Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Terry Gallagher
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421525877
Released: September 2009
Original release: 2006

Zoo is the second prose work by Otsuichi that I’ve read. It was published by Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru in 2009 with a translation by Terry Gallagher, making it one of the earliest releases to come out of the division. Haikasoru was actually a little worried that Zoo wouldn’t do well; general horror doesn’t sell as much as many other genres in the United States. Happily, Zoo ended up becoming a finalist for the 2009 Shirley Jackson Award for a single-author collection. The short story collection was originally published in Japan in 2006, which makes it the most recent of Otsuichi’s works currently available in English. Even though another of his collections, Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse (also published by Haikasoru) received a later English release than Zoo, the stories are from earlier in Otsuichi’s career. Having been impressed by his award-winning novel Goth, I was looking forward to reading Zoo.

Zoo collects eleven of Otsuichi’s horror short stories, beginning with the titular “Zoo.” There isn’t really an overarching theme to the stories, per se. In fact, there is a rather pleasant variety. “The White House in the Cold Forest” has a fairytale-like feel to it while “Song of the Sunny Spot” easily qualifies as science fiction. Some, like “In a Falling Airplane” and “Wardrobe” are firmly placed in the real world. “Find the Blood!” has a humorous, albeit dark, bent to it while there is nothing funny about “Words of God” at all. Familial relationships are often important in the stories collected in Zoo, but that is especially true for “Kazari and Yoko” and “SO-far.” Even the length of the stories vary. “In a Park at Twilight, a Long Time Ago” is just barely over two pages while the books finale, “Seven Rooms,” is the longest at thirty-nine.

While the eleven stories are very different, they share some similarities as well. All of the situations and settings that Otsuichi has created are bizarre and disconcerting. The stories are also all told from a first person perspective (except for arguably one) and the narrators aren’t always the most reliable. If the circumstances that the characters find themselves in are strange, they themselves are just as abnormal. It is frequently difficult to determine just where the border between fantasy and reality lies, or even if there is one. Another characteristic that the stories share, and I think this must be one of Otsuichi’s signatures, is that they all feature a twist of some sort in their plots. Sometimes there are even multiple twists. Even though I have come to expect this from Otsuichi’s work, the actual plot developments can still be surprising and quite effective.

The variety in the stories collected in Zoo is one of the book’s strongest points. Each story has a unique feel to it and each narrator has a distinct, individual voice. My compliments go to the translator for capturing this aspect of Otsuichi’s work so well. As with any short story collection, there will be a range in the quality of the individual works. The enjoyment of each story will also differ from reader to reader and will depend on personal taste to some extent. I, for one, didn’t particularly like “Find the Blood!” until I realized how funny it actually was. But once I did, I enjoyed the story very much. Overall, Zoo is a great, creepy collection. I’m not at all surprised that it received an award nomination. If I wasn’t a fan of Otsuichi already, I certainly am now. Currently, there are only two books by Otsuichi still in print in English, Zoo and Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse. I hope to see more of Otsuichi’s works translated in the future.


Author: Otsuichi
Illustrator: Kendi Oiwa

U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427810946
Released: September 2008
Original release: 2003

In Japan, Goth, Kendi Oiwa and Otsuichi’s manga adaptation of Otsuichi’s award-winning novel by the same name, was released in 2003, the year after the original Goth was initially published. Tokyopop released the English translation of Goth, both the manga and the novel, in 2008. However, in this case, the manga was published first, but only by about a month. Although I have since read the original novel, my introduction to the story was through the manga. And since October 2011’s Manga Moveable Feast was focusing on horror manga, I though it would be a good opportunity to review the manga adaptation. It’s a good, creepy manga which I don’t think many people have read. Even though it’s out of print, it doesn’t seem to be too difficult to find yet, and it’s only one volume. I should probably also mention the existence of the 2008 live-action adaptation of Goth, too. I haven’t seen it yet, but I do plan to.

Two high schoolers share an interest in death and murder, although for very different reasons. Morino is a beautiful young woman who is considered strange by her classmates and the other is a young man who is generally well liked. What most people don’t realize is that he is hiding his own aberrant behavior. His friendship with Morino is much more complicated than their classmates know. To him, she is an obsession. Morino might not realize her importance to him at first, but she does come to suspect his darker tendencies. Their relationship is intense and precariously balanced. At any moment, it feels as though he could turn on her or simply allow terrible tings to happen to her. But at the same time his is extremely possessive and protective of Morino. She may be an obsession, but she’s his obsession.

