Presents 3

June 22, 2008

Time to polish off another horror series. Once again, I have to mention how much I enjoyed this series, especially since I thought I would hate it. School Zone just wasn’t that good, but this one was really nifty. It’s good that she stopped it at three volumes, though. While this volume was still good, it’s much weaker than the other two volumes, and the ideas are starting to get a bit blander.

The story I enjoyed the most was one about a girl with a plain face making friends with a pretty transfer student. She tries to be a nice girl despite the fact she gets teased all the time because the boy she likes appreciates this quality, but she goes over the edge when her friend starts to steal the boy away. Things happen, the friend dies, and she teaches the girl with the plain face how to put on makeup so that she, too, can be pretty. The twist at the end isn’t all that clever, but the final scene is pretty nifty.

There’s another good one about a woman who desperately wants a baby and visits a shrine where she is warned that the outcome of her child will depend on how sincere her mother’s love is. She gives birth to a rock, and things get weirder from there. This is one of those stories that is sad all the way through with a bittersweet ending. They’re rare, but they’re usually very good. This one’s more weird than good, and a little underwhelming, but I liked it anyway.

Kurumi, our present-less host, appears only a few times in this volume. She appears as a background character with a minor role in the first story, there’s a short story dedicated to her finding her way home (in the middle of the volume, so it’s more about the beginning of the end of the journey), once in a really lame friendship story, and once in a story about a creepy girl who knits and knits a scarf to try and capture the boy she likes. She keeps getting rejected, so she keeps knitting, and she keeps putting a little bit of herself in the scarf until… well, the inevitable horrible outcome. It was a good story, and there was a bonus Kazuo Umezu reference in it, so I liked it.

Awesome horror short stories to the end, basically. It’s definitely worth buying all three volumes, but the second volume is really the best one.

Presents 2

February 23, 2008

Man, I can’t believe I haven’t posted in a week.  I’ve been a combination of ill, very, VERY cold (I had to work at a warehouse this week, which is just like working outdoors in your bare hands in 12 degree weather), and just busy at work.  I’ve got some stuff I need to talk about here, though.

So I’m totally sold on the fact that Kanako Inuki can write a good horror story.  Presents has totally erased School Zone from my memory, which I didn’t think was possible.  All it took, really, was the first few chapters of this book, which features, among other things, Santa Claus beating a little boy with a bat and a woman who continually kills the illegitimate children she has.

The first section of stories all involved Santa Claus explaining why the kids who deserved his presents (kids who really sincerely wanted something, kids who truly believed in him, or kids who’s parents were too poor to buy them things) also deserved to die.  This was accomplished by flashing forward and showing how Santa’s present would lead to the child turning into an evil person, in some cases destroying the world.  These were honestly very disturbing, mostly because at the end of the story, it would flash back to a little kid that was happy to see Santa who would be promptly killed.  Also, Santa is just drawn super-creepy.

Those stories alone are worth the price of admission, but there are some other highlights.  Some of the stories, while still being horror stories, managed to be very sweet and contain a message.  One little boy gives all his luck to his brother in order to win a telescope powerful enough so that his brother could discover a star.  Lots of other really horrible things happened, but instead of being way over-the-top (which is how most of the stories are), it stays fairly grounded because there really isn’t anything silly about the love the little boy has for his brother.   Another story has Kurumi trying to thwart Death, who is an actual character, and Death explains why what he does is necessary.  That one, while extremely heavy-handed, was pretty good as well.  Another bittersweet one is about an old man who pretends to be santa and gives presents to kids he runs across on the street.  Since he can’t afford to give out presents any more, the boxes are empty, and that puts him firmly in the realm of “crazy old man.”  There’s a sad story that goes with what he does though, and there really isn’t anything horror-themed in this story.  Just sad.

There’s a really, really silly one that would have fit better in Octopus Girl about how a fairy-tale prince needs to pick a bride, but he wants to do it how the stories say he should.  Girls who wish to be wed to him must have small feet, dainty necks, and be able to hold up a lot of jewelry.  While most of the build-up is pretty dark, the ending is just a joke, and this was one of the more memorable stories in the volume.

I could keep going.  The short length of the stories means that there’s a lot crammed into each volume, and while I wouldn’t have believed it possible, almost all of the ones I’ve read so far are really, really great.  They switch themes from horror to (dark) comedy to emotional pretty well, Kurumi’s hand isn’t necessarily always obvious in the stories, and the plots stay reasonably free of repetition.  It’s also only three volumes long, which is just about the right length, too.  I don’t know if the overarching plot will go anywhere (will Kurumi ever find her present), but it doesn’t really have to.  It works well as a series of really bizarre one-shots.

Presents 1

February 4, 2008

I really, really didn’t want to try this one after reading School Zone by the same artist.  School Zone was really terrible.  Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed this volume immensely.  She really knows how to write short horror stories, that’s for sure.

I had a few flashbacks to Bride of Deimos while reading this, which is always a great thing.  Each story is only around 10 pages long, and for some reason, these are grouped by threes into “Presents” in the book itself.  As far as I can tell, there didn’t really seem to be a lot of thematic relation, so I wonder if that’s just how it was in the original magazine.

At ten pages, they work really well as just brief, twisted tales of horror.  The basic setup is that the main character didn’t receive a present for her birthday one year, so she stopped aging and has become some sort of wandering spirit of gifts.  She runs across different people to whom presents have different meanings.  Sometimes the stories are happy, most of the time they’re tragic.

Just so you have an idea about what the stories are like… well, one of them is about a little girl who is popular at school and is given presents all the time by her classmates.  Kurumi  (the main character) shows up and says she’ll give the girl a present every day if she’ll be her friend, and the girl accepts.  At the end, it’s revealed that Kurumi has only been giving the girl gifts she’d received and forgot about.  On top of that, she’d only been talking with Kurumi for months, who nobody else could see, so she’d fallen out of the good graces of her friends.

They’re all sort of like that, semi-tragic with a twist ending, which is what you might expect, but they’re fun to read.  Two or so involve Kurumi’s life directly, and one even plays off the Urashima Taro legend.  That made me dust off my Beautiful Dreamer DVD and watch it.