Friday, March 20, 2015

Shiori and Shimiko, vol. 1 review

I've seen Morohoshi's work (1949-) before, primarily Saiyu Youenden (Journey to the West: Monster Monkey's Commentary), but I haven't followed him all that closely up to now. Turns out that he's a well-established horror artist that had attracted the attention of Tezuka and Anno fairly early on. According to the wiki entry, he made his debut with Junko, Blackmail in Tezuka's COM magazine in 1970, and has won 5 major awards since then. Saiyu Youenden, Zoku Saiyu Youenden and Yumemiru Kikai have been made into radio dramas. Ankoku Shinwa was made into an OVA in 1990, and into a video game in 1988.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used for review purposes only.)

Shiori and Shimiko (2008), vol. 1, by Daijiro Morohoshi, Grade: A-
Shiori and Shimiko are two school girls that have the same home room, but up until the first chapter, haven't been friends before. A murder case (based on the dismembered body found in Inokashira park in Tokyo in 1994) brings the two together, and a shared interest in the macabre results in their continuing encounters with the supernatural and bizarre. While Shiori lives in a normal house with her parents, and cat Boris, Shimiko helps her father run a used book shop that specializes in publications about murders, monsters and other dark subjects. The character designs are mostly good, but Morohoshi has trouble drawing profiles, or the same face twice in a row. The backgrounds are really good though, and the stories are often downright weird.

(Shiori starts having doubts about keeping an animated head in her closet.)

Namakubi Jiken (The Living Head Incident)
Things start out with Shiori meeting some fellow classmates in front of a sign at the park, asking for help in tracking down a killer. A park worker had found a dismembered foot, and the police have since then located most of the remaining body parts of the dead man, not including his head. Shiori's family has recently moved to a new house, and Shiori was taking the opportunity to get up early and cut through the park to get to her new school. At the school, most of the other students talk only about the murder case, with the exception of Shimiko, a bookworm who sits by herself at her desk. Shiori asks Shimiko for help, and after school they walk to her house, arriving before her parents get back. Shiori pulls out a Styrofoam cooler with the victim's head packed inside. She'd been the first one to discover part of the body, and had taken one of the plastic bags home thinking it held something interesting inside, not opening it until it was too late. Now, she doesn't know what to do with it. Shimiko goes to her father's store, and returns with a book on how to raise heads as pets. They put the head in an aquarium filled with water, which Shiori keeps in her closet. Pretty soon, the head starts swimming around under its own power, and chases after fish food sprinkled in the tank. Finally, Shiori worries about getting caught, so the girls take the aquarium to a nearby river and pour the head out. As it swims away, it seems to turn and say "thank you".

(The owner of the Suicide Mansion shows the scar he received after having his head guillotined off, saying that, yes, it hurts, but it's a fast way to go.)

Jisatsu Yakata (Suicide Mansion)
Youko is a classmate that has become despondent over the death of her favorite rock singer. To help her out, Shiori asks Shimiko for a book on suicide. The one Shimiko finds seems so laughably fake that the girls try tracking down the author from the description on the cover flap. They locate the Suicide Mansion, now run as a simple lunch restaurant. The owner is a corpse-like guy who claims to have worked as a counselor, but the question arises, does he talk people out of it, or help implement the client's preferred way of checking out?

(Murder ghosts and their victims out enjoying cherry blossom viewing.)

Sakura no hana no Mankai no Shika (Under the Full-Blossom Cherry Tree)
Shimiko is asked to stake out a space under a cherry tree for a sakura blossom viewing party (hanami) by her classmates. Since all the best spots are taken, she uses one of her father's books to locate an alternative. Which turns out to be a popular spot for killing people by hanging them. The ghosts of the killers, and the victims, show up for a "once in 100 years" full-blossom viewing.

(Enjoying bomb cake.)

Tamerai Zaka (Hesitation Hill)
There's a hill in Tokyo called "Hesitation", in part because of it's great height. The rumor attached to the hill says you should never go down the street on that hill. One day, without really paying attention, Shiori goes down the hill, and spots a bakery at the bottom. She buys some cakes, which she shares with her friends after she gets back home. The cakes are very good, so she and Shimiko return the next day only to find an empty lot where the store had been. A store worker across the street tells them that there had been a bakery 10 years ago, but a truck, whose driver was drunk, had come down the hill and crashed into the shop, killing the baker, his wife and their son. The lot has been empty ever since. Soon, a strange truck starts stalking Shiori, trying to ambush her at street intersections. To break the curse, Shimiko takes the other girl on her bike in the opposite direction given in the rumor, and they find themselves facing the gateway to hell. They go back and end up flying into the bakery, where the baker and his wife are trying to fend the truck off by shooting pies at it from a cannon. Shimiko pulls out a book titled "Cake Bomb", which the husband bakes into a cake. The bomb hits the truck, causing it to slide safely past the building. Suddenly, the girls are left sitting in the empty lot. Shiori complains that the previous day's cakes had been really good and she wanted to buy more before the bakery disappeared. Shimiko whispers that she'd snagged some cakes at the last second, and they go to Shiori's house to eat them...