One of the best things about the manga adaptation of Goth is Oiwa’s artwork. Both subtly seductive and vaguely disconcerting, the illustrations fit the story perfectly. Oiwa does very well with the material and even more impressive is that Goth was his first professional work. Oiwa’s page layouts are varied and interesting, the attractive artwork punctuated by panels that are graphic, gruesome, and grotesque. A nice rhythm is set up where these moments aren’t necessarily surprising but everything pauses while the images sink in. The character reactions are very important in these incidents and Oiwa does a fantastic job with facial expressions, or in some cases the deliberate lack thereof. The characters’ expressions reveal a lot about them as people and what is revealed can be a very scary thing. The atmosphere that Oiwa’s art creates paired with Otsuichi’s storytelling is marvelously disconcerting.

Although the original novel is unquestionably the superior of the two, I think the manga is an excellent adaptation and manages to stand well as its own work. The manga incorporates in one way or another five of the original six stories. Changes have been made and not everything from the novel has been used, but the manga never strays from the tone of the original—it is both captivating and disturbing. Its realism and semi-believability make it very, very creepy. Even though I have read both version of Goth several times and the various twists to the plot are no longer surprising to me, they are still effective story elements, revealing just how abnormal some of the characters truly are. And while the manga doesn’t allow the reader to get into their heads to the same extent as the novel, the glimpses seen are chilling. Like the original novel, the manga adaptation of Goth is worth seeking out.


Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427811370
Released: October 2008
Original release: 2002
Awards: Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize

So far, Otsuichi, who is best known for his horror short stories, has had four of his major works translated into English. Although currently out of print, Goth was the second of his books to be made available. First published in Japan in 2002, Goth has been adapted into a manga and a live action film. Somewhat unexpectedly since it is a light novel and light novels generally aren’t taken very seriously, Goth won the 2003 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize for Best Novel. I actually first read Kendi Oiwa’s manga adaptation of Goth but I liked it so well that I went to the effort to track down a copy of the source material to read. Andrew Cunningham’s translation of the novel was published by Tokyopop in 2008 as part of their largely, and unfortunately, unsuccessful fiction line. Tokyopop also published Otsuichi’s Calling You while Haikasoru has released Zoo and Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse.

Although attractive, most of Morino’s high school classmates find her to be rather odd and avoid her. She mostly keeps to herself with one exception—another classmate that shares her fascination with death. The difference is that his interest isn’t limited to curiosity, he would actually like to act on his desires to kill someone. He hides it well though and no one really suspects him except for maybe Morino. To him, she is less of a friend and more of an obsession. Together they closely watch the news for information on murders, kidnappings, and other tragedies. Even more exciting is when these events happen close by or even in their own neighborhood. Occasionally, they even do some investigating on their own, not because they want justice but merely because they want to know what happened and feel an affinity with those involved.

Although Goth is generally referred to as a novel, the six individual chapters largely stand on their own and could be read separately. Granted, they do make small reference to one another and the final chapter would lose much of its effectiveness if it wasn’t read last. What ties the stories together is Morino, her classmate, and their dark obsessions. They are somewhat difficult to call the protagonists, though. Often the two barely make an appearance and are mostly side characters to the main action. But, they are still very important and crucial to the stories. Each chapter is mostly told from a changing first person perspective, adding to the tension since it is frequently difficult to determine just who it is that is telling the story until close to its finish. The reader can only sit back and watch with morbid fascination and anticipation for all to be revealed since nothing can be done to change the course of the unfolding events.

Because I had previously read the manga adaptation of Goth, I was already aware of some of the major twists in the story. But even though I was vaguely aware of what would happen, Goth was still a very dark and disconcerting novel. Since it is told directly from the perspective of the characters, the reader is privy to exactly what is going through their heads. And seeing as many of them are serial killers, that is a very creepy place to be. Particularly disturbing is Morino’s classmate, unnamed until close to the end of the book, who keeps getting mixed up in these incidents and who harbors his own aberrant behaviors and tendencies. While he hasn’t done anything seriously wrong yet at the beginning of Goth, he becomes less and less of an observer as the novel progresses. The tension continues to build as we wait for him to finally lose it. Goth may be disturbing, but it is also very good. I certainly want to read more of Otsuichi’s works now.