The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Kamakura Monogatari

What's It About? 

Akiko is a young woman who has just moved to the town of Kamakura to live with her husband Masakazu Isshiki, a decently successful mystery novelist. Kamakura is the home of her dreams, full of beautiful nature, historical significance and great shops and food. There's only one issue: Kamakura is also home to all manner of supernatural hijinks. From shape-shifting foxes pretending to be long-lost soldiers in order to steal her candy to demonic Oni hosting surfing competitions in the town's very own waters, Akiko and her husband are continually subjected to all the strange, surreal sights that Kamakura has to offer. And to make matters even more complicated, Masakazu is often contracted by the police to help solve their more grisly murder cases, due to his expertise in writing murder mysteries. With all the stresses and contrivances of her new life, it might seem her dream of a simple, beautiful family is slipping away. But thankfully, in spite of everything, Masakazu and Akiko are able to cope and maintain their love for each other, and enjoy their sometimes uneventful and sometimes absurdly packed days in the lush forests and mountains of Kamakura.

Kamakura Monogatari is an original manga series by Ryohei Saigan, a famous Japanese screenwriter. Though it was first published in 1984, it is available for $5.99 as a digital only release from Meida Do. A film adaptation called Destiny: Kamakura Monogatari was released in 2017.




Is It Worth Reading?

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3

The biggest hurdle to getting into Kamakura Monogatari is the art. It appears to strive to be vaguely Shigeru Mizuki-esque with its supernatural characters while having a very cartoony look to its humans and backgrounds filled with tiny details. There's rarely any comfortable place for you to rest your eyes, and occasionally a sense of disconnect pops up when someone refers to one of the characters (Akiko's husband, usually) as “handsome,” because by the standards of most comic art, he's just sort of awkward-looking like most of the other people. The busyness is much more of an issue, however, because while it does mirror the story's mix of literary elements, it can also be very tiring to read.

If you can get used to the art, however, the story here is off the beaten path in a nice way. Our protagonist, Akiko, is a young-looking twenty-one-year-old married to a man twelve years her senior and adjusting to life in rural Kamakura. Like many people who move to a new part of the country, she's most upset when people assume she's not from there, because she really wants to think that living in Kamakura for a few years makes her like a native. As the story shows, it absolutely doesn't – and more than the way she dresses, what marks her out is the fact that she didn't realize that yokai really are wandering around the town and forests. As the book goes on, she begins to get used to them, but early chapters have her freaking out over kappa sightings or getting kidnapped by foxes who, like everyone else, assume she's not from there.

It's really a mix of slice-of-life and mild magic realism, and most of the time, that works very well. (Especially when it involves surfing oni.) The supernatural doesn't turn up in every chapter or become the focus of all the events, so it really does feel ancillary to Akiko's other issues, like family coming to visit or her husband meeting his deadlines. There's not quite enough acceptance of the supernatural to make this true magic realism, but it's a neat blend of genres that's very appealing.

Kamakura Monogatari is itself a mix of genres and art styles even without taking the literary factors into consideration. It's a slow read because of this, but if you're up for a small challenge and a more grounded story, it's worth checking out.


Amy McNulty

Rating: 3.5

Kamakaguri Monogatari is difficult to pin down at first, initially leaning hard on the age-gap love between two newlyweds, an overeager housewife and a temperamental, if mostly kindhearted mystery writer. Then the supernatural slowly starts creeping in until you can't go more than a few pages without there being some paranormal twist to the goings-on. Meanwhile, mysteries for the local precinct to solve pop up and Jessica Fletcher style, Masakazu is called in to consult and offer his “expert mystery writer” opinion on the proceedings—and he's usually right, even if by his own admission, he's not a very prolific writer. (One wonders if he's independently wealthy, as the couple never seems to want for money, even though Masakazu is paid poorly for his serialized fiction and only has two published books at the end of the first volume.) The stories are never predictable, and it's always a surprise how this “sleepy town” is going to provide something for the couple to experience next.

The characters are mostly likeable. However, their relationship leaves a little to be desired. Since Akiko is younger than Masakazu and so eager to please and put aside her own goals to be his support, it's disconcerting when Masakazu belittles her interests because he's not into them or when he takes the stress of an impending deadline out on her. Nonetheless, for the most part, they seem happy together, sometimes mere background players in the bizarre goings-on of this little town.

