Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Corpse Party: Blood Covered
Where the grounds of Kisaragi Academy now stand was once an elementary school known as Tenjin. Abandoned after a series of disappearances in the 1970s, the school was rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of dead, with some of the ghosts even wandering into Kisaragi's classrooms. Of course, these are just ghost stories, so when a group of students stays late one night to tell tales after the cultural festival, before enacting a strange ritual one of them found on the internet, nothing will happen…right?
Based on the updated version of the horror visual novel/adventure game, Corpse Party: Blood Covered feels like When They Cry's younger sibling. It's trying really hard to hit all the same horror highlights, with some lighter moments thrown in to keep you off balance. It also tries to gross you out while still thrilling you with the manga equivalent of jump-scares, but it just isn't as good as its older sibling. While I realize that this comparison doesn't entirely make sense given that the original Corpse Party game came out in 1996 and When They Cry in 2002, given that this is based on the 2008 remake, it feels safe to say that the two games may well have influenced each other. More to the point, the creeping sense of fear that When They Cry does so well is not as deftly handled by Corpse Party's first omnibus volume, making it a decent but not bone-chilling (or nausea-inducing) horror series about what happens when you mess with the powers that be.
The story begins in Kisaragi Academy, a high school built on the site of Tenjin Elementary. Tenjin closed in 1973 after a horrific conclusion to a series of abductions, and eventually the school was torn down to make way for a less infamous institution. The stories of Tenjin live on, however, and in one classroom, a ghost story aficionado loves regaling her classmates with the tales. She's clearly done this before, possibly because the story's first narrator, Satoshi Mochida, is afraid of ghosts. But this time, things are a little different – one of their classmates, Mayu Suzumoto, is about to switch schools. In order to ensure that their friendship endures, Ayumi Shinozaki, the ghost story fiend, learns a special ritual online that she wants them to perform. It involves everyone thinking the same thing over a paper effigy of a girl and then ripping it up between them. At this point, readers of horror fiction could be forgiven for rolling their eyes. Yes, the genre does require a cast who are unfamiliar with the genre's tropes, but this really does seem like a spectacularly bad idea, especially on a dark and stormy night after they've been telling ghost stories about the haunted school that used to stand where theirs is now. As you might guess, within moments of ripping the effigy (named Sachiko-san), the building shakes and everyone is transported to the horrific confines of a long-gone building: Tenjin Elementary.
Once the story is set up, the perspective shifts to Satoshi's friend Naomi and class clown Seiko. Naomi figures out where they are and initially wakes the ghost of a dead high school boy, who tells them that they are trapped and doomed to die in Tenjin Elementary just like the untold others who have somehow been brought there. The school is a place where multiple realities intersect, so although Naomi and Seiko have ended up together, that doesn't mean that they'll be able to find anyone else. They might catch glimpses or hear voices as the worlds pass through each other, but all that's really left to do is to die. This concept of fleetingly interconnected realities is one of the more interesting horror motifs in the story, since it allows for a sense of unreality every time one of the girls thinks they see or hear someone they know. Almost more than the various ghosts and bodies they find, this contributes to the atmosphere of horror that makes the story work.
Not that all of the ghosts are helpful or harmless. One particularly effective scene takes place in the infirmary, where Seiko has left Naomi to rest her sprained ankle while she investigates. Naomi grows frightened of being alone and starts to move when the light on the nurse's desk suddenly snaps on – and behind the privacy curtain she can see the shadow of someone who isn't there. An image of a ghost appearing from a bathroom stall is also effective, with the former denizens of the school being largely more frightening than the corpses and ghosts of other students who were trapped and killed in Tenjin later on. The exception to this rule is the ghost who comes in at the end of the omnibus, when the perspective shifts from Naomi to the teacher. This ghost is clearly carrying a grudge from before he ended up in Tenjin, which certainly makes you wonder about the former elementary school. Clearly, not everyone played with Sachiko-san before they were transported.
Thus far, the Sachiko-san ritual appears to be a little patchy in terms of its effect on the cast. One character who loses her piece of the effigy meets with a bad end, but another appears doomed even though she still has her paper. None of the ghosts mention the name or anything about a ritual, so right now it just feels like a plot device that's being wasted, especially since this book contains two volumes of the Japanese release. On the other hand, the manga appears to be going through different characters' routes from the game in sequence, which is always an interesting approach to adapting this type of video game. Thus far, it seems that we'll go through bad ends until we get back to Satoshi, who may take us to the “true end.”
In terms of the grossness factor, while there are some stomach-churning moments, they're pretty strictly in the realm of splatter as opposed to the visceral, so blood and guts rather than pulling out fingernails. There's a fair amount of sexual imagery between Naomi and Seiko, mostly because Seiko is unfortunately representative of the old “predatory lesbian” trope, constantly groping Naomi despite her objections. While Seiko truly is in love with her friend, that doesn't excuse the unwanted touching being used for titillation. The art itself is fairly weak, with poorly constructed bodies and gore lacking the kind of detail that would make it more effective. There's a sameness to the backgrounds, but that actually works in the story's favor, making Tenjin a scarier place for not recognizing where you really are.
Corpse Party: Blood Covered's first omnibus isn't off to an amazing start, but it is a decent one. With one character's route completed and the second begun, there is some promise that the plots will build on each other and a sense that more will be uncovered with each new route that we go down. Given another book, this may turn out to be a decent horror manga – but this first volume isn't quite cutting it in story or art.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Art : C-
+ Some effective ghost moments, going down each character route is interesting, enough mystery to keep you reading
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