Nightmare Inspector 8

June 30, 2009

Ooh, I love this series so much!  I skipped a volume since the last time I read this, but the story’s episodic nature is very forgiving and I don’t seem to have missed out on anything.  There were less “plot”-related chapters than in the last volume I read (volume 6), but the short stories this time were better.  And a little worse, but the ones that were worse were still pretty okay, and the ones that were better were pretty awesome.

The best story involved a client trapping Tsukishiro in a clever dream-trap.  I was a bit disappointed when things didn’t work out quite how I wanted, but that didn’t make the story any less clever.  That was Tsukishiro’s only real appearance in this volume, but he comes up again maybe two other times for exquisite gags.

A couple other good stories involved a half-remembered chant from childhood and a haunting by a ghost that only the client could see, and another involving a ghost and a nightmare at an inn.  The inn story had some narrative problems, but it’s hard to deny the charm of a story that involves a diagram of the human digestive system drawn on a paper screen in blood.  Birthing blood.  There was also an excellent story about a girl in love with an elevator operator and a nightmare where he couldn’t escape the elevator.  That one was good simply because it wasn’t a nightmare situation at all, and I enjoyed the twist at the end.

Aside from the great horror stories, the other thing I like about this series is its sense of humor.  There were two chapters in particular that were exploited for all the gags possible.  The best one was at the end of the book, and involved Hiruko’s assistant Hifumi in an arranged marriage with a woman that looks exactly like him.  Gags include things like a good chunk of the chapter devoted to Hifumi running around naked in “clothes idiots can’t see,” Hiruko trying to put himself to sleep to escape the two enjoying each other’s company, an extended power rangers-type hallucination from another character in “invisible clothes”, and other simple, yet effective gags.

Another great thing about this series is that it seems to be wrapping up in the next volume.  9 volumes seems about right for something like this with minimal plot, and I’ll probably catch up on the past volumes before reading the end.  I’m just so impressed with it, since it seems like a lesser xxxHolic, but it’s not.  Nightmare Inspector is its own thing, and it’s really, really great at what it does.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Nightmare Inspector 6

June 17, 2009

This!  This was the book I was looking for all those times I jumped randomly into a series!  It was so easy to get into (even with no summary or character profiles in the front), and I really enjoyed how well the simple stories were structured.  Even when some of the short chapters delivered background details on the characters and plot of the overall series, I had absolutely no problems following along.

The story focuses on Hiruko, a Baku, and the customers that come into his shop to be cured of their nightmares.  It follows in the tradition of such series, which include things like Pet Shop of Horrors, XxXholic, and Tarot Cafe.  The chapters are, for the most part, one-shot stories where a customer comes in, Hiruko inspects their dream, solves their problem, and the customer goes on their way and we see the repercussions of the nightmare play out.  They are simple, and they seem short because the structure is such that a lot is going on without being rushed, not a lot of information is crammed in, and Hiruko’s analysis of the nightmares is actually fairly interesting.

The first chapter seems pretty typical.  A girl comes in with a nightmare where she’s in the dark and being held back by a rope.  She can’t move forward even though she wants to, and is afraid to look at what’s holding her back.  Hiruko enters her dream and finds out she is in a circular hallway, and the one holding her back is her brother, who cries out for constant attention and makes the girl feel like she can’t live her life the way she wants to since she’s constantly taking care of him.  After Hiruko tells her she needs to make a decision, she leaves her brother to make her own choices.  Her brother comes to the shop a day or so later asking about his missing sister, and we find out that her choice was actually to commit suicide, and the brother tried to prevent her from doing so by acting sickly so that she would feel like she had a purpose in life.  Apparently the rope represented her first suicide attempt, where she tried to jump in a well but got caught in the ropes.  She made sure to cut them after Hiruko told her about it.

See?  It’s not really cheesy, and the imagery used in the dream and the outcome of the nightmare are always kind of interesting like that.  The stories are short compared to the other series I mentioned, but everything interesting and relevant is there, and nothing is rushed.  It’s extremely well put-together.

There’s a few chapters that deal with the overarching plot of the series, and one or two gag chapters that were surprisingly funny.  Hiruko lives in a Tea Shop with two other people, and another character is introduced later that acts as a rival baku.  The two at the Tea Shop aren’t all that interesting, but the female plays a role when the rival baku drags up Hiruko’s past and what happened to him and the baku that gave him his powers.  Hiruko’s story is an interesting one, and the format takes a form you wouldn’t really expect.

The only person that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose in this volume is the male occupant of the Tea Shop, but I found it hard to begrudge his presence since he’s the one that brings the humor.  In one chapter, he lit Hiruko on fire and seemed more concerned that he’d singed the baku cane than the fact he’d just roasted Hiruko alive.  Hiruko can recover since he’s not a human, but it was quite hilarious to see him wandering around as a singed corpse.

Also, the series hinges on the legend of the baku, a creature that dines on nightmares.  Hiruko is a baku, and he survives by providing a service and eating the nightmares of people that ask for his help.  Baku traditionally cause nightmares in order to dine on, which is what the rival baku does (he makes nightmares worse so that they will be tastier when he eats them).  Sadly, this is a story type that isn’t used very frequently in the manga I read, and the only other times I’ve seen it come up are in Mizuki Hakase’s one-shot short story volume Baku (which wasn’t very good) and in the 2nd Urusei Yatsura movie, Beautiful Dreamer.  Beautiful Dreamer is actually what I think of whenever baku come up, but then again I think about Beautiful Dreamer quite often, it is a wonderful movie.

This series took me very much by surprise.  I’ve had this volume sitting around for some time, and I’m glad I finally picked it up.  The one-shot stories are extremely engaging, the baku theme is an interesting one, and the occasional chapter of plot seems to indicate the story will eventually move in a very, very interesting direction.  While it isn’t absolutely spectacular, it’s probably worth picking up if you want a similar series to Pet Shop of Horrors or the early volumes of XxXholic.  And it’s easy to jump into without reading previous volumes, which is a huge plus.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.