One occupational hazard of reviewing manga is the powerful sense of déjà vu that a middle-of-the-road series can induce. I experienced just such a flash while reading Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits, a pleasant, decently executed shojo series that hit so many familiar beats I was tempted to pull out a bingo card and tick off the stock characters and situations as I plowed through volume one.
As in other supernatural romances — think InuYasha and The Water Dragon’s Bride — the plot is set in motion by the heroine’s abduction to the kakuriyo, or spirit realm. There, Aoi learns that her late grandfather was capable of traveling between the kakuriyo and utsushiyo (human world), a skill that gramps exploited to run up a tab at a supernatural B&B. Gramps pledged Aoi as collateral, promising her hand in marriage to Odanna, the inn’s proprietor. Odanna is — wait for it — a handsome jerk with an attitude so condescending that Aoi can barely stand to be in the same room with him. Indignant at the prospect of marrying an ogre, Aoi instead vows to settle her grandfather’s accounts by working at the inn — a vow made more complicated by the other demons’ refusal to hire human staff for even the most menial tasks.
In a nod towards current publishing trends, the creators have used Aoi’s predicament as an opportunity to graft elements of a cooking manga onto the main plot. Aoi makes her first demon ally through a savvy demonstration of her culinary skills, for example, wowing him with omelet rice and chicken stew. The inclusion of these scenes feels perfunctory, however, as they add little to our understanding of who Aoi is; if anything, these interludes serve mostly to foreshadow the inevitable moment in volume two or five when Aoi finally persuades the inn’s demon chef to modernize his menu with Japanese comfort food.
The real pleasure in reading Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits is the parade of ayakashi (spirits). The supporting cast seem to have stepped out of a Hyakki Yagyō scroll: there are kappas and tengus and oni, no-faced women and snow maidens and nine-tailed foxes, all drawn in a style that explicitly references the work of Utagawa Yoshiiku and Kawanabe Kyosai. When interacting with Aoi, these spirits morph into preternaturally elegant humans swathed in haute Edo-era couture. It’s an effective gambit, allowing illustrator Waco Ioka to emphasize his strengths — fabrics, textures, masks — while offering a plausible explanation for the demons’ uncanny appearance. (Looking through one of gramps’ photo albums, Aoi notes that the ayakashi‘s “faces look fake, like they’re pasted on.”)
Yet for all the joys of seeing the Night Parade of 100 Demons come to life in such a stylish fashion, I was so aware of the plot mechanics that I could never fully embrace Kakuriyo as a story. Someone less steeped in the conventions and cliches of shojo manga, however, might well find Kakuriyo a charming introduction to one of the medium’s most ubiquitous and appealing genres: the supernatural romance.
The verdict: Librarians working with middle school readers might find Kakuriyo a good addition to their graphic novel collection, as it’s largely free of provocative content (e.g. strong language, sexuality) but will feel more “adult” to readers in grades 6-8 than other T-rated romances.
A review copy was supplied by VIZ Media.
KAKURIYO: BED & BREAKFAST FOR SPIRITS, VOL. 1 • ART BY WACO IOKA, ORIGINAL STORY BY MIDORI YUMA, CHARACTER DESIGN BY LARUHA • TRANSLATED BY TOMO KIMURA • RATED T, FOR TEENS (FANTASY VIOLENCE) • 196 pp.