressive, frequently changing art styles to reflect the dreamers’ individual experiences. Some nightmares are frighteningly realistic while others are more abstract in their portrayal, but they are no less disturbing because of it. And because baku delight in the psychological suffering of others, the dreams often become worse when they become involved. Many of the individuals that come to the Silver Star Tea House are coping with some sort of trauma or painful memories that they are trying to repress. Some of the circumstances may seem a bit far-fetched, but overall the insecurities that they are dealing with will be quite familiar to readers of the series. This is one of the reasons that Nightmare Inspector is so effectively disconcerting.

The manga is consistently dark in atmosphere, but its finale is even more heartrending than anything that comes before it. There are some moments of levity, but they seem so out of place to me that I personally consider those chapters to be scenarios that could only exist in a more optimistic reality. Perhaps they, too, are dreams. Nightmare Inspector does tend to be fairly episodic for most of the series. But underlying all of the individual stories is a certain melancholy and ominousness that surrounds Hiruko. Eventually, the truth of his past is revealed and moments from earlier volumes suddenly become more significant than they may have first appeared. His story, and the complex relationships he has developed with other characters in the series, is actually what draws me most to Nightmare Inspector. It’s not without its faults, but I do love this manga and hope that others give it a try.

This post is part of the Horror Manga Moveable Feast.

My Week in Manga: June 27-July 3, 2011

My News and Reviews

Okay! You only have a couple more days to enter my most recent manga giveaway. We’re talking about samurai manga, so head over to Manga Giveaway: Rorouni Kenshin Contest to enter for a chance to win a new copy of the first Rurouni Kenshin omnibus. The winner will be announced Wednesday, July 6. And for those who are interested in what sort of manga and other goodies I’ve managed to recently procure, I posted the Bookshelf Overload for June. Not much else to report right now except that I’ll be going on an extended vacation pretty soon. Hopefully, there shouldn’t be any interruption to my normal posting schedule. That’s the plan, anyway; I’m still in the process of working things out.

I’ve made some updates to the Resources page. Unfortunately, Manga Views no longer seems to be running, so I’ve removed it from the list. But, I’ve also added three more resources: Manga Connection, Japanamerica, and Comic Attack. Comic Attack isn’t specifically about manga, but they do have a regular feature called Bento Bako Weekly (although it’s often more than weekly) that is worth keeping an eye on.

Quick Takes

Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun, Volumes 3-9 by Shin Mashiba. Nightmare Inspector is mostly episodic except for the ninth volume which ties everything together and reveals the truth behind Hiruko. The final volume is just about perfect. I don’t want to spoil the ending but I will say it is highly appropriate for a series that’s all about nightmares. The series is very dark and genuinely disconcerting. Knowing each story will end with some kind of grim twist doesn’t make it any easier. Hiruko gives each dreamer what they ask for and the results can be terrifying. There are a few humorous episodes, but their tone is so different from the rest of the series that I find it difficult to consider them part of the main story.

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I found Not Love to be a charming little collection about friendship and the love of food. Each chapter features an actual restaurant in Tokyo, complete with locations, recommendations, and how much you should expect to spend for a meal. With plenty of self-deprecating humor and quirky “characters” (the manga is fairly autobiographical), Not Love is also delightfully amusing. Despite the obvious importance of food and eating, I’m not sure I would actually call Not Love a food manga. Instead it seems to me to be more about the relationships people develop around the table. And not just their relationships with the food, either, but their relationships with each other as well.

Not Simple by Natsume Ono. Not Simple is a tragic tale. A really, really tragic tale. Made worse by the fact that despite some melodramatic elements, it’s actually a fairly realistic story. Not Simple was the first of Ono’s works to be made available in English. It’s also one of her earlier works, so her distinctive art style was still in the process of maturing. The narrative is interesting in that the story is framed within another story, leaving it up to the reader to interpret the ambiguity and determine how much is true and how much has been embellished. But either way, it’s not an easy read. Ian is a very pure and innocent character. He’s a little odd, but he’s certainly not at fault for the way things turn out.

Your Love Sickness by Kuku Hayate. Okay, I’ll admit it. I picked up Your Love Sickness because it’s boys’ love and had a dragon in it (specifically, the story “Disappearing into the Dew.”) The title story features kitsune in love, or at least in devoted infatuation. And if anthropomorphism doesn’t float your boat, Hayate turns from the supernatural to the more mundane in the final two stories. “Cheeping” finds a model and the local bento shop owner locking eyes (as well as a bit more) and “Cross My Heart” sees two friends reunited only to find their developing relationship to be rather problematic since one has grown up to be a detective and the other is yakuza. Your Love Sickness is a fun collection with interesting stories with interesting character designs to fit.

Cowboy Bebop, Episodes 1-26 directed by Shinichirō Watanabe. Cowboy Bebop holds a special place in my heart. It is the very first anime series that I saw in its entirety and I frequently re-watch parts of it. I even have the opening theme song, “Tank!,” set as my ringtone. (The music, by Yoko Kanno, is actually one of my favorite things about the series.) It has been a while since I’ve sat down and watched the whole series through from start to finish, though. I’d forgotten how odd some of the episodes were—at times, Cowboy Bebop can be a rather eccentric series. But there’s also plenty of action, with dramatic gunfights and theatric hand-to-hand combat, humor, and a good overarching story.

