Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Orochi: The Perfect Edition
In the Showa era, Orochi follows the fates of three boys, one who survived a horrible attack that broke his family, one who left home for the big city, and one who cried wolf a few times too many. As she drifts through their lives, Orochi tries to make their lives better, even as she cannot fully understand what it means to be human.
As Orochi once again drifts through the lives of humans, she encounters three separate tales of children caught in unimaginable circumstances. Two of them, Key and Prodigy, are somewhat hopeful, while Home is a grim story of how no place stays exactly the same as you remember it, even in your dreams. While all three pieces are strong, with Prodigy being the most striking, what's truly interesting is how Orochi tries so desperately to interact with people, to learn from observing them...and, somehow, never quite manages to fully connect with what makes them human in the first place.
In part this seems to be because she so badly wants to be a human herself. Although she never explicitly says so, we can extrapolate it from her interactions with and observations of the humans around her. It pains Orochi to see people hurt and she wants to spare them pain, something amply demonstrated across all three of the tales in this volume. That becomes all the clearer when we consider that each of these stories revolves around a child; while there was one present in volume one of the series, that was more about how the child grew up and what her life was like. Here two of the characters remain children for the duration of their narratives, while the third could be said to be indulging in the escapism of returning to being a child by going back to their hometown. Although Orochi never says it, we can see that the process of watching the three little boys across this volume's stories more fully invests her in their lives; it's one thing when people are hurt when she just happens to be nearby – it's another thing entirely when she's been there all along.
This is what makes the first two stories, Prodigy and Home, so strong. Prodigy follows Yu from his birth; his parents eagerly anticipated having a child and they're convinced that he's going to be a brilliant professor, just like his father. Then the unthinkable happens, and Yu is attacked as an infant during a home invasion. When we next see him, he's got a horrific scar on his neck and his parents have fallen apart – his father's become an alcoholic and his mother is vicious in her insistence that he study and get into his father's alma mater. No explanation is given for this shift, and Orochi watches over Yu with concern, helping him as best she can and observing how he begins to question why his mother is so harsh. Her concern for Yu is such that she even enrolls in his high school to better watch over him, and we get the sense that she's trying to take the burden of his mother's viciousness and lighten it as best she can. Orochi grows so attached to Yu that she even allows herself to be physically injured in order to save him, something that isn't replicated in any of the other stories published thus far. Whether she knows the full story of why his mother is so cruel and why she appears to blame her injured child for her own trauma isn't clear, but what's interesting is to consider whether knowing or not knowing would have changed Orochi's actions. She's at her least human in this story, and not just because she uses her powers so much; her concern and kindness in the face of everyone else's cruelty mark her out as Other.
That's an interesting theme that carries through the entire volume, although whether Orochi has realized that humans are capable of evil without the aid of demonic rocks (as we see in Home) is up for debate. For whatever reason, Orochi finds humans fascinating and truly wants to help them, even when other people have given up, as we see in Key, where the child protagonist is Hiroyuki, a little boy who has the deserved nickname of Liar. No one questions why he lies so much other than to say that he's just a bad kid, but when we look at his parents, we can guess that it's a way for him to act out in order to get attention – they both work long hours and his father spends most of his time at home sleeping. Hiroyuki wants to be noticed, and lying is the way he's discovered to do so. Even Orochi finds him difficult, but that doesn't stop her from becoming invested in his well-being when he begins to learn why “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is such an enduring folktale. It's this story that cements her as almost too good to be human, even if she began watching Hiroyuki simply because he lived in the apartment complex she rented a place in.
All of this contributes to the psychological aspects of Home, which takes the power of the yearning heart as its foundation. The most classically “horror” of the three tales in the volume, Home follows Shoichi as he grows up in a small countryside village, leaves it, and falls into a downward spiral before being gravely injured. Orochi seeks to return to Shoichi's village to find his parents for him, but on the way there meets him on the train when he ought to be in the hospital. The piece unfolds from there, exploring the nightmare version of the phrase “you can't go home” as Shoichi grapples with the choices that set him on his current path. It's less straightforward than the other two stories, and that makes it one that improves the more you think about it; in the moment of reading, it feels a bit like budget Junji Ito, and its real power comes through after some reflection.
Orochi: The Perfect Edition continues to be a wonderful, yet terrible, work of psychological horror. It's got body horror and all the staples of horror fiction as well – evil children, menacing adults, inexplicable phenomena, etc. – but its beauty is in the way all of these elements come together. Orochi's journey is one that may never give her the answers she's searching for, but it's one that it's worth following her on.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Good blend of horror and terror tropes and tricks, stories have good twists.
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