The feasting continues on day 6 like vampires at a blood drive, which some fresh, new faces joining our regulars.
Ever since the days of the Cold War, people have been worrying about surviving through a nuclear war and all the horrors, real and imagined, that could come in the aftermath. Movies have imagined the world becoming a wasteland, populated by mutated monsters, and a few survivors that struggle to survive. Of course, the most fun to have with this is drop the unsuspecting into the middle of this wasteland and see what they’ll do. Known as Survival Horror, this is a relatively new sub-genre of horror, popularized most recently by video games. But manga seems to really enjoy using it too. So here are a few titles that do just that.
Drifting Classroom is a horror manga by its master Kazuo Umezu, and first started serialization in 1972. It’s about an elementary school that is mysteriously transported to a wasteland during an earthquake. The students must struggle to survive in the face of teachers and students going insane, wandering monsters from the wasteland, disease, lack of food and water, and dissent from within. These kids, the oldest of which are only in 6th grade (11-12-years-old), must not only learn how to survive, but keep some semblance of order amongst the chaos and fear all the kids are feeling. The story went for 11 volumes and won the 20th Shogakukan Manga Award in 1975. It was also adapted into a live-action movie in 1987. Viz Media releases all 11 volumes under their Signature line.
Dragon Head also uses school-aged children to convey its horror. The return from a school trip goes horribly wrong as the train is trapped in a tunnel by an earthquake. The survivors must find a way out, and then try to survive in a world turned wasteland by a volcanic eruption/comet strike/nuclear attack. This series is more of a psychological horror, with the monsters being people who have given up and given in to their fear. What happened is never made clear, but the need to survive and not give in to fear is very much so. This series went 10 volumes and was published by Tokyopop. It won the Kodansha award in 1997, and was adapted into a live action movie in 2003.
King of Thorn is survival horror with a sci-fi twist. A group of people are put into suspended animation to escape a plague that turns people to stone. When they wake up, they find the research facility has been taken over by a jungle that seems to have a mind of its own and monsters roam the landscape. They must fight to survive as well as try to discover what has happened while they were asleep. This series is 6 volumes long, and was released in full by Tokyopop. It well received in the US, as well as getting an anime movie adaptation in Japan. which was released in 2010 and nominated for the 4th Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Animated Feature Film.
Psyren is the newest addition to the survival horror genre. The story takes place in both the world as we know it today, and in another that is a wasteland where monsters roam the landscape. The wasteland world is known as “Psyren”, and people “chosen” by the entity known as Nemesis Q are transported to Psyren to play a “game”. They must find their way through the wasteland to return home. On each “mission,” the “players” are confronted by both insect and humanoid monsters that kill without compassion or restraint. The truth of Psyren is more than a mere game, which is why I include it with this list. Psyren has only had one volume released far in the US, and is being published by Viz. It started serialization in Shonen Jump magazine in January 2011, but will not move over to the digital verison of the magazine in January 2012.
We’re past the half way mark of this month’s Manga Movable Feast, and are now moving into the home stretch. Today’s links are filled with familiar faces, and in this case, that’s a good thing!
Like zombies rising up from their graves, the links are resurrected, and fiendishly multiplying for Day 4!
Horror is not the pervue of only men. While women might be seem squeamish and reluctant to the more gory types of horror, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy reading, or writing it. Even at the beginning of the horror genre, women was reading and writing stories to thrill. Manga has lots of works written by women for women. Here are three of the most well-known in English.
Horror stories aren’t all just about blood, gore and monsters. Many stories end with a twist, where something totally unexpected happens right at the end. Twilight Zone was very good at this, as in “Eye of the Beholder,” where the woman’s bandages are removed and her beautiful face turns out to be ugly in her world. Sometimes, the twists show people getting what they deserve as in “The Masks,” where the characters must where ugly masks that reflect their ugly personalities, and when the masks are taken off, their faces are shaped the same as the masks. These kinds of twists are almost a subgenre in horror manga. It showed up so often that blogger John Jakala dubbed them “comeuppance theater”, a term eagerly picked up by other manga bloggers.
Pet Shop of Horrors was among the first of these titles to be translated. The series features the bishonen Count D who knows just what pet you need. Everyone who takes a pet from Count D either dies at the hand of their pet, or is protected from someone horrible by said pet. Most of the stories feature animals getting their revenge on an uncaring humanity, but sometimes the animals themselves are just killers. There isn’t a lot of gore, but there is a lot of death, which leads to Count D coming to the attention of the LA Police and one Detective Orcot, who is convinced D is responsible for all the deaths. It is complete at 10 volumes, but out of print with the demise of Tokyopop. There is also a sequel series, Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo which has D up to his old tricks, this time in Tokyo. Only 8 volumes of this series was released, and suffered the same fate as it’s predecessor.
Presents was from the non-defunct CMX. It features a girl, Kurumi, who was never given any presents when she was young, so she never aged, and now delivers presents to others, the contents of which are usually what they deserve, not what they want. The volumes are a collection of short stories with Kurumi being the connecting factor. Kanako Inuki’s art is cute but creepy, adding to the sense of dread the morality tales have already set up. The title is short at only three volumes long, but is also sadly out of print.
Hellgirl was from Del Rey and is based on the anime of the same name. There is a website that can only be accessed at midnight. If you can get to it, you can put in the name of the person you want revenge on, and if Emna Ai agrees, she will take that person to hell, but you will be cursed to hell as well when you finally die. The anime was created for teens and up, but the manga is written for a tween audience, with lots of melodrama, and not a lot of blood or gore. While it is rather satisfying to see bullies get what’s coming to them, there is also a theme of Emna Ai trying to talk her “clients” out of wishing the revenge, or at least reconsider and find another way. The series is 9 volumes long, and is technically out of print, unless Kodansha decides to bring it back.
