Saturday, March 28, 2015

Shiori and Shimiko, vol. 4 review

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Shiori and Shimiko (2008), vol. 4, by Daijiro Morohoshi, Grade: A-
This is the last volume in the series so far. These chapters appeared in Nemuki magazine from 2001 to 2007, and this book was published in 2011. There may be more chapters in the future, but we probably won't see them in book form for a couple years from now. So, I'm assuming that this is last of them for a while.

(Dan and Ikai see the Daruma, one of Inoatama's "7 Mysteries".)

Ikai-san no Shunjun (Mr. Ikai's Indecision)
Ikai is Dan'itchi's editor at Gero Publishing, and he's come to make sure the horror writer gets this month's manuscript done on time. Unfortunately, Dan is feeling uninspired, so he talks Ikai into wandering the neighborhood in search of the unexplained. In Japan, every city has its "7 Mysteries", and Inoatama shouldn't be an exception. They visit a shrine which is known for a daruma doll that terrorizes victims at night with a "Daruma is falling over, daruma is falling over" chant (the daruma hides its faces in front of a tree, and the children behind him try to escape. When he turns around, anyone caught moving has to take his place.) Most of the mysteries are sillified versions of regular ghost stories, and are so common in the area that the shrines sell souvenirs and stamp cards for collecting all seven. Other "mystery sites" include Boris' Neko-ya shop and Dan'itchi's own house (Dan is the only one that doesn't know that his wife is the 7th mystery, and she stamps Inai's card when her husband isn't looking).

(A tanuki has taken Boris' treasure map and is trying to run away. When Boris and his assistant get too close, he turns into a kotatsu (heated table) that the frigid cats love sleeping next to. Then Shimiko shows up.)

Inuma no Hihou (Inuma's Treasure)
Humanoid-cat Boris and his assistant buy some trash from a friend, known as Mr. Otter, with the hopes of finding something in the collection worth reselling. One of the trinkets is a hollow toy with a treasure map. Boris and his assistant follow the map, which takes them to a ski resort in the middle of winter. It just so happens that Shiori's class is on a ski trip there, so Boris has to avoid being spotted by his owner, while contending with a tanuki that's also after the map. Shimiko is a horrible skier, and she smashes into the tanuki, killing it. She gets the map and reads out the clues so that Boris can overhear them. The map points to a shrine dedicated to enchanted dogs (Inu-ma). In the back of the shrine is a tunnel that leads to a pack of were-dogs that enjoy eating cats. Boris and his assistant locate some urns that are obviously the treasure, but they trip an alarm that alerts the dogs. Everyone runs outside, into the path of Shimiko and some of her classmates. The dogs are dispersed and the urns are found to contain old bones. As Shiori prepares to go home at the end of the day, she sees the tail of a cat hiding from behind a tree, and suspects that it's Boris.

(Fuumi and Natsuko / Shiori, Shimiko and Ms. Zeno.)

Zeno Okusan no Ocha (Ms. Zeno's Tea)
A school girl named Fuumi wanders the paths that lead to the other world and finds herself at the home of Ms. Zeno. They have a cup of tea, and then the girl visits Zeno's house for a while before going home. 4 months later, her friend, Natsuko, comes out to Zeno's house and asks if Fuumi had forgotten something there. Natsuko states that she'd visited her friend at her house, and things had gotten weird. Her father had been an alcoholic wife-beater, and her mother and brother had lived in fear of the guy. But, Fuumi had brought some tea back home that Ms. Zeno had given her, and after drinking it, her father had turned into a plant that produces its own alcohol, and her mother and brother became different plants that just sit in front of a window all day. Fuumi doesn't want to report this to the police because everyone is happier now, but she's sure that she left something at Ms. Zeno's house and she has no idea what it is. Natsuko relates this story to Ms. Zeno, and the woman instructs one of her housekeeper things to take the girl inside to see if she can find whatever it is.

In the house, the thing mentions that he was probably human once, but he's forgotten his past, his name and even what he looks like. He and his partner change names every few minutes because they can't recall the last named they'd used. As the two walk through the house, they're followed by little doughy rolling balls that turn out to be memories that people left behind. Natsuko is afraid that she's forgetting things too, and starts to panic. Pretty soon, though, she stumbles across a massive collection of old things, and realizes what her friend had left behind. She goes home, and meets Fuumi the next day to hand over half of the girl's face, and we get to see that Fuumi had turned into a plant herself without realizing it. Shiori and Shimiko talk to Ms. Zeno about this afterward, and the woman admits that occasionally she "shares" this special tea with some of her visitors if she thinks they need it. The two girl's look in horror at the tea cups in front of them, and the woman enigmatically comments about "never having given that tea to them", but there's this doubt lingering in the air...