(The killer wants his book back.)

Satsujin-sha no Soushoin (The Murderer's Book)
Shiori is visiting Shimiko at the bookstore, and talks her friend into loaning her a romantic comedy novel. Just after she leaves, a guy claiming to have sold the book to the store the day before rushes in and demands the book back. He chases after Shiori, then two policemen run in, asking what the other guy's business was. Shiori reads as she walks along the street. Initially, the story is a romance between a couple in England, but she finds some wet strands of hair caught in the book, and following this the narration turns into a report of how a Japanese man had killed his girlfriend and dumped the body in a river. Shiori notices that the park she's at matches the description given in the book. As she looks over a bridge into the river below, the killer arrives and attempts to get the book back.

(Yogu wants to play with Shimiko.)

Borisu no Emono (Boris' Trophy)
A strange little girl in a raggedy ann dress asks Shimiko if she's seen her pet, Yogu. At home, Shiori sees her cat, Boris, dragging something into the kitchen and shaking it to pieces. Shimiko arrives and describes "Yogu", which matches the torn-up thing on the floor. The girls assume it's some kind of leaky doll and attempt to sew it back together. Finally, they finish, but it looks more like a small monster. It disappears when they turn their backs on it, and suddenly the house turns into a death trap, with the sewing needles stuck into the floor, pointing up, strings tied to chair legs that they trip over, and the kitchen knives go missing. Yogu itself tries to kill Shimiko with a knife, but she's saved when Boris attacks and tears Yogu apart again. He throws part of the body out of the house, where it is found by the strange girl. She picks it up, commenting that Yogu has lost its head again.

(Shioro gets her wish for Boris to turn human.)

Sorezore no Akumu (Nightmares)
Shiori watches as Boris attempts to capture some birds in the garden, and she chases them away before he can pounce. She's convinced that she heard the cat say "that's too bad". She tells this story to Shimiko, and adds that it would be interesting if Boris turned human. Shimiko thinks this is silly, and comments that she's reading a childish horror story written by a classmate, about a murderous humanoid elephant. They go their separate ways. At her own home, Shimiko keeps reading, and soon the killer elephant breaks into her house. She locks the door and keeps reading. The author says the killer breaks the door down with an axe, and is revealed to be a brain in a raincoat. Elsewhere, Shiori finds a strange middle-aged man in her room. It's Boris, and he's turned human. He's 6 years old, which in cat years makes him a pudgy 40-year old human. He causes havoc in the house, until Shiori realizes that she's in bed dreaming and that the cat is lying on her chest. At school, Shimiko says that the classmate's wordprocessor had spell checked the kanji for "zou" (elephant) into the kanji for "brain". Shiori returns home and hugs Boris, saying that she's glad he's just a cat. Boris replies "that's too bad".

(Shiori babysits Kutoru.)

Kutoru-chan (Little Kutoru)
Shiori receives a babysitting job from a classmate, and goes out to a rundown shack for the assignment. She encounters Kutoru, the little girl that had been looking for Yogu. She meets Kutoru's father, who enjoys pretending to be one of the girl's dolls and then jumping out at strangers, and her mother, generally shown as a giant face leering out from the doorway (although we get glimpses of a lizard-like body and a humanoid posterior). The "adults" leave the two kids alone to play, and it seems that Kutoru is very much like a big frog. A few hours pass, and Shimiko arrives to look for her friend, having gotten the address from Shiori's mother. She enters the house, which appears empty. She finds a stack of books, one of which is a pop-up picture book. She opens it to reveal Kutoru's bedroom, with Kutoru and Shiori sitting at a table, eating cake. She flips the page to show Shiori being chased by the knife-wielding Yogu. Shiori jumps out from the book, and the two of them escape the house. Behind them, Kutoru calls "come back and play tomorrow!"

(Shimiko is introduced to Kutoru's parents.)

