Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Came the Mirror & Other Tales

GN

Synopsis:
Came the Mirror & Other Tales GN
In this collection of short stories published between 1999 and 2014, Rumiko Takahashi explores the relationship between two childhood friends and a cat (ghost). Additionally, two middle schoolers getting ready to take their entrance exams find themselves the unwilling owners of supernatural mirrors on their palms, a woman is stalked by a flower only she thinks smells terrible, and an actress very nearly blows the finale of her TV show when she gets the wrong idea. Also included is a collaborative essay between Takahashi and Mitsuru Adachi about how they started their careers.
Review:

Even with limited character designs and plots that don't quite hit as hard as they need to in the end, it's hard to fault Rumiko Takahashi's shorter work. In part this is because she's not stretching her ideas to translucency in order to keep a series going – in the short stories in this collection, Takahashi is able to tell a full tale without padding it out. That she can do that when most of her works run into the thirty-volume range (at least) is impressive, because as any author will tell you, it's almost a completely different skill to write an effective short story than to write a longer work or ongoing series. While Takahashi is certainly no stranger to short-form manga, it has been some time since a collection has been released in English, so if you've only read her long series, this is an excellent opportunity to see what else she's capable of.

The stories in this collection are primarily horror, although they could be categorized as dark magic realism as well, were you so inclined. The most recent in the book, the title story Came the Mirror, dates to 2014 and is perhaps the most overtly horror-based. The plot is that a mysterious mirror appears on the palm of peoples' hands, forcing them to purify monsters or be killed. In fact, we do see two people die: middle schoolers Nana and Eito, both of whom fail to utilize their mirrors properly. In all fairness, that's because the mirrors require them to first pull “monsters” out of people nearby, stomp on them, and then pass the evil up through their bodies – from their feet and out through the mirrors in their hands. As you might imagine, that doesn't feel pleasant, and it's very difficult to pull off. On the bright side, minors get a rewind, but if they don't figure out what they did wrong, they'll just keep dying over and over. It's an interesting take on the time loop story, but the ending doesn't quite live up to the rest of the piece; it really feels as if it ends too neatly. That's a shame, because it's otherwise a very good story and one of the two strongest in the collection.

The second most striking is Lovely Flower from 2003. In that piece, a woman's stalker leaves foul-smelling flowers everywhere she goes, only everyone else thinks they smell great. She's not only creeped out by having a stalker in the first place, but the fact that everyone else seems to describe him differently (although always handsome) and believes the flowers to smell spectacular makes her worry that something is seriously wrong in the world around her. There's a wonderful sense of building horror to this piece because we're never 100% sure what's going on. Why is she immune to the flower's smell? Or is she the only one who can smell it as it truly is, and why should that be? Her increasing fear is done nicely, driving home her unease as she's increasingly contradicted by every other woman around her. Who is the one doing the gaslighting? Unfortunately, this is what makes the resolution feel like such a letdown; although the solution is fairly clever, it also has the same problem that Came the Mirror's ending has: it feels too soft.

This is an issue with all three of the more horror-centric pieces. The third, Revenge Doll (2013), about a struggling manga artist who receives a cursing doll from a fan and doesn't hesitate to put it to use, is a little more hard-hitting in that the main character truly is a despicable person who has zero issues doing terrible things to people who don't really deserve it. Takahashi does make us see how he has twisted his views to make himself believe that they truly are treating him cruelly, and that's the most effective element of the story, especially because while we understand why he thinks that, we certainly aren't guided to agree with him. There's something enjoyably jaded about the view of the manga world about this piece as well which contrasts nicely with the essay that finishes out the volume, so again it's a shame that Takahashi pulls her punches a bit in the end, giving it more of a whimper than a bang for a finale. Like with Lovely Flower it is clever; it just isn't quite enough to make the story a standout.

The two comedic stories do fare a little better as far as endings go, with With Cat (1999) being the stronger of the two. In that story, childhood friends drift apart after the boy blames the girl (and her cat) for his fall from a tree. In their first year of high school they begin to connect again…because her cat's spirit possesses his arm. It turns out that the cat, who is almost twenty years old, has gained the power to understand human speech, and he's been listening to his person talk about the boy she has a love/hate relationship with for years. As the cat passes, he decides to do something about it, and more or less forces them together when he takes possession of the boy's right arm. There's a sweetness to the story that's paired with goofier qualities that really works, and this is probably the story with the most successfully realized ending. The other comedy, The Star Has a Thousand Faces (2010), is much more slapstick with misunderstandings as the basis for the humor. It isn't bad, but it also doesn't have a lot to dissect, focusing on a starlet who nearly tanks the finale of her TV series because she mistakenly thinks she killed someone after learning that her co-star likes someone else. It's cute, but not much more.

The final piece, a joint reminiscence of getting started in manga with Mitsuru Adachi, is the most unique. In alternating points of view, Adachi and Takahashi discuss their journey to writing for Shonen Sunday, and tangential awareness of each other as creators before they finally met. It's interesting and charming at the same time, and if it's a bit light on plot, it's still a treat to read a collaboration by these two. On the whole, Came the Mirror is a nice look at what Takahashi can do when she's not writing installations of her latest serial, and while the strongest is probably Lovely Flower, which manages to seem menacing without ever fully indulging in horror art or overt tropes, the whole book is a good read overall. The resolutions of most of them (except With Cat) don't quite hit hard enough, and that does drop things down a bit in terms of overall enjoyment. But this is still a nice break from Takahashi's longer works and a good reminder that she really is the queen of shounen manga.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+

+ Lots of color pages, nice variety of plots. Lovely Flower is particularly strong.
Endings almost never quite stick the landing, The Star Has a Thousand Faces is really pretty forgettable. Very little variety of character design.

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Production Info:
Story & Art:
Mitsuru Adachi
Rumiko Takahashi

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