When one thinks of the holiday season, it tends to be of being merry, giving gifts, and celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. But the holiday season also has a history of ghostly stories and ghoulish things. So in that spirit, here are two titles to make you clutch your blanket closer on these cold, dark winter nights.

Grand Guignol Orchestra volume 1

By Kaori Yuki ♦ Viz Media ♦ Older Teen ♦ Horror  ♦ $9.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

This is a new series from Kaori Yuki, creator of Angel Sanctuary and Godchild. The world has been infected with a strange virus called the Guignol virus, that turns people into zombie dolls intent on killing any and/or all humans. Enter the Grand Orchestra, three musicians that travel from town to town, risking life and limb to perform in towns that request them. It is led by Lucille, a man with the voice of an angel. But this Orchestra also holds a special power. Through their performances, they can do the seemingly miraclous. Or is it the power of darkness?

This first volume introduces the main characters in the Orchestra. Lucille is a man who looks and sings like a woman, Kohaku plays the violin and Gwindel plays the cello. Like Lucille, they are more than they seem. The first story also introduces Eles/Celes, a young girl who plays the piano that is masquerading as her twin brother, and who joins the group. Most of the attention was given to Lucille and Eles in this volume, showing different sides to Lucille, and not all of them good. Eles is shown to look up to Lucille after he save her both physically and emotionally, but there are hints that she may be able to save him too. Kohaku and Gwindel don’t get much development other than Kohaku seems to have some ability to sense guignol. And that neither don’t care much for Lucille. There are several mysteries introduced in this volume. Hints are dropped about Lucille’s past and possible connection to the Queen, Gemsilica.

I really liked this first volume. The characters are fun and interesting. The darker, heavier moments are balanced by scenes with more levity, to keep things from getting too dark. The mysteries hinted at are intriguing enough to make me want to come back and find out more. The zombies are different from your average flesh-rotting, slow-moving variety. They crack more like china dolls, but there is still plenty of blood, so if you don’t like that kind of gore, you may want to pass. If you are a fan of Yuki’s work, you’ll definitely want to pick this volume up.

March Story volume 1

Story by Hyung Min Kim; Art by Kyung Il Yang ♦ Viz Media ♦ Older Teen ♦  Horror ♦ $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

This is a title created by two Koreans for the Japanese. There are beings in the world, known as the Ill, who are born of humanity’s deepest emotions; fear, hatred, anger and sadness. The Ill possess objects of great beauty, and when a person touches one, they can also become possessed by the Ill. There also exist hunters of the Ill, protectors of humanity known as the Ciste Vihad. March is one such hunter, with the power to exorcise the Ill. Traveling from town to town, March follows the artifacts, while harboring a dark secret as well.

March Story is a horror title with a dark, serious tone to it. It starts by throwing the reader straight into the action with March exorcising an Ill. The first chapter introduces not just March, but also several of the characteristics of the Ill, and under what circumstances one can be saved from them. The first three chapters show different Ill, including one that doesn’t mean any harm to humans. So not all are evil. But when they are, they can do great harm, as well learn in March’s origin story which finishes out the book. There are only three recurring characters introduced so far, including March. Jake is a fortune-teller, who was once a Ciste Vihad, and seems to act as March’s guardian. Her design is very unusual, but one that grows on you. Rodin is a shop owner that dealing with objects possessed, or once possessed by Ill. He is very bishonen on the outside, but a true business man on the inside. March works with him. March’s identity is kept a bit a of secret until the last two chapters where who and what she is revealed.

I enjoyed this title as well. The darker stories rely more on drama than action, though there is some when March is fighting an Ill. The levity is kept to a minimum, as the tragic tales of the Ill and the people they possess have more of a punch without it. There are some gory scenes, especially in the last chapter, that are rather disturbing. But the story is strong enough to carry though it. The condition on her continued existence is a twist on a typical fairytale plot device, but one that I feel works. The whole set up of this title might seem similar to like a Pet Shop of Horrors or other “comeuppance theater” title, but doesn’t read that way at all. The stories are more about the characters than seeing someone get their just deserts. I’m really looking forward to the next volume.

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