It’s no secret that manga (like all media) has its share of overused plots, premises, and characters. This is, of course, inevitable. There is nothing new under the sun, and after 35,000 years or so of human storytelling, it’s important to accept that execution, not conception, is the real key to originality in fiction. What makes a story special is the skill and passion behind its telling, not the story itself, nor the surprisingly finite number of character types available for an author to work with.
That said, I think each of us has our favorites–our “bulletproof” stories, if you will–those particular plots and character types we love indiscriminately, regardless of their objective success. I discussed one of mine in last night’s Off the Shelf, but it’s hardly the only one I have.
While pondering a Halloween-appropriate theme for this week’s 3 Things, it occurred to me that one of my very favorite overused manga premises involves the ghost hunter–someone who, whether for cash or moral duty, has the job of communicating with and expelling spirits from the world of the living. Now, this premise can be pretty broadly applied. Even a story like xxxHolic will sometimes delve into the world of exorcism and the like, but for the purposes of this column, I’m going to require that this be the primary occupation of the series’ protagonist(s).
So, for this week’s 3 Things, I give you three favorite comics about ghost hunters!
1. Tokyo Babylon | CLAMP | TOKYOPOP – Though the (unfinished) apocalyptic epic X/1999 gets more fan attention overall, my own preference is for its shorter, more quietly heartbreaking predecessor, Tokyo Babylon, which tells the story of pure-hearted onmyōji, Subaru, and the events that lead him towards his role in the darker, angrier X. Though the series is far from perfect, the plight of its gentle protagonist is one that continues to haunt my heart. From my review of the full series:
“The primary message CLAMP drives home in Tokyo Babylon is that no person can ever truly understand another person’s pain, and that the kindest thing people can do for themselves and each other is to recognize and embrace that fact … Subaru leads an oddly passive existence, dutifully fulfilling his calling as directed, though his personality is obviously ill-suited for the job … his naturally compassionate nature allowing humanity’s darkest corners to erode his seemingly incorruptible heart.”
2. Rasetsu | Chika Shiomi | Viz Media – Whether it be books, television, or film, sequels are rarely looked upon with much respect, so imagine my surprise when I discovered how much genuine emotion this manga sequel (to the popular shojo series Yurara) was prepared to bring to the table. From my recent review of volume six:
“What keeps this series compelling is that it is profoundly unsettled, and this applies to both the hearts of its characters and to their individual circumstances. There’s more to everyone than meets the eye. Furthermore, though each of the story’s characters is deeply conflicted, they still manage to band together into an unexpectedly warm, self-made family unit … Though this series gets off to a lukewarm start, over the course of six volumes it has become one of my favorite of Viz’s shojo series currently in release.”
3. Time and Again | JiUn Yun | Yen Press – As the newest ghost-hunting series on the list, this manhwa, with three volumes currently in English, has the potential to become my very favorite of its kind. Though its first volume displayed some significant narrative weakness, it continues to become stronger with each new release. Deeply damaged characters are often the most interesting, and boy does this series provide. I’m long overdue with a follow-up review, but for now, my take on volume one:
“Though this volume’s storytelling is somewhat uneven, especially in terms of character development, there is more than enough to chew on for readers interested in ghost stories, or even eighth-century Chinese culture … The stories are steeped in a solemn stew of religion and folklore, finding their inspiration in Chinese poems… and other sources of varying East Asian origin …Though the result of all this inspiration is not nearly as profound or thoughtful as one might expect, the book is intriguing and emotionally affecting all the same.
And now I leave it to you! Readers, what are your favorite ghost-hunting manga or other Halloween-flavored tropes? Respond in comments or in your own blog!
Kris saysOctober 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm
Hmm, I don’t read many series like this.
Phantom Dream (Natsuki Takaya) deals with an exorcist family, and it’s quite lovely most of the time.
I’ve only gotten into one volume of Time and Again, but I really enjoyed it.
Um…does Natsume’s Book of Friends count at all? He’s not an exorcist, but he does deal with calming/banishing/helping spirits.
I’ve got 4 volumes of Tokyo Babylon here, but have not started it, wanting to wait until I get a hold of the whole run.
Oh! What about Chrono Crusade? Love that one. Demon fighting nuns. Rosette and her demon partner Chrono run around exorcising demons and searching for Rosette’s missing brother.
And…possibly…I would say, Yu Yu Hakusho.
Melinda Beasi saysOctober 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm
On 3 Things Thursday, anything counts! :D
David Welsh saysOctober 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm
This question is so up my alley. I’m going to cheat though, and list entire casts versus just individual characters in two out of the three:
The cast of “The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service” by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki (Dark Horse) — unemployable Buddhist college graduates who try and make a living by helping restless spirits move on.
Reiji Akiba of “Mail” by Housui Yamazaki (Dark Horse) — A nerdy ghost-hunter with a magic gun that can exorcise evil spirits, mostly of the urban legend variety.
The cast of “Omukae Desu” by Meca Tanaka (CMX) — An afterlife bureaucracy outsources to living humans to help them encourage restless spirits to move on to whatever comes next for them. The bureaucracy has theme days, and one of their top agents always dresses up in a bunny suit. So. Awesome. Man, I miss CMX.
Melinda Beasi saysOctober 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm
Oh, awesome answers! Also, that’s not cheating at all. Ensemble casts are totally fair. :D
Rij saysOctober 28, 2010 at 5:16 pm
Only three? *wail*
“Ghost Hunt” manages to be really spooky, has a wonderful cast who have nice chemistry going, the comedy’s actually funny.
“Rasetsu”, I could use almost the same description as for Ghost Hunt but it still manages to be different. I wasn’t overly fond of Yurara, largely because I didn’t care for the main couple. Rasetsu is a sequel that’s better than the original.
“Butterfly” by Yu Aikawa is not available in English yet (but according to ANN it’s coming next year.) It has an unique take on ghosts and it manages to avoid the pitfalls you’d automatically think of when reading the premise (a high school boy and an elementary school girl…) I’ve read the first two volumes in Finnish and can’t tell where the story’s going, which is a good thing.
Then there’s Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but that’s moe about bodies than ghosts. Kekkaishi’s more about demons and intrigue than ghostbusting. Natsume’s Book of Friends is about youkai, I don’t think he’s ever met a ghost. xxxHolic is wonderful but doesn’t quite make the list of three. Yu Yu Hakusho was much more fun than anything that cliched has the right to be. Mail, Tokyo Babylon, Rin-Ne… shutting up now.
Melinda Beasi saysOctober 28, 2010 at 9:43 pm
I’m glad you hear you say that about Rasetsu vs. Yurara, because I haven’t read Yurara, but have enjoyed Rasetsu very much! Nice to know there’s someone out there who doesn’t think I’m praising second-rate goods. Hee. :D
Michelle Smith saysOctober 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm
Before I had scrolled to the bottom of your selections I was thinking, “Time and Again had better be on there!”
Melinda Beasi saysOctober 28, 2010 at 9:43 pm
Well, DUH. :D
mom saysOctober 29, 2010 at 8:10 am
The first paragraph puts so well the purpose of storytelling for all! Beautifully stated.
Melinda Beasi saysOctober 29, 2010 at 10:42 am
Thank you! I do get weary of people who complain about stories as being a “rip-off” of such-and-such based only on things like concept or plot. As if there was anything original there at this point in time! I’m happy to listen to complaints about how a concept is executed, but the concept itself? You can guarantee it’s been done a million times over.