My Week in Manga: March 7-March 13, 2011

My News and Reviews

Most everyone is probably aware by now of the terrible earthquake, tsunami, and resulting (and ongoing) disasters that struck Japan on March 11. Yokoso News, which normally focuses on Japanese culture and such, has been providing live English coverage of Japanese news sources for the last few days. They’ve been doing a great job and I’ve pretty much been listening to the broadcast whenever I get a chance.

My posts for this past week included two reviews. The first was for The Guin Saga, Book One: The Leopard Mask by Kaoru Kurimoto. I didn’t enjoy as much as I hoped I would, but I will still be reading the rest of The Guin Saga volumes available in English. The second review was for Tow Ubukata’s award-winning Mardock Scramble, which I mostly enjoyed. Just don’t talk to me about Blackjack. Animemiz’s Scribblings has made the announcement for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast which starts next week: Announcing March 2011’s Manga Movable Feast and a Call for Contribution. The feast will featuring Aria by Kozue Amano. My contribution will be an in-depth review of the first volume of the prequel, Aqua, Volume 1.

Since I read Offered this week, I thought I’d mention a few recent posts made about other manga created by Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami: Kate Dacey at The Manga Critic takes a look at Wounded Man as part of her Manga Hall of Shame feature, and Jason Thompson’s House of 1000 Manga focused on Crying Freeman a few weeks ago.

Comics Should Be Good at Comic Books Resources is featuring LGBT comics this month. The entire archive of posts can be found here, but I specifically wanted to mention Brian Cronin’s brief review and preview of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. The first volume of this manga is to be released by Fantagraphics in June; I’ve really been looking forward to this series ever since it was announced.

And finally, a few more websites have been added to the Resources page: Anime Research, Manga Widget, Masters of Manga, and Same Hat!

Quick Takes

Immortal Rain, Volumes 3-8 by Kaori Ozaki. I am in love with this series. The characters are great, the artwork is wonderful, the plot is both heartfelt and exciting. The more melancholy aspects of the story (of which there are plenty) are balanced nicely with moments of humor and quickly paced action. Rain is one of my favorite manga characters that I’ve come across recently. He’s adorable. Even after more than six hundred years of life, he has somehow managed to retain his humanity. I believe the eleventh and final volume is currently scheduled for release in Japan in May. Tokyopop has published the first eight volumes; I’m not sure what the plans are for the last few volumes, but I really hope they will be released, too.

Love Mode, Volumes 1-2 by Yuki Shimizu. Love Mode is one of the longest boys’ love series currently available in English. The first two volumes rely a little too heavily on rape and the threat of rape to move the plot along, for me. Some people might also be bothered by the age differences between the couples. Fortunately, Takamiya is actually a really decent person. There is also a fair amount of humor, particularly in the first volume. In fact, there are moments that are absolutely hilarious and had me laughing out loud. I’m not particularly fond of Shimizu’s art style in this series; the first two volumes look a bit dated. Love Mode hasn’t really grabbed me yet, though I’ve been told it becomes quite addicting later on.

Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun, Volumes 1-2 by Shin Mashiba. Nightmare Inspector is surprisingly dark for as innocent looking as the artwork first appears. The character designs are appealing although it’s difficult to tell the relative ages of the different characters, they all look young. Hiruko is a baku, a creature that eats nightmares, the more bloody and painful the better. It’s mostly only been hinted up to this point, but there is something ominous about Hiruko’s existence and backstory. People come to him for help interpreting and dispelling their nightmares. The story is fairly episodic so far as each dream is explored, but it is genuinely creepy. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

Offered, Volumes 1-2 written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. I haven’t quite been able to decide whether Offered is so bad it’s good, or if it’s just simply bad. There’s a lot going on: Olympic athletes, drug cartels, Nazis, mummies, underground kingdoms, hypnotism, ancient sperm, nudist colonies, cults, animal sacrifices…did I mention ancient sperm? The manga is ridiculous and absurd and it’s played absolutely straight. The story is ludicrous, but the it presents itself completely seriously. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing. I am, however, a sucker for Ikegami’s artwork. His figure work is gorgeous and I can’t help but love it. I’m not sure I can recommend Offered, but it’s certainly an experience.

The Great Yokai War directed by Takashi Miike. The Great Yokai War is the first film that Miike directed for children; he’s probably better known in the United States for his more controversial and extreme works. However, The Great Yokai War is a family-friendly romp featuring a delightful cornucopia of colorful yokai, a summer adventure, and quirky humor and visuals. I recently read Yokai Attack! and was thrilled to be able to pick out and identify many of the creatures in the movie. If a particular yokai happens to catch your eye, make sure to check out the gallery on the DVD which includes their names and usual locals. It’s really the yokai that make this movie for me, but the lead kid is freaking cute, too.