(Mizuki finds a monster outside her room. Maybe it's really just a stray dog.)

Ido no Naka Utayomu Sakana (The Fish Reading Poems in the Well)
Mizuki is a girl in the same class as Shiori and Shimiko. She and her family are down on their luck and decide to move into an abandoned house that has a well in the back of the lot. As they unpack their belongings, Mizuki's mother finds her diary and starts to read it. The girl grabs the book and tries to find a place to hide it, settling on taping the thing to the underside of the tarp covering the well. Pretty quickly, the family discovers some poems carved into the wood next to the doors and windows. The poems are about looking at a sunset, at a beautiful woman and at the well. Additionally, there are claw marks at one corner outside the house, and dishes and a carving knife mysteriously disappear. One day, Mizuki walks into one of the rooms and encounters a monster that seems to have someone fused to its back. The thing escapes out the window, and the girl calls on her classmates to help her. Mizuki also looks at the spot on the wall that the monster was searching and finds a painting of a deep sea fish hidden behind the wallpaper. Shimiko identifies the poems and fish painting, and determines that the house had once belonged to Gyosui Kayama, a poet active in the 1950's. By linking each poem with the location where it was carved in the house, she guesses that Gyosui had gone insane, killed his wife and then thrown her body down the well.

When they lift the tarp, Mizuki's diary is shown to be missing, probably having fallen into the well itself, so she distracts the other two girls in order to retrieve it. Shimiko goes down the ladder in the wall to find Mizuki. Then, the monster appears from behind a tree, startling Shiori so that she falls into the well and lands on Shimiko. The well turns out to be dry, and there's a tunnel at the bottom that leads to a cave that has been furnished to look like a room in the house, complete with the missing dishes and knife. Mizuki is in a daze, sitting at the table. She recovers and grabs the diary from the floor. The monster enters the room, and identifies itself as Gyosui. He thinks that he'd accidentally fallen down the well, and had died, then his wife, who had held a grudge against him, somehow managed to fuse herself to his back. He's been carrying her around ever since. She forgives him, and they change places. His wife had been an artist that loved painting imaginary scenes of weird fish from China. She decides that it's her turn to be in charge, and she opens a portal to swim to China. This causes the well to flood, and when the three girls swim to the surface they find themselves in the duck pond in Inoatama park.

(Shiori is about to be killed by Shiroi, Kurokawa and Risa.)

Majutsu (Black Magic)
Kurokawa was a school student that liked painting creepy buildings filled with monsters. His classmates included the guy Shiroi, and the girls Risa and Makiko. Makiko calls Shiori to the art room, and talks about the latest incidents that happened in the city. The bodies of Kurokawa and Risa had been found on the streets near the river, mangled like they'd been chewed up by wild dogs. In fact, Kurokawa had gone missing a few days earlier, and Makiko had been looking at one of his paintings, which he'd said was some kind of black magic spell. Risa and Shiroi had joined her in the room, and she read a poem that Kurokawa had written. Nothing happened right away, but as they were walking home next to the river, they found themselves being stalked by something that looked like a monster from the painting. They split up, and the monster caught up to Makiko, but just stared before leaving. She went back to find the others, and saw Shiroi standing over Risa's body. Shiroi comes into the room, and they talk a bit more. Later, Makiko, Shiori and Shiroi leave, with Makiko going back into the school, saying she'd forgotten something. Shiroi relates his part of the story, saying that after they got separated, he tried finding Risa, and arrived just as a different monster was killing her. It looked at him and left.

