Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Totsu Gami, vol. 1

(Tasuku learns about his homeroom teacher's power. All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

One of the other books that I got from Book Off is Totsu Gami (Foreign Gods), by Misaki Saito. Vol. 1 was published in 2009, and there are 4 volumes out right now. It first ran in Monthly Comic Birz and falls into the "demon hunting" category. Totsu Gami isn't really a horror series, nor is it a fight of the month strip. It's hard to say much about it after reading just the first book, but it has caught my interest enough to justify getting the next volume (at 100 yen, anyway).

There's not a lot of information on Misaki Saito in English, but the Japanese wiki entry is pretty detailed. She has several series to her credit already, including Drug-On (which does have a listing on Manga Fox, but as of yet there's no scanilated chapters online there). Her art style seems pretty consistent across titles, so if you like the art in one, you'll probably like it in the others as well. Her storytelling approach in Totsu Gami is pretty sedate, and largely revolves around relationship building, with a lot of lighthearted humor tossed in. Her homepage is in Japanese, but it's easy to navigate around and you can find samples of her artwork there.

Totsu Gami, Vol. 1, by Misaki Saito, Grade: B+
Tasuku Narukami is a school student living alone at the home left to him by his grandmother. All we know about his parents is that they're both dead. His grandmother, Kiyo, also died suddenly recently. She'd told Tasuku to keep the grounds around the small building in the back clean, and that's pretty much all he has to go on. Tasuku wears glasses, not because he needs them, but because they block out the visions of monsters, demons and ghosts he sees without them.

One day, after accidentally stepping on his glasses and crushing them, Tasuku goes to school and sees a giant weasel spirit standing behind his homeroom teacher, Kozuka. And, his classmate, Chikage Nonomiya, starts talking with some other student about a mermaid ghost that's been spotted in the hallways. Both Chikage and Kosuka confront the mermaid, while Tasuku cowers in fear from it. Eventually we learn that there are certain places of power around Japan, 12 in all, that are mounds of dirt protected by designated families. Kiyo, Tasuku's grandmother was from one of these families, tasked with maintaining the spirit barrier around the building in the backyard. But, she'd died before telling Tasuku how to take over from her. Kozuka had studied under her when he was younger, and the Nonomiya family had helped support the Narukami's with weapons development. After getting attacked by the mermaid, Tasuku gets moved to the nurse's office, where Kozuka can check him over for magic spells. Turns out that Kiyo had placed two symbols on his back. One contains the texts of the various binding chants needed to seal the powers of the wild demons and ghosts, giving Tasuku access to the words, although he still can't remember them at will. The mermaid continues cruising the school halls, eating the random spirits there and getting stronger. Tasuku feels guilty knowing that the spirits that had once terrified him had been consumed through no fault of their own, and he strives to capture the mermaid.

From left: Kozuka, Nonomiya, Nakiri and Tasuku.)

Later, Touma Nakiri gets introduced as his home gets burned down and he stumbles into the Narukami estate to take up residence in a closet. Nakiri is a quarter-vampire that had been living with Kozuka, until a fire imp starts running loose in the neighborhood. While Tasuku's power is to seal spirits with chants; Nonomiya uses weapons with magic built in and Kozuka wields a giant combative weasel spirit. Nakiri can grab spirits with his hands and forcibly remove them from their hosts.

(Nakiri demonstrates his ability.)

In the final chapter, Chikage Nonomiya and Kozuka the teacher drop by Tasuku's house to watch the cherry blossoms under the tree in the yard. Because of the monsters living in the building in back, the blossoms stay open longer than normal. Chikage brings her grandfather and little brother, Ichita, with. All of them, including Nakiri, sit, drink and eat, while grandpapa Nonomiya fills Tasuku in on the details of the Narukami history. Tasuku decides that he will try to fill Kiyo's shoes. At about this time, a horse demon shows up and tries to get the powers of the cherry tree. It is easily defeated and it looks like the boy may have accepted his destiny.

(Nonomiya uses her gun to halt the advance of the mermaid ghost.)

Summary: Totsu Gami starts out simply as the story of a boy who doesn't know the history of his family having to take over the burden of protecting Japan from demons, with the help of a neighbor and classmate, his teacher and a live-in vampire. Not a lot of action, but some funny jokes (such as when Tasuku uses "Expecto Patronum" while holding a tree branch). The art work is light, with clean lines and solid, detailed backgrounds. The characters are a bit cartoony, but not too childish. Recommended.

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