Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shiori and Shimiko, vol. 2 review

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

Shiori and Shimiko (2008), vol. 2, by Daijiro Morohoshi, Grade: A-
The first half of the volume kind of sets up more of the neighborhood surrounding Inoatama train station. Then we get a couple chapters that lay the groundwork for what comes next, followed by at least one new recurring character.

(The Atchi destroys Tomiko's luncheon party.)

Ashi ato Otte (Racing After Footprints)
Shiori and Shimiko are out walking around one day when they encounter an old man collapsed on the ground. He asks the 2 girls to help him track the mythical Atchi, an invisible creature that he's been hunting for years. The girls follow the thing's footprints, which take them past a playground of murumuru (the murumuru disappear one at a time but there's no sign of what's eating them), cannibal Tomoko's house (something disrupts the luncheon party Tomoko was hosting for her parents and she starts screaming that she wants to eat human flesh), and a horror film set run by classmate Horano (which is thrown into disarray in a split second) and right back to where they started. The footprints all along the full circle are still fresh, too. The old man runs up, after having eaten lunch at a ramen shop, accuses the girls of having dawdled in place all afternoon, and is last seen following the path Shiori and Shimiko had first taken.

(Side note: The splash page is introduced as a puzzle to count the number of hidden murumuru.)

(Just another evening in the park.)

Tasogare no Inoatama Koen (Dusk in Inoatama Park)
Horror writer Dan'itchi has asked Shiori to babysit Kutoru again, so the two of them, plus Shimiko, go to Inoatama park. They arrive just before dusk, when it's rumored that the ghost of an old woman haunts the park while pushing a stroller that has some unspeakable horror in it. Kutoru runs away and the girls spend the next hour trying to find her. They encounter 3 housewives that are actually monsters. When they approach, the housewives stuff their children in their mouths like fish, and wait until the intruders leave before letting their young back out to play. Kutoru causes havoc in the park before finding some homeless guys. She takes one of their bottles of sake and sprays it into Shiori's face, causing her to become drunk. Then the ghost shows up with the babystroller and the homeless guys run away. Shiori and Shimiko accidentally look at the stroller, and then finish off the last of the sake to make the horror go away. But, Kutoru grabs the stroller and tries playing with what's inside until the ghost gives up in disgust and leaves. The three kids fall asleep, and wake up after night has fallen. When they race back home, they notice that some of the murumuru are starting to resemble them.

The reason Dan'itchi wanted a babysitter for Kutoru is that he had a book signing at a local store. The signing ran late because of all the monsters that wanted his autograph.

(The monster Kutoru's mother dumped off kills the alien house.)

Akichi no Ie (The House in the Empty Lot)
The girls are walking home from school one day when they happen pass an empty lot that suddenly has a house on it. Looking in the house they see a table with a teddy bear and a very rare manuscript. Without thinking, they find themselves walking away with these treasures. A few minutes later, Horano and one of his film crew find the same house and walk out with a monster costume and a movie prop they really need. Tomoko arrives and picks up a human leg, and Kutoru grabs a blobby thing with lots of eyes and tentacles. Pretty soon, Shiori's teddy bear turns out to be alive and in the process of stealing money and jewelry from her mother's dresser. All of the objects take stuff (or turn into humanoids that cause trouble) and then try escaping back to the house. The two girls follow the bear into the house, which apparently is alive and acts as a transportation portal for alien invaders. The other victims enter the house as well and there's a big tussle until Kutoru's mother shows up. She apologizes for her daughter taking the blob, and then dumps off a bigger blob that she doesn't want to put into the trash. The bigger blog joins in the fight and eventually the house dies. Everyone leaves and the next day the lot is empty again.

(The trapped princess and the monster gates.)

