The Fall 2019 Manga Guide
What's It About?Yachiho's dad is a famous folklorist, and when he had the opportunity to move into an old mansion reputed to be haunted – and that was once the home of a well-known folklore researcher – he couldn't resist. The rub is that he's always away on research trips, and that leaves his high school-age daughter home alone with the cat. As it turns out, the house deserves its haunted reputation: it's a waystation for spirits who have finished their time in the human realm and are returning to the spirit world.
Yachiho definitely isn't alone in the house, but if she can survive her housemates, it'll be a victory. Ghostly Things is created by Ushio Shirotori. It was released by Seven Seas in October and is available in paperback ($12.99) and digitally ($9.99).
Is It Worth Reading?
Ghostly Things occupies that special space for series I really desperately want to like but can't quite. That's because its central premise – girl with ability to see spirits moves into haunted house – is one I've particularly enjoyed in the past, and this has a very similar feel to The Demon Prince of Momochi House, minus the romance plot. But that similarity is only superficial, and Ghostly Things largely lacks the folkloric underpinnings and sense of wonder that it needs in order to succeed. More simply put, if a story that features a secret basement library full of folklore tomes fails to grab me, there's something amiss.
What that is is a little hard to pin down. In part the issue lies with Yachiho herself – she's about as basic a heroine as you can get in manga, just sort of wandering around as a stranger in her own house and barely making a mark on the supernatural beings she shares it with. The only sign she shows at school – or to her equally bland friends – is that her lunch is eaten when she sits down and opens it, which just feels like the set up for a lame joke about how hungry she always is. (Although she isn't.) She seems insufficiently amazed by the world she's uncovering, and even her supposed drive to find a specific folklore book that will apparently help to find out what happened to her missing mother is under baked; there's no urgency to her quest or sense that anything's really wrong with her life as it is.
The saving grace of this volume is the art. The creatures Yachiho encounters are fantastically drawn, and you can really feel the characters from the highly palpable drawings. The dragon looks like his body is snaky-smooth with firm muscles, Moro's grassy body looks like it feels like straw. There's also a nice creepy-cute aesthetic, with some of the creatures (Moro, the kodama) looking appealingly weird and others downright scary.
If the story could catch up with its art, this would have potential. As it stands, though, I'd rather buy an artbook of Shirotori's creatures than read volume two.
I wished I liked Ghostly Things more than I do. For one, the art is touted on the back on the back as a selling point and it is most certainly resplendent. The various spirts are all diverse in body types and form and evoke a sense of wonder and whimsy even on a simple, single glance. And yet for me, something was lacking. Maybe it was how the manga constantly alternated between larger-than-life, awe inspiring tableaus and small-scale chibification, sometimes even on the same page. This might have detracted from me being able to bask and wallow in the tone created by the aesthetic, because it was constantly being interrupted by traditional anime styles.
Or maybe I'm lukewarm of Ghostly Things because I'm not too engaged by its base narrative. The core of ‘find the book of the dead in order to find out what happened to your disappeared mother’ a is solid, emotionally charged hook for a mystical mystery, but We Never Learn who Yachiho's mother was, what she meant to Yachiho and her father, and why any of the various supernatural hijinks matter beyond being an excuse to show off the cool spirit designs. It leaves the audience without a reason to care, because there's no real sense of urgency or meaning or even a mystery being solved. And that means the book is mostly a disconnected series of glacially paced short stories, which is fine. But I didn't find the book very compelling as that, either. That structure is best used in service of parables, like in Kino's Journey, or for structurally diverse meditations on our relationship with the natural world, like in Mushi-Shi, but aside from a few choice instances which are the highlights of the book (like the final story about a Kodama passing on his duties the younger generation), it's lacking in both event and insight.
Ghostly Things feels like a book caught between the world like Yachiho herself, with one foot in our world and one foot in the realm of spirts and dreams. It feels at points like it wants to be a mystery trading on the inherent mystique and majesty of folkloric fantasy, with plot developments and a larger, outside world, and at others it feels like it wants to be a low-key iyashikei. Both are valid, wonderful ways to construct a story but when put together they pull apart each other. And it's a shame, too. The art is really, really good. But a disconnect is still a disconnect, and in the case of Ghostly Things it's one I cannot let go of, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise.
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