Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yukari Kobayakawa is an accomplished, best-selling author of historical fiction set in the Edo period, despite the fact that he's only seventeen. In part he is able to be so prolific because he never has to do any research – he just knows things. As it turns out, that's because he was born with memories of his past life as a courtesan in Edo (Tokyo)'s Yoshiwara District, and when he meets classmate Mahoro, he begins to relive that former life through dreams. Why is he meeting other reincarnated souls from that life now? Does it have anything to do with finding the man who killed them all – and are they at risk of history repeating itself?
When Yukari Kobayakawa was born, his parents were told that he still had memories of his past life. This, the attending priest told them, was indicated by the huge scar that crossed his torso, like a cut from a sword. The scar eventually faded, but the priest's words proved their truth through another strange manifestation: Yukari has encyclopedic knowledge of the Edo period. As far as we can tell, he's never questioned it (possibly because of the priest's words), and he's done very well for himself, becoming a best-selling historical fiction author by age seventeen. Since he doesn't have to do any research and just writes down the words that want out of his head, it's not a bad deal, and it has certainly allowed him to support himself after the deaths of his parents. He might have kept on this way indefinitely had he not been put in the same class as Mahoro Tachibana. One of his legion of fans, she's also developed a crush on him and manages to get close to him. When they meet, Yukari is struck by the sense that he knows her even though they've never spoken, and shortly thereafter begins to dream about his past life. Actually, “dream” isn't quite the right word – it's more like his soul travels back in time to inhabit his former body, that of Yumurasaki, an oiran (courtesan) in Edo's Yoshiwara pleasure district. Almost immediately after he goes to the past he meets a young man named Kazuma...who has the same burn scar on his wrist that Mahoro does.
Yukarism's first volume marks Chika Shiomi's fifth English-language release (Viz previously brought us Yurara and Rasetsu, CMX released Canon, and Go! Comi gave us Night of the Beasts), and it feels a little fresher than those previous titles, which, while entertaining, followed fairly basic supernatural storylines. Although there is not a lot of action in this first volume, Yukarism sets up a more innovative story, one which relies heavily on its hero's personality. Yukari comes off as a little emotionally cold and somewhat unfriendly, but beneath the surface he has a quick mind and strong sense of curiosity. He writes not because he enjoys it, but rather because he has to – his memories of the past (although he doesn't know that's what they are) keep bubbling to the surface, and the only way for him to deal with them is to write them down. This has made him a compulsive writer, and he often skips school in order to get the words out of his head. He's so absorbed in his writing that he barely notices how the people around him feel...until he meets Mahoro face-to-face. This is almost like a wake up call to him, and he starts coming to school and interacting with people. In part that's because of his journeys to the past, which tell him that he and Mahoro did know each other. Suddenly he starts to wonder if there are other people from his past life in his present one – and because this is fiction, the answer is a resounding yes.
One of the more interesting aspects of this volume is the way Yukari acts when he is in the body of Yumurasaki. He's very clearly his present self in the body of an Edo-era courtesan, not piggy-backing on his past life. As such his body language and speech patterns carry over, totally confounding Yumurasaki's acquaintances. He's clearly most comfortable with Kazuma because of the matching scar he and Mahoro have, but Kazuma is obviously himself rather than his future incarnation and isn't sure what to make of the oiran's new self. Most of the time he's in the past, Yukari makes on a cursory effort at behaving like Yumurasaki, which while it is funny also makes us worry a little about how it will effect the future. Or is it because of Yukari that she will eventually be killed? Shiomi doesn't address any of the typical time travel issues in this volume, which is a bit frustrating, but things are obviously just getting started as far as plot goes, so this may be a moot point in later volumes.
Shiomi's art has become much more fluid and clean than it was in her earlier series, with clearer page layouts and more detailed artwork in general. People are stiff and a bit static, something we see best in the scene where Yukari is attempting to perform a specific style of walking in the Edo period – there just isn't really much sense of movement, which detracts from the scene. Necks also occasionally look too thin to support heads; this is mostly seen in short-haired characters. The translation reads well with my only nit-pick being that there is not quite enough difference between Yukari's modern language and that used by the Edo-era characters. Since this is a plot point, it becomes a bit of a problem.
Yukarism's first volume isn't groundbreaking or fabulous, but it is an interesting story about how the past could bleed into the present. As of the end of the book, the whole main cast of both time periods has been assembled, so it is entirely possible that this is more of a prologue to the main story. It will be worth giving it another volume to see how it progresses, but as it stands, this is good without quite being good enough.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Interesting conceit, Shiomi's freak-outs in the sidebars are pretty funny. Yukari himself clearly evolves over the course of the book.
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