Kubiyama no Obake Torii (The Monster Shrine Gate at Kubiyama)
A torii is that red or gray gate found in front of shrines in Japan. One of the girls in Shiori's class, Yukari, had heard a rumor that if you go to Kubiyama shrine and walk past the long row of torii, you can place a curse on someone if you follow a short ritual. This consists of writing your name in blood on a stone at the end of the row of torii, then counting back the number of gates that represents your age and putting some object from your victim at the base of the gate. Yukari does this, and her victim is visited by a ghost the next night and falls into a coma. Yukari gets cold feet and asks Shiori to return to the shrine with her, on the pretense that she'd dropped a tamogotchi toy the day before on a class trip to the shrine. Shimiko tags along and relates the legend behind the big stone. Long ago, Kubiyama castle had been besieged, and the princess of the castle plus 13 of her loyal retainers were trapped. They ended up committing seppuku, which caused the princess to turn into the stone, and the samurai to become the thirteen bony-looking torii gates. They find the tamagotchi and give it to Yukari. She leaves and returns home, where we find out that she'd gotten into a trivial spat with the toy's owner, Mariko, and out of spite she stole the toy and used it for the curse. Which backfires on her now. One of the torii bone gates has reverted to the ghost of one of the samurai, and it wants the tamagotchi back. Yukari phones Shiori for help then runs back to Kubiyama shrine. Shiori and Shimiko arrive in time to see the ghost of the princess trapped in the stone ordering her men to capture the girl. The gates catch Yukari and she's turned into a torii herself. The princess screams in rage that even though the number of gates has gone up (there are well over 13 now) she still can't break free from the stone. The sun comes up and the stone and gates return to normal.

Shimiko states that she's done some research and there had been a road that had run through the hills during the Edo period, but after various houses and highways were put in, the road was sealed off just behind the stone. Apparently, yokai used to travel the same route, but because the old road is missing, there's no "exit point" for them to come out at any more. So, no matter how many torii gates the princess enslaves, she'll never reach the far end of the mountain road to become free.

("Hey, where'd everyone else go?")

Labirinsu (Labyrinth)
Two of Shiori's female classmates have heard about a wood fence maze park (Inoatama Wonderland) that's opened up near the Inoatama train station, and they talk Shiori and Shimiko into visiting it. The maze is big, but largely empty. The girls get some snacks from a vending machine and look at clue cards they received when they bought their tickets. Shiori's reads, "Enter the gate between the cabbage and the meat". Shimiko's says, "Go to Babel Library". They enter the maze and the two classmates disappear while turning around a corner. After a few minutes, the place is pretty much deserted The faceless guard at the gate tells the girls that everyone went home ahead of them, so they leave. When Shiori returns to her house, she gets kind of confused. Every time she tries to walk into a room she finds herself somewhere else. She calls Shimiko, and they compare clue cards. They go to the local library to look up information on Babel. Shimiko gets a little ahead of Shiori, turns a corner and disappears. Shiori goes back home and it's obvious she's still trapped in the maze. Going to the kitchen takes her to her bedroom, her balcony takes her to the garage and the garage takes her to the head of the stairs leading down from the second floor. This goes on for days, which is inconvenient because the route to the shower room takes her through her neighbor's house. Finally, she notices that her mother has left some food out on the floor. She puts the cabbage in the lower vegetable drawer and the package of meat in the upper freezer, then realizes that the clue card is telling her to crawl into the middle part of the refrigerator. She does this and finds herself in a massive library. This is the Babel Library, and she locates Shimiko on a ladder, where her friend has been reading books all this time. She talks Shimiko into looking for the book on "Inoatama Wonderland". They find it on the top shelf of a very tall bookcase. Shimiko climbs a ladder and reaches out to grab the book. The ladder overbalances and topples, causing Shimiko to knock the bookcase over. Suddenly there's a huge torrent of wind and everything falls over, revealing the Wonderland maze. That's been completely flattened and all of the people that had disappeared in it are now back.

Afterward, Inoatama Wonderland closes its doors.

(The black cult members get eaten by summoned monsters, and Big Hat grabs the Akka Bakka book.)

Masho Akkabakka (The Akkabakka Magic Text)
Shimiko's father buys a strange old text called "Akka Bakka" from a weird customer. Initially, Shimiko thinks that there's no market for it, but Dan'itchi comes in and buys the book. He leaves, and then a black god cult and 7 dwarfs all wearing one hat arrive saying they'd heard that a copy of Akka Bakka had come into the store. Everyone chases after the horror writer, who gives the book to his wife thinking it's a cookbook. She tries making dinner using one of the recipes and ends up summoning a big monster that falls through the roof and lands on one of the cult members before eating him. The wife tosses the book out, and the cult leader grabs it to use it as it should be - as a bible for the black arts to bring forth an eldritch horror to destroy the world. He reads a chant and gets another monster that eats him. The one-hat guys take the book. Shimiko pulls their hat off and learns that they're all the same person connected through their hair. They tell her that Akka Bakka is a mail order catalog, and that everyone else had been reading out item order numbers at random. Akka Bakka is the only place that has a hat in their size.

(Being in the hospital can be a pain in the neck.)

