Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Manga Review: Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Volume 1

I've read through a lot of manga in my time, but Sakae Esuno's Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is undoubtedly one of the most bizarrely named manga titles I've ever seen. Despite that, this first volume from Tokyopop is actually quite entertaining and engaging. Anyone interested in horror manga should definitely consider this title when looking for a new book.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory takes place in modern day Japan and focuses on a detective named Daisuke Aso, who was a police officer back in the day. Aso doesn't investigate normal crimes though. I mean, he would like to, but more often than not he's drawn into cases involving his specialty, Allegories. In the context of this manga an Allegory is the physical manifestation of a person's compulsive belief in an urban legend. Basically the book is saying that if someone fears something strongly enough, it can come true. Just think about that next time you're afraid the boogeyman is hiding in your closet.

At the start of the book a young woman named Kanae Hiranuma hears about Aso's unique field and goes to see him about something that's been bugging her. She heard a story about a man with an axe hiding beneath a woman's bed, and lo and behold suddenly she has a guy under her bed. He's rumored to only come out when you fall asleep and Kanae has been forcing herself to stay awake due to that fact. Aso reluctantly takes the case, but he does so only at the prodding of his partner, Hanako. To make the first chapter short I'll just tell you that Kanae was indeed suffering from an Allegory and Aso and Hanako arrive in just the nick of time to rescue her. In the aftermath of this event Kanae is compelled to join them in their efforts to help others like her.

The other two storylines in this book follow other Japanese urban myths as well. For instance there is a tale about a slit-mouthed woman and one about fish with human faces. Both stories are told from a rather unique perspective and how Aso, Hanako, and Kanae react to each situation is quite engaging. As fascinating as each of these respective stories is, though, I have to say the biggest draw for me was the mystique involving the characters themselves.

Let it be said that Kanae is the only "normal" person in this trio. It's through her point of view that we see, and learn, many things about Aso and Hanako. For instance one of the first things Kanae notices about Aso is his peculiar fetish for having pornographic reading material lying around the office. We soon discover that it's mostly for Hanako, but Aso enjoys it as well. Some amusing bits come from this, but it still isn't the most interesting piece.

Hanako and Aso are both Allegories themselves. In the case of Hanako she embodies the urban legend of a girl who can travel from bathroom to bathroom, which explains why she keeps herself locked in the laboratory all the time. She's almost always securely fastened to a toilet seat, but she's able to roam about just fine otherwise. Aso, however, is something entirely different. Any time he's near an Allegory he begins to hiccup. He suffers from the urban legend that if you hiccup 100 times in a row you'll die, so naturally he has to limit his exposure. He also contains powers of another nature entirely. These are touched upon briefly here and there, but nothing is really fully explained. What he is exactly remains a mystery and that's enough of a hook to keep me tuned in for the next installment.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is drawn beautifully by Esuno. The characters are simplistic looking, but there's enough detail in their expression and the world around them to draw readers in. Add to that a solid translation job by Satsuki Yamashita and you have an attractive and enjoyable English version of a peculiar manga. It's a unique combination that will endear itself to many.

While it never quite reaches levels to qualify as horror of a fearful nature, Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is downright creepy at times. Esuno adeptly draws viewers in and crafts each story in such a manner to keep you guessing what's going to happen from panel to panel. This first volume is a quality piece of work and was a great read. The second installment can't come soon enough and if you're in the market for a new manga series you should consider this one highly recommended!

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Tokyopop. Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is rated OT (Older Teen) 16+ for Sexual Partial Nudity, Mild Violence, Mild Gore, and Moderate Fanservice.

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