When Aurora, a publisher that specialized in shojo and josei manga started, one of their debut titles was Nightmares For Sale. This series featured a pawn shop run by a not-so-human bishonen Shadow and his opinionated female assistant Maria. They sell items that have the ability to grant the buyer’s wishes, but usually at a very high price. These stories are darker and have a little more gore, as is it written for an older audience. The series was only two volumes and are out of print, as is its publisher.
Only One Wish is another Del Rey title, that is in the same vein as Hellgirl, only this time, instead of a website, it’s a cellphone, and one must text a dark angel. Got to keep up with the times, it seems. This title doesn’t have the same gravitas of some of the other titles. The chapters are self-contained stories and aren’t really all that dark, Most of them have a fairly happy ending. It’s not a bad title, but only the first chapter has the “comeuppance theater” feel, and even then it doesn’t do it very well. I think it was meant to be in that vein, but it just didn’t carry it through, which may be why it only when on volume.
“Comeuppance Theater” can be filled with tropes that can make it seem boring or cliché. But with the right characters or set up, it can still be an enjoyable romp through the things we know we shouldn’t want, but may secretly wish we could do. Enjoy these titles at your own risk.
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, you can call on these ghost-busting manga titles to help you through the night.
A mysterious illness is spreading rapidly through the halls of Fujimi High School. In a matter of hours, the campus is transformed from a place of learning into a hive of nightmares, as the infected students collapse and are reborn as flesh-hungry zombies! Only a handful of students escape the outbreak – among them Takashi Komuro and his childhood friend Rei. He manages to protect Rei from the initial onslaught, but how long can Takashi and the other students hope to survive when the whole school – maybe the whole town – is out for their blood?!
Highschool of the Dead is “interesting” in the same way that we are currently living in “interesting times.” It all depends on how you look at it. There were times when I was really interested in the story it was telling, as well as the characters. At other times I just wanted to roll my eyes, put the book down and walk away. And that is what made this series so frustrating to me. It has a real story to tell, if you can get past the rampant fan service and blood.
Let’s look at the good points about this series. First and foremost, there is a fascinating story being told in these pages. As the infected start to outnumber the uninfected, you can see the fabric of society start to break down. This is shown through the monologues Takashi often goes into, and the obstacles our heroes face. Throughout the volumes, Takashi is constantly commenting on how quickly he and his friends adapt to a new world where the old rules no longer apply, like smashing a cash register for cash is acceptable for survival, and the worse thing you can do to an enemy is to NOT kill them. In just 12 hours they can go from running for their lives to happily taking on a group of zombies without a second thought. It was these observations that drew me into the story most. But even as our heroes seemed to start to lose their humanity, they do find ways to reclaim it, such as in their saving of the young girl Alice.
Another aspect I really liked was the denial about the reality of the situation. When the outbreak first starts, Takashi comes right out and says they aren’t in a movie or video game, and yet everyone is behaving like a zombie from one. Though, he never gets to say the whole word “zombie”. He gets cut off. And later Hisashi, his friend and Rei’s boyfriend, dubs them all “they” because he can’t bring himself to believe they are something from the movies, and this is how they are referred throughout the books. No one wants to cross that line.
I also really appreciated that there are so many female characters that are smart and self-reliant. Rei, Takashi’s childhood friend is full of fire, and is bashing heads with her mop handle/spear. She also recognizes the danger Shidou poses and would rather take her chances with the zombies than him. Saeko is everything you would expect from the captain of the kendo club. Wielding her wooden sword, she is calm and cool in the face of danger, and always ready to protect the a person’s honor. Saya is constantly proclaiming that she is a genius, but it isn’t just boasting from her. She is the first to figure out that it’s sounds that attract the zombies. And even though she hides behind Hirano, she will get her hands dirty when necessary. The guys aren’t so bad either. Takashi shows a lot of leadership, even though he would say he’s just trying to keep him and Rei alive. And Hirano is hesitant at first, but once he gets a gun in his hand, he really proves his worth.
The biggest downside of this series is also the women. It’s not the way they act, but the way they are drawn. All of them are drawn with big breasts, with the school nurse Shizuka having back breakers. I’m not sure which is more unbelievable, the breast sizes or the zombies. It gets worse in volume 2 when all the women take a bath together, and they are comparing sizes and feeling each other up. It’s like a pseudo lesbian love fest. All through these three volumes, almost every other page has a panty shot. It gets really close to being overwhelming. It also takes all the wind out of the more serious elements of the story. You can have this wonderful monologue from Takashi about how they world they knew was gone on one page, to the women half-naked and bouncing around in the next. It’s hard to take the series seriously with gratuitous breast grabs going on.
The art is fairly standard for a shonen series. The characters are rather generic looking, though they are just distinct enough to tell apart at sight. I was much more impressed with the horror side of it. There were a lot of nice details on the zombies, with chunks of flesh torn out and bones sticking out. While graphic horror isn’t usually my thing, I found I could appreciate the look of the zombies. They are just what you’d expect for a zombie apocalypse.
Highschool of the Dead isn’t going to be a title for everyone. Both the horror and fan service will keep some readers from even picking up the volumes. But I think the story of society collapsing and how people react to it is an interesting one, and worth digging through the gore and gratuitous boob and panty shots to get to. I would recommend Highschool of the Dead to veteran manga readers and horror fans. Anyone easily offended or disturbed need not apply.