Among the many benefits that come with reading foreign comics is the satisfying advantage of experiencing a different culture’s completely different superstitions and mythologies. Japanese amateur manga artist Nukuharu’s collection of short stories Anomal is heavily dominated by such wonderful, fanciful, foreign tales of odd mystery. Particularly fans of supernatural-infused melancholy drama manga like Mushishi and Natsume’s Book of Friends, as well as fans of playfully fun supernatural manga like Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Gegege no Kitaro will certainly enjoy the Anomal graphic novel from GEN Manga.
The 160 page Anomal graphic novel from GEN Manga supplements the six Anomal stories serialized in GEN Manga magazine with an additional three stories exclusive to the graphic novel. The collected edition includes the “Kaeshi” story from GEN Manga 11, “Keiken Sosa” from GEN Manga 12, “Ayakashi no Kotodama” from GEN Manga 13, “Jizo’s Mouth” from GEN Manga 14, and two “Ayakashi-Nushi” chapters from GEN Manga issues 15 & 16. The book then adds a third “Ayakashi-Nushi” story plus two chapters of “Kaguya.” The “Kaeshi,” “Ayakashi no Kotodama,” and “Jizo’s Mouth” stories are charming, slightly melancholy supernatural tales about humans that form unique and intimate bonds with traditional Japanese “yokai” spirits. “Keiken Sosa,” the anomoly within Anomal, is a short, lighthearted, yaoi-tinged parody of detective manga like Matsuri Akino’s Kamen Tantei. The three-part “Ayakashi-Nushi” story introduces readers to a sweet-natured high school girl so fascinated with yokai spooks that she finds herself drawn to them regardless of the danger they may pose to her. Thankfully, she happens to have an “Ayakashi-Nushi” spirit master classmate that looks out for her. This episodic supernatural action comedy introduces its characters and set-up in the first two chapters. The collected volume exclusive third chapter is a pleasant, affecting story about ordinary human empathy ultimately having more power than supernatural demon mastery. The two chapter “Kaguya” story exclusive to the graphic novel is a near kitchen-sink hybrid of Japanese folklore, shounen action tropes, sight gags, sci-fi, and shoujo manga parody. Ironically, largely due to the author’s whimsical chemistry, the story actually works.
Author and artist Nukuharu’s strength is in quiet, emotionally affecting stories when characterization is expressed through subtle dialogue and the art can settle on evocative settings and composition. As a “doujin” artist, Nukuharu’s visual design isn’t as detailed or precise as many professional artists, but the art is expressive, comparable to Yuki Urushibara’s minimalist art design for Mushishi. More action-oriented stories like “Ayakashi-Nushi” reveal Nukuharu’s weakness in drawing elaborate action sequences & detailed rapid motions, but engaging storytelling compensate for lapses in the art design.
GEN Manga’s graphic novel receives an attractive glossy minimalist cover and bright white interior pages that help illuminate the manga’s subtle screentone work. Japanese sound effects are retained intact in the artwork and are translated only when relevant, to avoid distracting the reader too much from the storytelling. Japanese honorifics appear infrequently, but are romanized literally when they do appear. The result feels like a manga translation specifically for readers that want to preserve and appreciate as much of the original Japanese flavor of the work as possible. The manga content is suitable for most readers, containing no foul language, one boy/boy kiss, and very minimal blood and non-graphic nudity.
To its tremendous credit, GEN Manga has been consistently delivering exceptional underground and independent manga to English speaking readers. The Anomal graphic novel collection provides a fun, occasionally touching eclectic assortment of short manga stories with a supernatural skew that should fascinate and entertain readers that are tired of ordinary superhero comics and predictable shounen fighting manga. The digital download edition of the Anomal collection is available from GEN Manga now. The print edition will be released on July 1.