Saturday, December 2, 2017

Divide in valley, vol. 1 review

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Mikumari no Yami, vol. 1, by Koushin Ogawa. Grade: B
I was given this manga to read, so I did. It's not really something I would have picked up by myself. The title, Mikumari no Yami, is a bit difficult to translate. The subtitle is "Divide in valley." Mikumari is a Shinto goddess, and there are four shrines dedicated to her in what is now Nara prefecture. She's associated with water, fertility and safe birth. "Yami" breaks down to "valley" and "deep place". So, maybe we could read it as "The Shrine to Mikumari in the Deep Valley." There's little on Koushin in English, and most of the titles listed for him on are for hentai manga. Mikumari no Yami is more of a folklore-based horror story, though.

(Nonoka helps straighten shrine statues that someone else vandalized.)

The story is set in a city named Manyou New Town, in an area outside of Tokyo. Manyou shuu is Japan's oldest collection of poetry, compiled in the 700's in Nara, and "Manyou" (10,000 leaves) is being used here for the town name. It's a new city, with skyscrapers, amusement parks, and shopping malls, but it's small. It only takes a few minutes to get out of the city center and reach rice paddies and wooded hills. Nonoka Atori is a first year student at Jinshin (Benevolent) University. She also likes visiting old shrines in the hills, and works part-time as a tutor for Rui, a younger girl that suffered a major shock some time ago and can no longer speak. Rui lives in the countryside, and Nonoka has to come out from New Town to teach her. Along the way, she encounters a strange old priestess running a fertility-related shrine.

(One of the kappa people kills the paintball player before going after the school kids.)

At the same time, a slacker couple are out driving in the hills at night and they encounter a kind of big-foot creature that wrecks the guy's car. The story gets carried on the news, and a group of high school kids decide to go to that area one weekend to track down the creature and take video for youtube. Nearby is a paintball park, and two of the salarymen that are playing on one team decide to cheat and go outside the park and around the fence to attack their opponents from behind. The paintball players get lost and stumble across a bin, in the middle of a field, containing human remains. One of the guys gets killed by something big, and the other runs away. As the school kids get deeper into the woods, they find a river. The surviving paintball player leaps out of the water, screaming for help. Something that looks like a kappa (a Japanese river spirit) follows him out of the water and kills him. The kids scatter, and are killed one by one, although one of the boys does survive and is rescued, when the adults notice them missing and send out a search party. The boy is in shock and no one believes his babbling. The others remain missing.

(The power of kappa music.)

Nonoka hears about this story. Soon after, she goes to Rui's house to tutor the girl again, and discovers her sneaking out of the house with a flask of sake in her arms. Rui reaches one of the shrines, and moves a false wall to reveal a tunnel behind the shrine. Nonoka follows her to a hidden woods with a bridge made of braided tree branches. Nonoka gets bitten by a snake, and the kappa that Rui gives the sake to rushes up, grabs Nonoka and removes the venom from the bite. She's taken to a tree hut, where she recovers for a day or so. Later, she finds herself wandering back in the hills again. A villager spots her and she's taken to a hospital, where she just ends up taunting the doctors. Nonoka asks her father what kappa like, and a coworker replies that while the modern belief is that they eat cucumbers, originally kappa were the guardians of rice fields and rivers. Combine rice and water, and you get sake. Nonoka goes back to the secret tunnel and gives her savior a bottle of sake. The guy then shows her another secret passage to an open rice field. As Rui and a young kappa boy named Mikaboshi go swimming, the adult kappa plays a strange wood instrument that brings peace to the area, and attracts a lot of wild animals that approach to listen to the music. The man and Mikaboshi are revealed to have human features, and usually wear caps, beaks and scale skins made from either fish or snakes. They also speak a very old form of Japanese. The only thing that really sets them apart from other people is that they have webbed fingers and toes. The guy teaches Nonoka to swim kappa style, which causes her coach and the other members of the university swim team to get angry and yell at her to swim properly (kappa style is kind of frog-like, crossed with the breast stroke).

Nonoka wants to learn more about kappa, and she tracks down a retired folklorist she'd met at one of the shrines. He gives her his book collection, and she does a lot of research on stories from around the country. The main point is that farmers a long time ago would give gifts and sacrifices to the river people in return for their blessings. Occasionally, this would include children with webbed fingers. (This practice still continues at one of the shrines outside New Town.) Nonoka locates the graves of Rui's family, and one of the names engraved on one of the stones is "Mikaboshi," implying that the boy was given to the kappa some time ago, and then reported dead.

(Kappa want vengeance.)

Towards the end of the volume, a group of men working for some company are upset that there have been delays in obtaining land for their president's planned golf course. They set up a trap in one of the rice fields, and wait. Mikaboshi approaches the bait, and is darted. The guys put him in a tanning bed, and give him an extremely severe sunburn. When they finish, the boy is still barely alive. They take him back out to the field, dump him on a wooden drying rack, and wait in the trees again. Rui and the adult kappa find the boy and cry screaming. One of the snipers clips Mikaboshi's father in the shoulder, but before they can take another shot a number of other kappa appear out of the woods and bash the shooter in the face with a club. The leader of the group tries to escape, but one of the new kappa throws a dart that punctures the guy's car tire. The volume finishes with Rui and Mikaboshi's father crying over the boy's charred body, and about 10 angry kappa adults staring out from the shadows of the trees.

Summary: The artwork for Valley is sketchy and kind of amateurish-looking. It's not bad, but sometimes it's hard to tell characters apart. The folklore elements are interesting, and I like looking at the drawings of some of the more obscure shrine statues. The scenes where characters get killed are unnecessarily horrific, but it does work to show that there's kind of a guerrilla war between the humans encroaching on older wooded areas and the inhabitants that were there first. There's some nudity, so this is not a manga for those who are easily offended. Overall, it's interesting, though. I'm not sure if I'll get the second volume. Recommended to readers that like Japanese folklore and horror.

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