Saigan's art is visually distinctive with characters looking like something out of a comedy manga of the mid-twentieth century. It was originally published in the 1980s, which may account for that, but it's still something of an oddity to see in manga these days, especially ones that aren't a laugh-a-minute. Kamakura is as much a character as the people within it, and Saigan draws the town and its creatures down to the slightest detail.

Kamakura Monogatari is strange and sometimes incohesive, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Even if the manga is more than three decades old, the timeless quality of the small town that never fully modernizes and the bizarre happenings therein make for a compelling, if somewhat flawed, read even in modern day.


Faye Hopper

Rating: 3.5

Kamakura Monogatari is a strange cross between a wistful slice-of-life series, a folktale-based fantasy series and a murder mystery. Its tone is precarious; a story about a fun visit with friends can be followed up by a story where a villainous, invisible thief a la HG Wells gets his comeuppance in being bloodily run over by a car. But I mostly wasn't bothered by the off-kilter atmosphere, because Kamakura Monogatari has a real sweetness and Sunday-comics readability that makes it quite enjoyable.

Bear in mind though: Kamakura Monogatari is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and geography. From the small town, tourist location of Kamakura, as much a character as any other, to the shape-shifting foxes and tanuki who cause mischief throughout, the series is a distinctly Japanese work in iconography and appeal. Though the first volume does give decent context for a lot of the folktales and cultural idioms that are commonly used, I think a certain degree of familiarity with Japanese culture is needed to get maximum enjoyment. The blithe framing of absolutely everything isn't always effective either, especially in a scene where our female lead is almost sexually assaulted, or in how a lot of the main couples' rather serious marital problems aren't addressed in meaningful ways. Kamakura Monogatari is very old-fashioned (this makes sense as it was first published in 1985) in its worldview, meaning that it values a lot of the more antiquated aspects of the culture it's immersed in, oftentimes looking down on the younger generation. To some, this sort of light conservatism may be a turn off, so just make note of it if you're otherwise interested.

Kamakura Monogatari is a series about the surreal beauty of life; how all our ghost stories and perceived supernatural happenings are swallowed by the mundanity of our day-to-day; how our fascination with the things beyond our comprehension never leaves us, no matter how old we grow. Its art is simple and its writing cut of a similar cloth; oriented around the simple pleasures of seeing orange leaves spiral through the crisp fall air. It's a perfect read for late winter nights, wrapped up in blankets: enough mystique and intrigue to keep you engaged, but with a low-stakes core of basic sweetness to where you'll fall asleep wrapped up in pleasant dreams. If that's what you're looking for in your manga, then it definitely comes recommended.


Teresa Navarro

Rating: 2.5

Recent newlyweds Isshiki Masakazu and Akiko live in the sleepy town of Kamakura. Together, the two live peaceful lives until it's revealed that Isshiki interacts with kappa, tengu, demons, and ghosts! Writing mystery novels by day and solving mysteries by night, Isshiki drags his young wife Akiko into the weirdest of situations. Maybe one day Akiko will be able to have a normal night with her husband.

Despite Kamakura Monogatari being a well-loved and long-running comic, I found nothing special about the series. In truth, the romance between Isshiki and Akiko bothered me. The age difference between the two are twelve years apart, Akiko being 21 and Isshiki being 33. At times, it feels like Akiko is playing pretend than rather having a real relationship. She gets upset over the simplest things that her husband does, and she fantasizes about her marriage constantly despite being in a marriage already. It feels childish at best, not to mention that her husband is immature too.

The art style of Kamakura Monogatari is simplistic and to be truthful, a little ugly. Art similar to Doraemon and Osomatsu-kun, readers experience a almost childlike view of a historical town and some really ugly faces. The writing itself lacks a certain type of polish that I'd expect from a beloved series, as well. Though this series is labeled as a mystery, the mysteries are more of a joke than an actual mystery. For instance, one culprit is caught because he accidentally left a tag from his dry cleaning service on a carpet he got blood on.

Truthfully, I think there is some good in Kamakura Monogatari. Maybe the lighthearted writing and the everything will be ok by the end of the chapter style plot is what makes the series so beloved. I don't necessarily think it's a bad manga, it's just not for me.


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