Yogu no Gyakushuu (Yogu's Counterattack)
Boris has gone missing, and Shiori and Shimiko are afraid that he might have tried catching Yogu again. They return to the house, which Shimiko identifies as belonging to the horror writer Dan'itchi. Dan'itchi had taken his daughter to a park, where she'd exhausted herself terrorizing the other kids. He leaves the girls to their search and goes out back to his workroom. In the house, they encounter mom, and watch as Kutoru eats flies with her tongue in her sleep. The "adults" explain all the weirdness by saying "we're foreigners". While hanging up the laundry, mom tells Shiori that Yogu is a pet, and all the little monsters running around right now are both Yogu's friends, and mom's lunch. Inside, Shimiko spots a weird section of floor, lifting it like the cover of a pop-up book to reveal a fat older man, naked and tied hand and foot. The guy claims to be Boris, and begs Shimiko to cut him loose quickly. Outside, Shiori is attacked by Yogu, and she is saved at the last moment by Boris the cat. She defends herself with her own knife, then apologizes for killing the family's pet. Mom tells her not to worry - this kind of thing happens all the time. Before Shiori can sneak out with Boris, Kutoru wakes up and demands that the two girls play with her. A few hours later, the two go home, and Shimiko asks Shiori about the old fat guy that claims to be a cat. At home, Boris looks at a score card he's taped on the wall, with one point to Yogu, and one point to Boris.

(Shadow games.)

Gekkou Kagemushi (Moonbeam Shadow Bug)
Two of Shiori's friends tell her about the latest rumor, of ghosts at a playground that can only be seen on a night with a full moon. Shimiko has gone to the same park to catch Gekkou Kagemushi - shadow bugs that can only be caught when glimpsed in the moonlight. Eventually, both parties run into each other, and Shiori figures that the "ghosts" are the human versions of moonlight bugs. She uses Shimiko's net to catch a child's shadow, and takes it home. Shimiko's bug, in a small wooden cage, disappears when the moon goes down. However, Shiori's, which she names "Kageo" (shadow boy), starts playing with her own shadow. Kageo makes a play for the shadow of the cage to get the moonbeam bug, and Shimiko's shadow pushes it away. This causes Shiori's and Shimiko's shadows to fight each other. The next night, Kageo has disappeared, as has Shiori's shadow. They go back to the park. Along the way, they discuss another part of the rumor, that there had been a school where the park is now, but it had burned down during the War and everyone inside had been killed. At the park, Kageo takes Shiori's shadow to play with the other "ghosts", and it looks like Shiori may lose it entirely.

(Title page showing Kazuko. I like the painting of Shiori and Boris on the left wall.)

Hon wo Yomu Yuurei (The Book-Reading Ghost)
Tomoko Kounotori is a strange girl that lives in a haunted house. The ghost is of an old woman, her ancestor, who wanders the building while holding a book and a knife. Tomoko asks Shimiko for a copy of the book, which turns out to be an ancient Chinese recipe book. According to the legend, the ghost was Kazuko Kounotori. Kazuko had been a gourmet that loved weird foods. At some point, she turned crazy and killed her daughter before committing suicide. Tomoko wants the book to see if she can dispel the ghost. Shimiko and Shiori both visit the house, and encounter the ghost, while also discovering that Tomoko lives alone, and has no idea how to cook for herself. Shimiko has to go to a convenience store to get cup noodles, and while she's making lunch for the three of them, Tomoko talks Shiori into going into the basement to drink some of the wine in the cellar. The wine is drugged, and when Shiori wakes up, she finds herself strapped to a table, with Tomoko and the ghost standing over her. Kazuko's daughter, also named Tomoko, had possessed the other girl, and she reveals that the last pages of the recipe book, which are missing from Shimiko's edition, describe how to cook humans. In fact, Kazoku had eaten her daughter's legs before the two of them died. The ghost prepares to eat Shiori, with Tomoko begging to be allowed to join her. Then, Shimiko shows up at the top of the stairs and throws shio cup ramen (salt-flavored) at the villains. The ghosts are exorcised, with Tomoko collapsing unconscious on the ground. Shimiko and Shiori escape the building, with Shimiko happy because she was able to snatch the ghost's cookbook, and she now has a completed edition of the original book for her father's store.

(At the all-you-can-eat steak house.)

