When it comes to horror, it’s very hard to scare somebody, whatever medium is used. Although horror comics have been around since the birth of the medium, there aren’t many in the west that get much recognition as opposed to their Japanese counterpart— horror manga. Although I have polarizing thoughts towards authors like Junji Ito, their brutal artistry can leave an impression, even if the storytelling doesn’t live up to the art. In this case, Kazuo Umezu, who made a splash in the 1970s with The Drifting Classroom, delivers work that is very much is a product of its time, including 1969’s Orochi.
Before the likes of John Constantine, there was Orochi, a woman with a young appearance and supernatural powers who observes people’s lives and the consequences of their hidden actions. Published by Viz Media as one of their Perfect Edition trades, the first volume features two stories, both of which show a supernatural twist to certain domestic troubles.
The first story “Sisters” is about Orochi, undercover as a maid working for Rumi and Emi, two sisters who seem to be worried about a curse that will turn anyone in their family ugly by the age of eighteen. Less than a hundred pages long, it gets the message across about the fears of losing your beauty and whilst I don’t find the supernatural element that scary— largely because the art doesn’t convey that terror— the story is best when showing the psychology of its two sisters, which becomes twisted and abusive.
If “Sisters” feels like a teaser for Umezu to show his true potential, “Bones” delivers on that promise. Covering the rest of the volume, the second narrative focuses on Chie, who went through an abusive upbringing from her dysfunctional family. Finding true happiness when she got married to Saburo, tragedy strikes as the husband falls to his death, leaving the wife alone and crying her eyes out all the time. However, when Orochi approaches Chie with the hope of bringing Saburo back to life, this leads to disastrous results.
Though you can see his style as a precursor to Junji Ito’s work, Kazuo Umezu’s art does look outdated and wouldn’t scare us by today’s standards. That said, Umezu does not hesitate in showing the nastiness of a resurrected corpse trying to hold onto life while his bones can be seen. Although I can praise Umezu for showcasing the dark side of humanity, some of his story decisions are quite baffling, most notably when it comes to Orochi herself as we never know how her powers work, nor do we understand what motivates her, leading to actions where everyone around her gets punished. For someone who has the magic touch, Orochi should know better.
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