Kubiyama no Kaibyouin (The Mystery Hospital in Kubiyama)
Shimiko has had to check into a hospital for a short stay, and Shiori decides to go visit her. The place she's looking for is 首山 (Kubiyama - Chief Mountain), but what she stumbles upon is 頸山 (Kubiyama - Unemployed, or Neck, Mountain). The place looks empty and derelict, but Shiori eventually finds one patient who deliriously screams that she's being held against her will. Shiori leaves the room, and encounters a nurse that sticks her with a needle. When she wakes back up, she finds herself strapped to a gurney and being prepped for dissection. Another patient, looking like a very tired version of Shimiko, sneaks into the room and cuts Shiori free. The girl tells her to go to a specific room, grab all the jars there, and take them to a storeroom. Shiori learns that the hospital has a bit of a  history: It was used as a test center for developing poison gas that had been used on Japanese soldiers during WW II. Plus it's a horror house where the doctors have been carving up helpless patients for years. Shiori finds the jars, which are filled with organs and various body parts. She takes them to the room she's supposed to go to, and there are shelves stacked with jars of pickled human heads. She sees the head of the girl that had saved her and panics, knocking over one case of shelves. Soon, all of the heads are fighting over the body parts, and the room becomes full of murderous doctors, mad nurses and the ghosts of Japanese soldiers.

Shiori bolts from the building. When she gets outside, she turns only to see that there's an empty lot behind her. She gets to the correct hospital and tells Shimiko what she's been through. The other girl complains of having great chest pains, which is why she's in the bed getting treatment. Finally, she farts and the problem is resolved.

(Kitora prepares to do a reading of her murder poems to Dan'itchi.)

Satsuriku Shishuu (The Massacre Book of Poems)
Kitora Hishida (Hishida = caltrop field) is a published author. Her main book is a collection of poems about killing people and playing with their entrails. She'd been found in her apartment, writing a poem, with the body parts of her boyfriend scattered around the room. She was arrested and sentenced, but since then she's been released. Currently, she's developed a crush on horror writer Dan'itchi and bribes Shimiko with a completed edition of her poems to lure Dan'itchi out to an abandoned building where she plans to have a romantic murder-suicide date while she reads her poems to him. Shimiko also tricks Shiori into babysitting Kutoru for the day (Kutoru's favorite pastime is running through lightning strikes). Kitora's playdate is interrupted when Dan's wife (who is never given a name) gets jealous and storms in on them.

(The demon entourage, Gakunen the lecherous priest, Shimiko, and Nagahime-possessed Shiori.)

Nagai Rouka (The Long Corridor)
Shiori and Shimiko take a bus 15 minutes from Kubiyama to Choukeiji shrine (Kei is the same kanji 頸 used in Kubiyama of the monster hospital). Part of the shrine is closed off, but Shiori steps past the rope blocking the hallway and is not seen again. A priest asks Shimiko what she's doing there, and they go to his office for tea. The priest relates the story of Gakunen, another priest that had been at this shrine 400 years ago. The tale is that Gakunen was tasked to provide a tour of the shrine to the local princess, Nagakatsu Agito (often referred to as just Nagahime). Gakunen was infatuated with the princess and started chasing her through the corridors of the temple until they were both cursed to remain trapped inside. Ever since, young women of the same age would occasionally enter that one corridor and go missing, which is why it's been closed off. Meanwhile, Shiori finds herself in a long hallway and is soon running away from the ghost of Gakunen. As the main priest finishes his story, Shiori comes crashing through the wall, complaining about having been chased. The two girls try to return home, but are chased through the streets by Gakunen, then suddenly they're back in the hallways of the shrine. They enter the central shrine room, which is filled with the ghosts of Nagahime's female retainers. Shiori turns into Nagahime, and Shimiko realizes that Nagahime is the actual villain of the story, having used Gakunen to trap victims to be turned into demons to stay with her for eternity. Shimiko slaps Gakunen and yells at him to get a grip, surprising him so much that he finally is laid to rest. Nagahime thinks that Shimiko is an interesting opponent, and she escapes with her entourage to plot revenge. The room returns to normal, revealing the first priest and Shiori lying on the floor. The two girls leave and Shimiko asks what it was like being possessed by the princess. Shiori replies that she can't remember anything.

(Kitora playing with Kutoru as part of her plot to eliminate her rival and claim Dan'itchi.)