Shiori realizes that their stories don't match. Then, Makiko returns and they walk over to the river just in time for the monster to show up again. They run and split up, and Shiori suddenly finds herself inside the weird building from the painting. Risa's chewed up body is there as well, and then Shiroi arrives. A goat-horned demon appears and claims to be Kurokawa, the one that had killed Risa, but he's attacked by the real Kurokawa and is revealed to be Makiko in disguise. Turns out that Kurokawa had tried to use his painting to perform a black magic spell, but had been killed by one of the monsters. Makiko witnessed this, and figured out that the spell needs to be read with three people in the room. She read the spell, then killed Risa as a sacrifice. This time, she got Shiori involved because she needed a third person again to enter the painting. Kurokawa, Makiko, Shiroi and Risa can all shapechange, and the other three are under Makiko's control. Shiroi can't change, and is going to be the next victim. However. the other three turn on Makiko and Shiori is ejected from the painting, with orders to burn it right away. She does, and then she narrates that both Shiroi and Makiko stopped coming to school and were never seen again.

(The Worm Princess picks the wrong city to give birth to.)

Nanika ga Machi ni Yatte kuru (Something is Coming to Town)
Strange little insects that have bodies made from toothpaste tubes, light sockets, broken bowls, etc., start showing up in Inoatama city. They terrorize the local monsters, and begin killing all of the dogs, cats and crows. This puts Boris the cat and his assistant in a bad situation. Next, bigger crab-like things arrive to punish anyone that picks on the smaller insects, including Kitora and Dan'itchi's wife, who both like eating the things. Kitora is captured, but Dan's wife has learned to shapechange after being turned into a fish, and she out puffer fish's the crab soldier. The local monsters retreat to one shrine, along with Shimiko. They piece together what is happening. Seems that something like this took place in Chofu a few months ago, according to one of Shimiko's email friends. Insects come in, the animals disappear, some kind of princess arrives, Shimiko's friend drops out of contact, then a month later, she replies that everything is fine again. Meanwhile, Shiori encounters the princess, which is a giant worm. The worm is living in the basement of Tomoko's house (Tomoko being the cannibal) and is forcing the girl to prepare meals for her and her minions. Shiori is captured by the princess by mistake, and runs to another part of the basement where she sees Kitora bound hand and foot. Shiori releases Kitora and they try to escape again, but as they crawl through a tunnel under the house, it collapses over the worm and they land inside. There, they realize that the princess is growing a full replica of Inoatama city, and when it's completely ripe, it will take the place of the old city, which will turn into foam and disappear (like with what happened to Chofu). Not liking this choice of futures, Shiori and Kitora rip the princess apart, and are rescued by Shimiko and the local monsters. The princess turns to foam and disappears, most of the insects die, Tomoko turns one of the crab soldiers into stew, and Dan'itchi's wife turns the remaining things into pickles. Peace returns to the city.

(Sometimes, it's best not to keep really old books.)

Youkai Shisho (The Monster Librarian)
Kiichi is a newly appointed yokai librarian, and his job is to track down old books that are about to become yokai themselves (in the Shinto religion, anything that is around people long enough will turn into yokai, so they need to be properly purified, first). Kiichi has learned that Shimiko's bookstore has one very old, potentially dangerous book, but the girl won't turn it over unless he pays $80 for it. Unfortunately, the librarian doesn't have that kind of money, and it looks like everyone in the store is going to die because of it.

(Hadamochi (Shiori) faces the Yokai (Dan's wife).)

Shiori to Shimiko Mononoke Roku (Shiori and Shimiko's Record of the Unexpected)

Kiichi is back. This time, he has an old scroll that he wants to show to Dan'itchi's wife. There's a mixed up, and Shiori and Shimiko get their hands on the scroll instead. This causes them to be whisked 200 years in the past on a quest to help out Sanmoto, a very powerful, very angry monster. The problem is that the samurai Hadamochi, as described in the story in the scroll, is supposed to be visited by monsters who are trying to scare him out of his house. In fact, Hadamochi is standing his ground and Sanmoto thinks his reputation as a terrifying creature is at stake. He'd tasked Kiichi to locate 3 women to help him, and the librarian wanted to get Dan's wife, but she was busy. Shiori and Shimiko try a couple tricks, which fail, and then end up violating the rules of Japanese monsterhood by hitting Hadamochi over the head with a log, knocking him unconscious. They use a shapeshifting mirror from one of the monsters so that Shiori can stand in for Hadamochi when Sanmoto comes to the house to take matters in his own hands. This is when Dan's wife shows up in full monster mode. She scares Sanmoto by accident, and he gives up trying to change the outcome of the story in the scroll. When Hadamochi recovers, he has no idea what had been happening around him.

Comments: This is probably my favorite volume of the 4 (looks like there's only 4 books in the series). I especially like Dan's wife, and her appearances in the last two chapters. Highly recommended.

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