Aoi Uma (Blue Horse)
Shiori is out walking around Inoatama Park, in the middle of a thick fog. She sees a pair of blue horses that run away as she approaches them. This is followed by a suspicious-looking man that hands her a coupon for his restaurant. He adds that she should be wary of a fog this thick, then he leaves. Shiori continues walking and eventually finds herself in some kind of a shopping arcade. But, all of the shop owners are acting weirdly, piling vegetables up in a stack so high that it topples over, selling deep sea fish that aren't edible, chopping up dolls and pieces of cats. She gets to the restaurant, where she encounters Shimiko. The other girl had also been walking in the fog, and had purchased an old book from one of the shopkeepers - Natural History of Dream Creatures. A very unpleasant, greedy woman enters the restaurant and demands the all-you-can-eat-meat service. The two girls are hungry, and they ask for the same service, but the woman, and the other customers that come in after them, fight over all the meat. The waiter gets carved up, his scorched arm and head are tossed over onto Shiori's and Shimiko's table. They then discover that the woman has been eaten, and everyone else are monsters (the restaurant's name is "Goblin"). The chef tells Shiori that he'd warned her about staying out of the heavy fog. The goblins try to capture the girls, but are rescued by the blue horses, which, according to Shimiko's book, are unicorns. Afterward, the girls return home.

(The new editor waits for Dan'itchi to finish his newest horror story.)

Ojiichan to Asobou (Playing with the Old Man)
Shimiko is walking outside one day when she notices Dan'itchi, the horror writer, scoping out a section of concrete wall. The next day, she and Shimiko are going to school, talking about some rumors they've heard lately. The section of wall had disappeared, followed by a large round gas tank. In both cases, witnesses saw a very large woman's face pushing the items around. Then, the two girls meet a guy in a white suit, who introduces himself as the new editor at "Gerogero Novels" (Vomit Novels). He asks them for help in finding Dan'itchi's house. They get to the house, and find themselves in Dan'itchi's study, which happens to be the platform of Inoatama train station. The editor wants Dan'itchi's latest manuscript, but the writer still needs to type up 4-5 more pages. As he works on his story, the editor gets covered by murumuru (little creatures that Dan'itchi's wife eats as snacks, because she's a foreigner and foreigners do this in her country). She'd taken the tank and wall and propped them up on the house to create a gate to another dimension in order to have her parents come over for a visit. Kutoru's grandparents show up, bringing with them a massive storm that destroys part of the house and many of the surrounding buildings, and puts a number of neighbors into the hospital. Unfortunately, the winds also scatter Dan'itchi's manuscript and he never does get to handing it over to his editor. He tells his wife that next time, they visit her parents at their house. Meanwhile, when the two girls try to leave, Dan'itchi's wife gives them presents. At home, Shimiko tells her own mother that she now has a 50-gallon drum of pickled murumuru that they could eat, if they want to...

(Madness at the class reunion.)

Yuki no Hi no Dousouki (Class Reunion on a Snowy Day)
One day, Inoatama gets a massive record snow fall. But, school isn't cancelled. Instead, the building is to be used for a "class reunion" of some kind. The boys have to shovel the walks, and the girls have to cook food for the guests. As time passes, things get more and more out of control. The boys dig tunnels through the snow, then discover a hot spring spa with a naked woman inside taking a bath. She tells the boys to join her, and the water seems to be made up of sake. In the kitchen, Tomoko is making meals using frogs, snakes, eyeballs, and other nonstandard ingredients. Some of the guests arrive, and they all "ooh" and "ahh" over the food. When Tomoko talks about adding a course of cooked humans, the girl students flee in panic only to get lost in the snow tunnels outside. The guests are all monsters, as are the remaining teachers and the principal. The girls reach the spa, where the boys are passed out in the water. Suddenly, "Big Mouth", a voracious snow monster, sits up to eat everyone. The "naked woman" is his tongue, and the "spa" was in his mouth. At the same time, Shiori gets turned around in the tunnels, and ends up at a dead end that has a big plug in the side wall. She pulls the plug out, and this causes all of the monsters to return to their dimension. They complain about the reunion not being over yet and most of them still being hungry. The students are left drenched, standing in the parking lot outside, and the depression left in the snow looks like the head and body of a very tall monster.

Comments: Overall, this is a very fun volume. The stories aren't all that scary, although they are dark and macabre. Both Shiori and Shimiko seem to accept the strangeness of everything around them pretty quickly, but they are fast at panicking when it's time to run from an assailant. There is a black sense of humor to all of the stories, with puns like "Inokashira" (Source of the Well) park turning into "Inoatama" (Head of the Stomach) park, and the one restaurant being named "Goburin" in katakana. Kutoru-chan and her family are like the Addam's Family on steroids, but without any of Gomez's money. The artwork isn't that bad, but like I say, the character's faces change from panel to panel. I recommend Shiori and Shimiko to anyone that likes H. P. Lovecraft.

No comments: