Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Momohime Torimono Emaki

(Back inner cover flap)

Finding manga in Japan is pretty easy. There are major bookstores almost everywhere, and even the smaller ones will have at least one or two volumes of Bleach, Naruto and One Peace. Tracking down older manga, especially that from the 60's and 70's gets more difficult simply because of the vast volume of books issued every year, and the limited space available for storing it all. Being in a major city like Tokyo or Osaka helps, because you'll have a Mandarake outlet there, and they specialize in old, used manga. On the other hand, finding used books from 1990 on up isn't that hard; even Kagoshima has 3 or 4 Book Off stores within 5 miles of the main Chuo station. And, one of them is a five minute walk from me.

(Inside front cover.)

A few nights ago, I decided that I'd go into Book Off and just start paging through every book they have one at a time to grab stuff that I'd normally ignore otherwise. To keep things manageable, I imposed a couple rules - 1) stick with the 100 yen shelves; 2) don't start a new series if volume 1 and/or 2 are missing; 3) stop after selecting 5 or 6 books; 4) pick things that I'm sure I'll like based on the art or the surface story. There are several thousand books in the boy's manga section, and I'd gotten through 4 shelf cases worth before I hit the motherload. Not bad. Still got 30 cases left to go. Guess I got to pace myself.

The first book from that shopping trip is:

Momohime Torimono Emaki, by Miki Yuasa, Grade: A
Miki is a female writer, and the inner flap photo shows her dressed up as the main character during the Fox Bride Festival sequence in the book. There's very little information on her in Japanese, much less in English. She does have a homepage, which is of course in Japanese, only. The only real mention of her in English is on Baka-Updates, which lists the book title as Hyakumehime Torimono Emaki, and apparently erroneously lists her homepage site name as the name of her artist. Momohime started running in Comic Kai (Comic 怪), in 2007, and there's almost no mention of this magazine online, either.

"Momohime Torimono Emaki" literally translates to "100 Princess Capture Picture Scroll", although the Baka-Updates name is more accurate, with "100-Eye Princess Capture Picture Scroll". The artwork is very clean and and well-defined. It's obvious that Miki has been drawing for a while, but it seems that Momohime may be her first solo work. It's very reminiscent of some of CLAMP's more normal stories, and is on a par with Otoyomegatari. While Momohime does revolve around scary obake, there's also a lot of light humor, and the book never gets gory.

(The artist as Isuzu.)

The story starts out with a traveling artist calling upon a local lord in old Edo and attempting to entertain him with a story. The artist, Garaku, says that he has a picture scroll that had been the prison of a number of monsters, but all that's left on it is Momohime. While the rest of the court scoffs, Garaku frees her from the scroll, setting her task as recapturing the escaped demons. The scene changes to modern-day Japan, and a teenage boy named Hayato, who, with two friends, is visiting a shinto shrine to help clean it up. Actually, the two friends are just at the shrine because it's on a hill overlooking the women's half of a public bath, and they can count on Hayato to do their work for them.

During the cleaning, Hayato discovers an old mirror in one room of the shrine, and suddenly a bunch of monsters burst out of it, blasting past him to disappear. A few seconds later, a young girl with long black hair and wearing a traditional kimono comes out and lands on him. She introduces herself as Isuzu (50 Bells), and tries to track down the nearest creature. Hayato has always loved ghost stories and he becomes interested in helping her out (plus Isuzu resembles a childhood friend who'd died from an illness some years earlier). Isuzu discovers that the world has changed a lot in the last 2-300 years, and she can't tell the difference between a monster and a car. Hayato promises to guide her along, but she senses a monster that has possessed the shrine priest, and all of a sudden eyes open up all over her body. Hayato is disgusted, calling her a monster, too, and she runs away in tears.

(Fox Ranger.)

The priest captures her and tries to crush her inside the shrine, as Hayato stands outside, petrified. Then Garaku steps up next to the boy and asks if maybe he's misunderstanding something. Hayato recalls being ostracized as a child for believing in ghost stories, and only having his one friend standing by him, listening to him talk. Realizing that he's in the wrong, Hayato tries to get into the shrine but the door is barred. He recognizes the monster type that has possessed the priest, and from his books remembers the chant used to suppress it. The monster is weakened enough to allow Isuzu to capture it in one of her eyes, and Garaku comes up and seals the eye as part of the bargain with her (implying that if one hundred spirits are sealed, all of her extra eyes will be closed and invisible to normal people). Hayato apologizes for his behavior and says that he will help her find the other monsters in this strange new world for her.

(100 points if you recognize this picture without doing a wiki search first.)

From this point on, the book consists of a flashback to Isuzu as a child to explain how she became a 100-eyed monster chaser, and the journeys taken to catch a couple of the loosed spirits. The final page has a young woman in a short dress standing in the distance alongside Garaku, watching Isuzu and stating that she dislikes her.

Summary: Momohime Torimono Emaki is a very well-drawn shojo ghost story romance which stars the "100-Eye Princess" as the primary lead in the quest to track down and reseal the monsters that she had allowed to escape from Garaku's picture scroll. Recommended to anyone that likes XXXHolic.

(Inside back cover.)

(Front color insert page.)

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