Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi
Yue lives in the temple above a town that may not exist to those who live outside of it. He is not allowed to go into the town, but on the eve of a festival he and his black kitsune sneak out. There he meets two boys – Tsubaki and Akiyoshi, whom he feels a strange connection with. The master of the shrine tells him that this is because one of the boys must become his “meal.” What that means and what the truth is about Yue and the town of Utsuwa, have yet to be revealed...
Perhaps we should start with the obvious: Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi is a really awkward title. Its Japanese original is Akaya Akashiya Akayashino, which is not an easy one to translate – not only does the meaning have to be conveyed, but even non-Japanese speakers can see the deliberate pattern in the series' title. That said, the English version does work for, if not the entire book, than at least for the opening scene, which takes place at a festival. The first few pages are presented in color and have a sort of other-worldly red haze to them, which is presumably supposed to envelop the whole town of Utsuwa. Given that this series is based on a visual novel from HaccaWorks, it makes sense that a little something color-wise would be lost in the transition to manga.
The story is set in and above the country town of Utsuwa. Yue was raised at the temple and has never been allowed to leave it; he looks perfectly human, but something about his eyes and the fact that the temple is run by a kitsune with nine tails (suggesting great age and power) makes us think otherwise. On the night of the festival, Kurogitsune, Yue's black fox companion, suggests that it might be fine for them to sneak out of the temple, and Yue is struck by the bustle of people he sees...even if they all look like shadow foxes to him. Only two boys appear as humans in his eyes – withdrawn Tsubaki and apparently crazy Akiyoshi. When Yue is called on his outing and he relates this information to the head priest and kitsune, they tell him that this means it is time for him to make one of the boys his “meal.”
Beyond that bit of solid information, we really don't know much for certain. Yue has a wide acquaintance of human-looking “people” (presumably ayakashi, or supernatural beings) and one person makes a comment that the train never stops at Utsuwa station, almost as if they didn't even know it was there. Add to this school gossip about people being “spirited away” and forgotten, and you've got the set up for a very eerie place not quite of either the human or the spirit worlds. This set up element is one of the strongest parts of the volume, setting a mood that falls somewhere between dreamlike and unsettling, to say nothing of raising a lot of questions that make you want to keep reading to find out the answers. Yue is certainly the man of mystery of the hour, but Akiyoshi actually is the character who raises more questions at this point – his “allergies,” which have him coughing and sneezing like a fiend in most of his scenes, seem to disappear when he's at home, and his parents appear to be oddly strict. Add to that his stalking of Tsubaki and he starts to look more suspicious than the ayakashi roaming the town.
Unfortunately, this volume is almost too full of questions – we learn very little about what's really going on and the hints, though tantalizing, are also on the vague side and feel very much like any other supernatural series set in a creepy town. There's some question about whether or not Tsubaki and Akiyoshi can see and hear Kurogitsune – at first it looks like no, but later yes – and it also feels unclear as to whether or not the townspeople are aware of the strange things about their town. Add in a few clichés like a creepy kindergartener, a girl with an eye-patch, and people who deliberately refuse to explain things to the protagonist while making veiled and somewhat threatening statements about him and this is really very similar to other stories in its genre.
Of course, a series doesn't have to be different to be good, and Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi does a decent job at making all of the old tricks work for it. Nanao's art is almost wispy in its delicacy, and the use of scarves as identifiers for characters whom we see through Yue's eyes and the other boys' eyes is a nice detail. Paying close attention to pupils will also pay off, and overall much of the dreamlike quality is achieved because of her artwork. Yen Press' translation is very readable, and I get the impression that this was a series where words had to be chosen very carefully. By and large, it works.
Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi's first volume is a bit hard to pin down. It has a lot going on and very few answers, but it also is fascinating in its lack of solidity. It will need to start explaining things in volume two, but for a first book, supernatural fans should find themselves getting pulled in.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Mysterious and intriguing in both art and story, uses the clichés well. Opening color pages are useful to setting the mood.
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