Kitora no Suto-ka- Nikki (Kitora's Stalker Diary)
Kitora is back and has fully embraced her role as a stalker. She's set up a tree house in the park that she's camped in for spying on Dan'itchi, and is keeping notes in what she's titled her "Stalker Diary". Her editor visits her in the park and tries to get the next manuscript from her. The story turns into a big potluck picnic in the park, with Big Hat, Shimiko and Shiori, both editors, and the Dan'itchi family invited. Kitora grabs a murumuru and stuffs it with poison, then writes "This one has poison" on it in marker so she doesn't eat it herself by accident. Meanwhile, Dan'itchi's wife allowed one of her breakfast ingredients to escape the trash, and it leaves behind a huge monster egg that Tomiko finds and rolls to the picnic. Big Hat pulls out a 7-handled fry pan and they prepare to fry the egg, but it turns sentient and attempts to eat everyone. They're saved when, as Kimiko tries to serve the poisoned murumuru to Dan's wife, the egg monster grabs and eats it, and dies. The party ends with Kitora giving her diary to her editor to fulfill the contract deadline, and the two of them picking up dead murumuru so Kitora can have something to eat later.

(Another reading of "kubi" and "yama" for Kubiyama park is "mountain of heads".)

Kubiyamajou Youkiroku (The Kubiyama Castle Ghost Transcripts)
Shiori and Shimiko visit Satsushou Park (Satsu = pagoda pillar, shou = panpipe) in Kubiyama. Reading the tourist pamphlet, they learn that all of the major lanterns, ponds and rocks have stories attached to the names. One pond is "Falling Head Pond". According to the tale, the local princess, Nagahime, had betrayed a samurai lord, chopped his head off and thrown it into the pond while laughing. The girls comment that Nagahime is the same name as for the ghost at the Choukeiji shrine (Long Corridor). They find a tea house, and decide to take a rest. Someone inside the house gives them tea, but it's actually a big bowl of blood. The person is Nagahime. The girls escape but are separated within the park grounds. Shiori bursts out of some bushes and bumps into Shimiko and they go back home. The next day, Shiori's mother is looking really tired, and the school is surrounded by creepy mist. Shimiko goes to Shiori's classroom, and realizes that the girl has been replaced by Nagahime again. She escapes and runs to her father's bookstore to do research. The name "Nagahime" shows up repeatedly in Japanese history over the course of a few hundred years. The stories from different parts of the country are all similar, in that a princess named Nagahime shows up at a castle, entrances the local lord, kills him and takes the place over. Eventually she's killed by a samurai that cuts off her head. Shimiko talks Dan'itchi into helping her, and he agrees only because Shiori is such a good babysitter and he doesn't want to lose her.

The two pour over maps and books before realizing that Satsushou park is laid out in a pattern similar to other places Nagahime had lived at. Presumably there should be two seal stones in the park entrapping the demon somewhere inside. They go to the park at night and fall through a cave behind a waterfall into an open space laid out like the realm of hell in the Japanese myths. The second seal stone is supposed to be in this area. Meanwhile, Shiori has been trapped within the cave and is unable to get back out. She's approached by a young samurai named Soujiro Sunedzuka, who has spent the last 400 years trying to plot the escape of his mistress from the clutches of her captor, Nagahime. They get chased through the cave, but are rescued by some of Soujiro's friends. With time, it becomes apparent that Soujiro is one of the 13 samurai turned into the monster gates that had been in front of the curse stone at Kubiyama shrine, and that the seal stone Dan'itchi is looking for is the same one that the mistress, Kagehime (Shadow Princess) is trapped in. The combined forces of the ghosts causes the seal stone to shatter. The heroes make their way outside and find themselves in front of Kubiyama shrine. But now, the monster gates are gone and replaced by the bodies of Kagehime's trapped victims. Yukari and 2-3 others are freed, but the rest are just piles of old bones.

(Back cover, with Nagahime.)

Comments: Vol. 2 is just as much fun as the first book. Lots of gags mixed in with the horror, and some history lessons (assuming that some of these people really did exist, with their names changed to make in-jokes). Kitora is just plain weird (she and Kutoru get along well), and I like the fact that both writers have editors that have to force them to knuckle down to meet their deadlines. There's no graphic gore or dismemberments, and most of the horror is more atmospheric than anything else. The artwork is good, but still, the characters' faces change from panel to panel. Recommended if you like ghost stories.

(Map showing the locations that appear in the stories, centered around Inotama train station. The solution to the chapter 1 splash page is in the inset at the lower left.)

(All of the stories first appeared in Nemuki Comics between 1997 and 1999. The magazine stopped publishing in 2012 according to Anime News Network.)

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