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Yokaiden Volume 1

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Yokaiden Volume 1 by Nina Matsumoto, published by Del Rey Manga

Yokaiden Volume 1

© Nina Matsumoto

The Bottom Line

Thanks to manga and anime, American readers are almost as familiar with yokai, or demons as their Japanese counterparts. Now American comics creator Nina Matsumoto pays tribute to this rich tradition of Asian mythology with Yokaiden, a surprisingly witty shonen manga adventure tale.

While lacking in the historical accuracy department, Yokaiden is spiked with contemporary sass and humor. Instead of drawing prissy pin-ups, Matsumoto wisely concentrated on her perfecting her storytelling. The result is a tightly-written, fast-paced, and entertaining story that's well worth buying and reading.

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Pros

  • A rollicking adventure filled with laughs, adventure and fun facts about yokai
  • Snappy, smart and hilarious dialogue with pitch-perfect comic timing
  • Excellent visual storytelling that pays tribute to manga while showing off Matsumoto's style
  • Well-developed characters that have interesting personalities and fun chemistry with each other
  • Radiates good humor and genuine love for Japanese yokai, with a nice nod to Shigeru Mizuki

Cons

  • Matsumoto tends to over-do it with the literal sound effects, which clutter some panels
  • Historical accuracy is sacrificed in favor of humorous anchronisms

Description

Guide Review - Yokaiden Volume 1

Set in semi-medieval Japan, Yokaiden is about Hamachi, an upbeat boy who lives with his crabby grandmother. While only 9 years old, Hamachi earns his keep by selling bamboo wares in the nearby village. To distract himself from his dreary life, Hamachi spends his free time reading about and seeking out yokai. While most folks fear these supernatural beings, Hamachi thinks that they're fascinating.

When Hamachi meets a spiteful water sprite stuck in a clawed trap, he's more awed than scared. In hopes of befriending the kappa, Hamachi frees him by cutting his foot off. Unfortunately, this small act of kindness sets off a chain of events that leaves his grandmother as a soulless husk and sends Hamachi to the yokai world to rescue her.

Yokaiden is Matsumoto's first full-length (print) published work, but you'd never guess it from reading her perfectly-paced story and almost flawless comic-timing. Brimming with hilarious pop culture anachronisms, Yokaiden has lots of laugh out loud moments. For example, when Hamachi names a lantern yokai "Lumi," from the word lumiere, the lantern incredulously asks him, "How do you know French?" (much less an "L" word in Japanese!)

Historical accuracy or "pretty" art isn't Matsumoto's main concern. Instead, she rightly focuses on presenting a tightly-written story. She avoids the usual first-time manga creator's pitfalls of drawing preening pin-ups at the expense of plausible storytelling, and succeeds in creating an entertaining story that exceeds all expectations.

By naming Hamachi's hero / yokai chronicler Inukai Mizuki, Matsumoto also slyly pays tribute to the original yokai manga master Shigeru Mizuki (creator of Gegege no Kitaro), although she never otherwise mentions him in this volume. Nevertheless, Yokaiden is a fun-filled tribute to Japanese monsters that had me eagerly waiting for Volume 2.

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