The American manga industry’s increased willingness to take chances on classic, decades-old series has been a positive development over the last few years. One such example is Viz Media’s publication of works by Kazuo Umezz, author of The Drifting Classroom. This week marks the release of another of his series with Orochi: The Perfect Edition Vol. 1. How does the manga hold up fifty years after its debut?
So what’s it about?
Here’s a plot summary, courtesy of Viz Media:
Umezz’s classic horror manga opens with “Sisters,” in which Orochi affects the lives of two wealthy siblings who couldn’t be more alike…or more different. Next, in “Bones,” Orochi helps a man come back to life after a terrible accident, but resurrection can be a deadly business…
A mysterious people-watcher
The titular protagonist of Orochi is a (seemingly) young girl with mysterious powers and no roots to speak of. Her origins and supernatural abilities are left entirely undefined. What’s most clear is that she has some degree of control over other people’s actions and memories, thus enabling her to come and go as she pleases. She derives enjoyment from watching human drama unfold, even when she appears somehow detached from it herself.
All the above are examples of why Orochi makes a great horror antagonist. Thus far the series reads like an anthology; the stories reprinted here have no direct connection save Orochi’s inserting herself into other people’s dramatic and horrific lives. Is Orochi a specter bringing bad luck in her wake, or merely an observer drawn to the macabre?
She herself doesn’t directly cause any of the harrowing events of the book, though her uncanny actions and statements certainly set characters on edge. She involves herself in events too intimately to just be a people-watcher, but all the murder and brutalization throughout has nothing nothing do with her mind control powers. In a way this further highlights the violence. Orochi is clearly a supernatural being in a world bounding with strange phenomena, but it’s human passion that most fans the flames of death and danger.
Classic horror aesthetics
The world of Orochi is eerie and dramatic, and a good example of just how much drama can be packed into traditional comic stylings. At a first glance the manga’s pages look quite standard; panels are almost exclusively rectangular or square in shape, and their contents don’t spill outside their bounds. That doesn’t hinder the flow of action or sheer excitement, because Umezz is abundantly skilled at crafting horrific still images that really sell the atrocity. Close-ups on both screaming faces and calm, peaceful people can be unsettling depending on context.
If there’s a con to be found here, it’s just that the second story (“Bones”) doesn’t feel like it lives up to its full potential. While it’s much longer than “Sisters” the pacing and ordering of events get in the way of successfully building up tension in places. Some of the rendering of the characters’ injuries also lacks the bold impact of other horror visuals throughout the book.
Is it good?
Orochi is a supernatural horror series whose paranormal aspects are among its least notable. Different types of familial infighting define this first volume, and they make for great drama. With a simultaneously brutal and classic visual style, as well as a wandering protagonist who serves as an unsettling observer, Orochi is an old school manga that’s legitimately fun to read and still holds up fifty years after publication.
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