shigahime , which has just been completed with its 5th volume published by Editions Mangetsu is a raw and brutal work. This series features protagonists each having their cross to bear and the reasons for feeling a certain uneasiness. She also explains, through the prism of a fantastic, macabre and bloody story, how they deal with these problems. This manga is a gut-wrenching, fast-paced work… But let’s not reveal more, here is our review that explains everything!
Stereotypical characters but effective storytelling
shigahime is a manga by SATO Hirohisa edited by Tokuma Shoten in Japan pre-published in the Comic Zenon. This magazine specializes mainly in the rather violent seinen. It is also the periodical which publishes the rather well-known Valkyrie Apocalypse. So much for the presentations but let’s get to the heart of the matter, and especially the characters.
Soichi TACHIBANA, young high school student is extorted and humiliated by his classmates and only seems to find comfort alongside Miwako, a strange woman. It is assumed that the young man has strong feelings for her. Everything must be confused by his family and school situation. Indeed, his unemployed and neglected mother spends her time glued to television. She completely abandons her son. Soichi therefore suffers a horrible and hopeless life. His condition is unfortunately plausible and common within Japanese society… not necessarily only Japanese, by the way.
Even before the story reveals the identity of Miwako, she seems detached from everything around her, be it her environment or the young men. She seems to act mechanically and coldly. This first appearance gives him an aura that is both mysterious and terrifying. The youthful-looking woman is an immortal creature that feeds on freshly killed human hearts and blood. Coming from a family called bloodline, she is a monster very similar to vampires.
Osamu HIROTA is introduced after Soichi and Miwako although he is the main character of the work. Contrary to Soichi, he lives his adolescence perfectly normally, alongside his girlfriend Chika MURASE. He reveals himself as the archetype of the ordinary high school student who is a bit shy but has a good heart. We are presented with a basic protagonist to certainly make it easier for readers to identify. But there will gradually form a gap between the life of the young man and what awaits him thereafter.
When to Chika, it may seem anecdotal at the beginning of the story but it will be of paramount importance in the narration. This student will be involved in spite of herself in matters beyond her. The introduction of the four main characters is done very quickly. We thus understand that the story will revolve around them. They are all four very archetypal but in no way caricatural. We find the young man and the lambda young girl upset daily, the martyred high school student and the fantastic creature with deceptive features.
A raw and horrifying story straight to the point
The meeting of the two young men is the element bringing our protagonist to the terrifying owner of the manor. This event will change their routine forever. One only feels disgust for the immortal woman. The other adulates him to the point of bringing him his meals made up of blood and above all… of human hearts. The scenario will push this relationship to its climax when Miwako will choose who to turn into a familiar. It’s about becoming a kind of semi-human ghoul with great agility and strength, as well as very special claws. She will impose this role on Osamu who will have to juggle between his familiar status at night and his high school life during the day.
The course of the plot will gradually accustom us to the presence of this chatelaine. Her mere existence is a source of danger for those around her and herself. Where, at the opening of the story, Osamu and Soichi seem powerless and infinitely small in the face of this implacable fatality, the sequel will give a less terrifying tone and the atmosphere will be less oppressive. Various horrific elements are added to an entirely plausible reality. This mix between realism and fantasy allows empathy and promotes immersion. The supernatural and realism complement each other in an almost perfect alchemy.
A disturbing atmosphere
Indeed the author’s style manages to give us a feeling of confinement and discomfort in his full pages and in his landscape shots. The small town is both an open-air prison and a hunting ground for familiars. The atmosphere of the story is oppressive, in every way. We quickly understand that no one will be spared during these five volumes. Each protagonist will face a tragic fate. The unhappiness and sadness caused by the harshness of reality will be the cement that will bind them together within the story.
Throughout the covers, except for that of the fourth volume, there is an increasingly humanized representation of the immortal Miwako. The first depicts her as the cannibalistic creature that she is. While the last shows us a broken and lonely woman, of a totally human fragility. We can see, through these illustrations, an evolution of the atmosphere. These blankets illustrate this change symbolically and pictorially.
There will always be effusions of viscera and hemoglobin but they will be more part of routine events. Terror and violence will always be present but will evolve in the image of the protagonists. The same situations and individuals will no longer cause and embody these two aspects. This may lead to questioning the essence of fear within the work. Does the terror come from an immortal and cruel being, or does it hide in the trivialization of blood and in the habit of rubbing shoulders with the worst creatures of the night?
It will be up to you to choose, closing the fifth and final volume…
shigahime is one of his short but powerful works. It is one of those short series that we enjoy re-reading when looking for a good dose of violence and guts.
This manga is therefore worth the detour and Mangetsu proves to the French readership that they can find us little nuggets that we did not necessarily expect. Due to its quite different registers and its fairly simple scenario, shigahime will delight readers who love bloody stories. It can be an excellent gateway for horror manga and therefore for the author that Mangetsu revived in France: Junji ITO.