Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Yokaiden, Volume 2 by Nina Matsumoto

Hamachi Uzumaki has gone to the Yokai realm to look for his grandmother's soul, stolen by a Kappa that he called Madkap. Now, to find Madkap, he must find a Kitsune, or Nine-Tailed Fox Spirit who has the power of a seer. When he finally is brought before the Kitsune (who is immensely fat), the Kitsune feeds him and treats him nicely. She asks him to call her Christina.

But soon after Hamachi has eaten, he asks her to find Madkap for him, and she does. But she believes in Quid Pro Quo. Her services don't come free, and since Hamachi won't agree to stay there with her for all time, she comes up with another service he can do for her in exchange for finding out where Madkap is. Three items have been stolen from her by three separate sets of thieves. In exchange for stealing the items back, she will tell him where Madkap is. Hamachi agrees.

The first item is a sword that is in the Possession of a Tengu. Hamachi attempt to trick the Tengu with a piece of bamboo that he claims can let one see 10,000 miles, and the Tengu appears to be fooled, but he actually isn't. The Tengu chases Hamachi, only to have the umbrella ghost from the last volume turn up. Lumi tells the Tengu that the umbrella lays eggs of gold, and the Tengu takes that in exchange for the sword and leaving Hamachi alone.

When Hamachi returns to Christina, she is happy to get her sword back. But after Hamachi has gone to sleep reveals that it wasn't really stolen from her. She just wanted to add it to her collection. Part of her wants Hamachi to fail and have to stay with her, but she also wants more things for her collections, so she will let him continue, for now.

The next item she wants is a mirror, who is in possession of a Yokai known as the Slit-Mouthed woman. A woman with a smile that stretches from ear to ear and who asks how she looks. The only correct answer is so-so, but the umbrella Obaké turns up and tells her she's ugly, which makes her attack Hamachi. Lumi protects him by breathing fire, and drives the slit-mouthed woman away, but blinds Hamachi in the process.

The three then encounter another Tengu, who threatens to throw Hamachi back into the human world. But when Hamachi attacks him, he turns out to be a normal, human-looking guy who gives his name as Binzuru. Having failed to save Hamachi by driving him back to the human realm, he heals his wounds instead. Hamachi asks if he is a god, but Binzuru denies it. However, when a clay golem called a Haniwa shows up, Binzuru has to go home.

Meanwhile, Zaigó has entered the Yokai world, and has encounters of his own with the Yokai, including getting his short sword stolen, falling for a Yokai who gives him her baby to hold- a baby that will crush him eventually. And to get his Wakizashi back, he'll have to gamble with the Yokai, and Zaigó is not a lucky man.

But when Hamachi brings Christina the third item she wants, will she live up to her promises and let him go, or will she decide having Hamachi, a human, is the perfect thing to add to her collection? And if she doesn't let Hamachi go, how will he get free?

This is the perfect second volume to the first. Hamachi is working for a Kitsune, who the readers can tell isn't a nice Yokai even before she confesses to one of her handmaidens that she's leading Hamachi on- because if you take a close look at her necklace, it has human fingers in it!

There's also the rather disturbing realization that Christina, whatever her real name is, views Hamachi as no better than a pet dog. And I mean that literally. He sleeps in a kennel, she gives him a collar to wear that looks just like a dog collar (Complete with leash and hanging bone), and she tells him she wants to keep him as her "pet"- and considering that Kitsune are foxes, well, that's not a good sign.

But I liked Binzuru, who, as it turns out, is based on a God, even if he may deny being one in the story. This volume had its own share of weird and wacky yokai, including the very modern one, the woman with the slit mouth, a legend from the 70's in Japan.

Filled with more humor, and more interesting and obscure Yokai, this was another totally enjoyable volume. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of this very strange, but wonderful series. Recommended.

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