It’s been a while but it’s time again to talk about ghosts, ghouls, and feel-good morals. Yup, I’m talking about Hinowa Kouzuki and Waka Miyama’s Elegant Yokai Apartment Life. Specifically, Vol. 14. This time around we learn about Mariko’s unhappy past and Yushi makes plans for his future. So, is this volume good?
Artistically Miyama delivers more of the lovely work I’ve come to expect. The color and splash pages are especially well-done, with aesthetically pleasing textures and some great group shots of all the series’s core characters. Rendering facial expressions continues to be one of Miyama’s strong suits, with wonderful reaction shots of Yushi and co.’s joy, shock, anger, and anxiety.
The shading is also very well-done, enhancing the manga’s sense of physical depth and reading believably with regards to light sources and shadows. The light and dark tones throughout are very well-balanced and easy on the eyes, especially in the nature imagery. The scene of Kuri playing in a sunflower field is one of the most beautiful in the series thus far.
With that said the art also has its low points. It can sometimes seem rather flat, with little sense that the characters are actually inhabiting their environment. The worst examples can feel like the characters just got edited on top of the backgrounds. This static feel isn’t always a problem though; it works quite well when Miyama is rendering cartoonishly over-the-top faces and reactions.
There’s also a lot to like here story-wise. Historically Yushi has more or less acted as a sponge, taking in the morals of the supporting cast and spitting them back out into the world. Though this can sometimes get a bit cheesy that’s not the case here. All his thoughtful conversations with other characters in this volume feel earned, and the creative team’s depiction of a teenager trying to find his place in the world continues to have a lot of relatable content. It’s also worth noting that Yushi makes some major decisions all on his own here. He’s learned a lot over time and he’s starting to use that knowledge to push himself in directions of his choice rather than just parroting what other people say. It’s a great development for a character who’s spent so much time as a pupil but not as much taking full control of his own life.
With that said, the feel-good vibes aren’t consistent througout. Rather, the first few chapters can be just plain downers. For the record, I didn’t come to this manga to see women lament over their past abortions. For some reason, though, that’s a major plot point. Now I’m not saying comics shouldn’t ever tackle that sort of serious subject matter, but it’s so extraordinarily out of place here. Mariko’s arc covers her childhood and emotionally fraught years as a young adult, and there are some scenes that come off as extremely mean-spirited. It’s just bizarre and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the manga’s tone at all. It’s especially disappointing since Yokai Apartment’s female characters seldom get time in the spotlight. To have one of them get fleshed out for once just to be treated so much worse than the men is a huge letdown.
All in all, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Vol. 14 is a book that hits its stride a few chapters in. The art is lovely and Yushi’s character arc is strong. Unfortunately Mariko’s treatment leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, but once the focus shifts to other characters this becomes an enjoyable read.