Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Taimashin, Vol. 1

All copyrights are property of their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Massatsu-Note: Taimashin - Mashintaidouhen
Story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, art by Misaki Saitoh. Massatsu-Note translates to "Demon Kill Note", and Taimashin is "Retreat Demon Needle". I haven't seen an official English title (ADV did have the rights to this one, but they stopped carrying it in 2004, and of course have since gone out of business in 2009 so their online database is gone.) Since the hero's name is Taima, I'm going to treat it as "Demon Killing Notes: Taima's Needle", or just Taimashin. The rest of the name is a subtitle for the volume: "Visiting the Womb of the Demon Needle".

(Ayakashi, left, and Maki.)

You might recognize Misaki Saitoh as the artist and writer on Totsu Gami. Kikuchi wrote the original Vampire Hunter D novel, as well as the manga that the movie A Wind Named Amnesia (1990) was based on. According to the Anime News Network page, Taimashin ran from 2001 to 2012, and is 6 volumes long, but shows 7 volumes and the release date for #7 is 2002. The English wiki entry has a comment that Taimashin was critically panned in the U.S., in part for the muddy, dark artwork of the fight scenes, and the derivative nature of the storyline.

(Example of one of the muddiest scenes in the book. Note that the gorilla is wearing a black mask here, so its face is intentionally obscured.)

Taimashin, Vol. 1, story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, art by Misaki Saitoh, Grade: B+
Taima is one of only three experts at using acupuncture needles for exorcising demons. He and his assistant, Maki Togetsu, have been invited to an outdoor onsen (hot spring spa) in Kyushu by a mysterious stranger. It turns out to be mixed bathing, which makes Maki uncomfortable. She covers this by complaining that Taima is being too dour in such a beautiful place. They're interrupted by a frog-like priest who asks only Taima to follow him into the woods. Taima is told to get into a palanquin, and is carried out to a clearing where he is summarily dumped, then attacked by a shadowy creature. Maki roars in with her motorcycle, but slams into a tree in the dark. Taima is about to deliver a needle to the attacker when it tries to escape past two other men that approach them on the trail. One of the newcomers is also a master acupuncturist, and he throws a needle into the attacker's forehead, knocking it unconscious. The priest admits that this was a test, and the two newcomers have passed and are therefore allowed to accompany him. When Maki starts complaining, a beautiful woman in a kimono and carrying a lantern arrives and apologizes to Taima and Maki. The rest leave, and our heroes unmask the attacker to reveal a gorilla with a surgical scar on its forehead. They'd both heard it speak, and Taima suggests that this might be a "Dr. Moreau" set-up. He sticks a couple of needles in it, and the beast shoots up, tearing off its skin and revealing a demon. The oni grabs Taima and tries to escape up into the trees, but the final needle takes effect and it dies. Taima claims in English, "It was handsome that killed the beast".

The two retire to the ryoukan (Japanese style inn) that they're staying at, and Maki again complains that Taima is being too dour. She tells him to lighten up, like the people partying in the next room. Taima gets even more morose, so Maki goes next door to tell them to quiet down, and discovers that the naked drunk guy in makeup doing all the singing is rival acupuncturist Kyougo Ayakashi. Humiliated, Kyougo tries to bellyache to his hostesses, but they bring out a massive hostess that then sumo wrestles him. In the middle of an escape attempt, Ayakashi sees the same beautiful woman with a lantern, and she begs for his help to dispel her possessed grandmother. She introduces herself as Mizuki Touka, then she's attacked by an old woman who summons a pair of demon arms to spirit her away. Taima arrives at this point, and Ayakashi tries to chase him off to avoid having to share the exorcism fee. Unfortunately, Ayakashi doesn't know where the Touka household is, and when Maki calls them up, is told that Mizuki is still in the house and to not bother them with silly stories. Ayakashi gets Mizuki's dropped lantern, while Taima finds a bag the old woman had thrown. The two of them hire a taxi, leaving Maki behind to hold the fort.

(Mizuki Touka gets captured.)

The drive is an extremely long one, going through a forest that had burned down in one night and a city that looks to have been trampled by a giant ape, past a mountain where a building that appears to have been thrown rests on the side, and over a long bridge to the front gates of a massive wall. Along the way, the driver acts scared at having to make the trip, telling them the rumors of the Touka's family having summoned demons, practiced making weird animals, and having caused children to disappear. One of the demons was supposedly under a pact to protect a village, but it went on a rampage and destroyed it instead. Taima and Ayakashi get more excited as time goes by. At the end of the trip, the driver drops the two at the gate and immediately turns around and leaves. A voice over the intercom tells them to go away, but they hold up the lantern and bag in front of a security camera, and the doors open. Inside, there's another huge open space with a mansion visible in the far distance. Nearby are some wind generators. Taima comments that the household seems to have control over air, earth and water, and all that's missing is fire, since the four elements are an important part of magic. They see a car approaching from the mansion and it screeches to a stop next to them. A very excited girl jumps out and introduces herself as Mayu Touka. Ayakashi is grousing over her driving a Jaguar, but she's busy gushing over how handsome both of them are, especially Taima. Ayakashi apologizes for not looking as stunning as his rival, and the girl says "oh, but you're to my taste, too!", causing Taima to go over to Ayakashi and say "what do you you mean, taste", licking him on the neck. Taima declares that Ayakashi is low on salt and Mayu squeals that he's funny. They get into the car, and Ayakashi stays frozen on the spot in shock.

(The God Demon Needle.)

Taima was written 7-8 years before Totsu Gami, so the artwork and character designs are unsurprisingly cruder now. But they're not all that bad. Certainly not as bad as the above-mentioned critics claim. This is more of a shojo title, so the main male leads are willowy and girlishly handsome. Maki is a strong supporting character, with a lot of backbone. There is a problem with some of the background art being hard to make out in the outdoor night scenes, and occasionally it looks like Misaki just drew her characters on top of a scanned photo. This volume is rough in some places, indicating that Misaki was still rather inexperienced as an artist. As for the story being derivative... There's very little original storytelling in manga, so it's not a very cutting observation. At the moment, there's not much story. While there was the one demon, it wasn't all that scary and definitely not gory. The story starts slow, and you have to give it a couple of books to build up. Fortunately, I like the artwork well enough that I'm willing to give this one a chance. Plus, I'm using the kanji for reading practice.

Summary: Taima and his plucky girl assistant Maki are pulled into a mystery involving demons and possessed old grannies. Only the sharp acupuncture needles of Taima, and whatever it is that Ayakashi does, can defeat the evil. Whatever it is. Maybe. Stay tuned for volume 2. Recommended for people that like Yakushiji Ryoko's Strange Case Files.


Bunny said...

Misaki Saitou can be found on twitter talking about her new kitten etc.

I like her character designs. Try the incredibly weird sounding Soul Drop (something), Drug-On etc.

TSOTE said...

Hi Bunny!

Book Off has the first few volumes of Drug-On. Don't know about Soul Drop. Guess I'll have to check them out next time (I have 10 more book reviews lined up in queue, so I'm not lacking for blog material right now.)