This month I've been spotlighting horror manga artists who have several series translated into English. I've covered a few of the best and most classic mangaka, so this week, I thought I'd cover a few series that are worth reading, but are mostly one-offs from the artists in English. The fantastic header image is the art of Yuho Ashibe, one of the demons in Bride of Deimos.
Mantis Woman - Senno Knife (1 volume)I'm a big fan of the work of Senno Knife. While quite prolific in Japan, this is the only graphic novel of his published in English, and the rest of his work consists of single issues of two short (and admittedly bland) erotic horror anthologies called Sepia and Bizzarian, and two unfinished erotic series called Valkyr and Eden. Mantis Woman is not erotic, and is surprisingly fairly PG. It's a collection of horror short stories that lean more toward urban legend, and go over-the-top while taking themselves seriously. I tend to recomend this book wholeheartedly based solely on the strength of one story. A girl receives a stuffed Koala as a mysterious gift one day, and after a series of creepy circumstances, realizes the stuffed Koala is a gift from an unwanted mystery stalker. I'm spoiling it a bit by saying this, but in order to understand why you have to read this story, it's important to know that a twist in the middle reveals the stalker to be the stuffed Koala that keeps showing up at the girls' house with cards that read "Love me lots and lots." At one point, it leers through a window and calls the girl by detaching its nose and using it like a cellphone. Inexplicably, part of the showdown at the end involves it sprouting a human arm with a hammer. There's really nothing like this story anywhere else. Other stories are somewhat more tame, but only slightly less crazy than that one. Another story is about a haunted capsule toy vending machine that vends little monsters instead of toys. Later, there's a story about an unliked teacher that turns out to actually be killing children, just as the students speculate (the gossip is framed to be children's exaggerated stories). There's a few others, but really, you'll want this for the Koala story. Knife's artwork is unusual, but also a little bland and static for something like this. Notable are his doll-like characters, which appear here, but are more prevalent in his erotic fiction. Released by Studio Ironcat in 2003 shortly before the publisher folded, this book flew under everyone's radar and should be fairly easy and cheap to find used.
Bride of Deimos - Art by Yuho Ashibe, Story by Etsuko Ikeda (7 volumes in English)I'm a big fan of the art style used in comics aimed at women in the 1970s. You see some very classic character designs with big eyes, fancy hair, unusually long limbs, excellent fashion sense, and a knack for conveying emotional turmoil through expression, symbol, panel layout, toning, repetition, and other methods you just don't see anymore. Few examples of this style have been translated into English, the most notable examples being Heart of Thomas, From Eroica With Love, and To Terra. Bride of Deimos is another, and it's a fantastic look at not only the art of the time period, but something that reads like a Japanese version of the DC anthology horror comics of the 70s. A sort of Sinister House of Secret Love for the same audience in Japan, I wrote an article a couple years ago that compares and contrasts the two. Basically, in Bride of Deimos, the "plot" of the series is that a demonic character/ill-defined Greek god named Deimos appears in the present to kidnap average high school girl Minako. Minako is the reincarnation of Deimos sister and/or lover Venus, who is rotting eyeless at the bottom of a bog, but still alive (Ikeda embellishes a great deal when it comes to western mythology). Minako doesn't want to go. Their antagonistic relationship is the framing device for the horror stories that unfold in each chapter. The series includes a little bit of everything, including mythology, murderers, spiteful lovers, Thumbelina, tragedies of the past, and all manner of gothic horror. Sometimes bad things happen to Minako's friends and family, sometimes Minako is an observer while bad things happen to others, sometimes she's a magnet for folk creatures. Deimos and she have an ongoing argument about whether humans are inherently selfish or good-natured. Sometimes Minako wins, but more often than not Deimos wins. Often the stories only feature Deimos wreaking havoc with mortals, and sometimes they flash back to the past, or back to the relationship between Deimos and Venus. The stories themselves are fairly good, and the emotional hooks that you see more in shoujo manga make these a different type of read from some of the books I've talked about this month. The relationship between Deimos and Minako is never resolved, and the series was revived recently in a pale imitation of its former self. The header I used for this article was some of Ashibe's art for this series, and as I said, this is a great and very rare example of this genre of 70s comic art in English, and one not many people have read. 7 of the original 14 volumes were released by ComicsOne in 2001, and it's a large enough slice of the series considering it has no resolution. As it was never popular, the volumes are fairly inexpensive used.
Presents - Kanako Inuki (3 volumes)Another short story anthology, and another with a framing device. This time it's about a little girl named Kurumi who is caught in limbo, forever giving ironic presents to young children that usually learn a moral at a terrible price at the end of the story. While most of the stories are good, you're really going to want to read volume 2, which is Christmas-themed. This time, Kurumi joins up with one of the creepiest Santas I've ever seen. Santa explains why the children featured in the stories don't deserve the presents they so sincerely want. These are all innocent children, children who sincerely believe in Santa despite being teased, children whose parents are too poor to buy them presents, or children who just really want their innocuous present. Each story is a flash-forward to explain how the harmless presents lead each child to a life of crime, such as being a professional sex worker that neglects her many children. At the end of the flash-forward, Santa re-appears, then promptly and messily kills each enthusiastic young child to prevent the disaster from happening. It's done in a somewhat silly and over-the-top way, and these stories are so bizarre and unsettling that I remember them well five years later. The rest of the stories are sort of Tales from the Crypt-meets-Hideshi Hino, right down to Inuki's very Hino-like bug-eyed children. Kurumi wanders through many stories, some funny, some touching, and some that make Kurumi want to fight for the protagonist. But that second volume... is memorable, to say the least. Inuki has one other series in English, School Zone, about children that attend a haunted elementary school plagued by serious urban legends. School Zone is hard to read until the third volume, when it suddenly gets good and then ends abruptly. If you loved Presents with a passion, you might want to also check out School Zone, but otherwise, you're not missing much. Presents is, like most of these books I've covered this month, published by DC's CMX imprint and long out of print, but used copies are available cheaply online.