Being a guy that’s aging, and probably faster than my inner-child would like to admit, I enjoy it when a comic book caters to me as an adult. While this is rapidly becoming the policy in mainstream comics, where the entire readership is a bunch of 30 year-old man-children, manga published in the USA generally tends to hit the 13-18 crowd. The most popular titles are from Shonen and Shojo anthologies, weekly magazines that target younger children. Let’s just say that Naruto, while interesting, isn’t written for 23 year-olds.
Seinen manga, or manga for men, is a little scarce, but Dark Horse is one of the few publishers that bucks the trend; the majority Dark Horse’s manga in print are seinen works. Thankfully, the publishing house does an admirable job with their manga. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Oh! My Goddess, Eden, and Gantz are all for mature readers, and they’re all great series.
One of DH’s shorter manga installments is a three-volume horror collection by mangaka Housui Yamazaki (the illustrator for Kurosagi). In it, he tells the story of the vengeful dead, delivering their hate as a sort of spiritual mail to unsuspecting people. But, where the dead deliver their fell package, Reiji Akiba, a private detective that investigates the supernatural, intervenes, dispatching the unrested to their reincarnation with holy bullets.
The first volume of Mail flows into the lives of different people, each telling a story that focuses on the unnerving ghost encounters that are the core of the book. Normal people move into a new apartment, or see something they shouldn’t see through a camera, and then slowly uncover clues and details that brings the ghost story into a frightening reality. Soon, the normal people find themselves at the mercy of these undead souls. Only Akiba, with his holy gun and bullets, and eyes that can see the ghouls, can deal out their karmic justice.
The art of the volume is a key to this unnerving read – each panel is illustrated to generate the best effect. Expressive faces and creepy ghosts, along with detailed background work and smart use of sound effects make the experience all the more unsettling. Particularly scary is the background story that explains why Akiba can see the dead – and how he came to own the gun that allows him to vanquish them. As he opens his eyes to a ghost screaming with its too-wide mouth and evil eyes, “YOU CAN SEE ME!” I almost lost it.
As a collection, the stories are a bit disjointed; Yamazaki is good at developing characters and storylines in a scant few pages, but the there is very little interconnectivity between each chapter, besides the recurring Akiba and his holy gun. I’d almost like to see a small multi-chapter arc where Akiba goes on the hunt, uses his PI skills, finds the ghost, and then vanquishes it. As it stands, the first volume of Mail is a great read for horror aficionados, but for those expecting an overarching storyline, don’t get your hopes up.
Overall, Mail is an excellent horror manga that does a lot of things right. Its strengths lie in telling common stories and making them creepy, but it lacks the oomph that could make this manga an absolute recommendation. Still, if you’re looking for an introduction to horror manga, Mail Vol. 1 is an excellent first glance at how cool the genre can be on the written page.