Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Atomic Robo

Oh man. I was reading Greg Craven's Hubris webcomic when the banner ad came up for Atomic Robo. Three days later, I surfaced for air after having finished wading through the archives. The artwork on the first half of the series is killer. The writing all the way through is just down-right hilarious, and I love everything about Robo. The later artwork isn't bad, either, it's just in a very different style. So, for anyone unfamiliar with it, (I know, I am very late to the party) what is Atomic Robo? Think of Doc Savage meets Buckaroo Banzai, but with more science guns and no guitars. Very, very funny stuff in a pulpy way.

The website has links to the cover pages of the first 11 volumes, but not to volume 12, and not to the individual chapters, so I'm putting them here if you want them. Read this comic. Buy this comic. And Behold the superior dinosaur science of Lord Raptor!

Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
Chapter 1: The Will to Power
Chapter 2: Pest Control
Chapter 3: Pyramid Scheme
Chapter 4: Atomic Robo of Mars
Chapter 5: Unearthed, Part 1
Chapter 6: Unearthed, Part 2
Free Comic Book Day

The Dogs of War
Chapter 1: Operation HUSKY
Chapter 2: And Then There's The Robots
Chapter 3: Going Off Track
Chapter 4: Nemesis
Chapter 5: It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow
Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur

The Shadow From Beyond Time
Chapter 1: Horror on Houston Street
Chapter 2: The Doom That Came to Robo
Chapter 3: At the Farm of Madness
Chapter 4: The Crawling Chaos
Chapter 5: From Beyond
Flight of the Terror Birds

Other Strangeness
Chapter 1: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension
Chapter 2: Atomic Robo Big in Japan
Chapter 3: Why Dr. Dinosaur Hates Atomic Robo
Chapter 4: Incandescent Soul
National Science Fair (?)

The Deadly Art of Science
Chapter 1: The Man With Two Skulls
Chapter 2: The Robot Who Wouldn't Go Away
Chapter 3: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Chapter 4: The Wizard of Menlo Park
Chapter 5: War of the Currents
Free Comic Book Day

The Ghost of Station X
Chapter 1: Acceleration
Chapter 2: Explosion
Chapter 3: Propagation
Chapter 4: Transformation
Chapter 5: Two Faces of Tomorrow
Project Saint

The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific
Chapter 1: Women in War
Chapter 2: Pacific Rendevous
Chapter 3: Out of the Depths
Chapter 4: Behind the Rising Sun
Chapter 5: The Blazing Heavens
Free Comic Book Day

The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur
Chapter 1: A Voyage of Discovery
Chapter 2: The Cave of the Ancients
Chapter 3: Lands Beyond
Chapter 4: The Fall of Tesladyne
Chapter 5: Crystals are Integral
The Trial of Atomic Robo

Knights of the Golden Circle
Chapter 1: The Butcher Boys
Chapter 2: The Alamosa Massacre
Chapter 3: The Vendetta Ride
Chapter 4: The Empire of Iron
Chapter 5: The Long Way Home
Epilogue: The Night of the Inferno

Action Science Vol. 10 Ch. 0
Chapter 1: Bernard
Chapter 2: The Intern
Chapter 3: Vik
Chapter 4: Lang

Ring of Fire
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
City of Skulls
The Revenge of Dr. Dinosaur
Bug Hunt

Atomic Robo
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Once Upon a Time in China
Free Comic Book Day 2016
The Dark Age
A Sparrow Appears - Project Millipede

The Fungus Among us
Chapter 0
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kitsune are where you find them

I was walking down the street from Tenmonkan and going past the Caparvo Hall event space when I spotted the male kitsune (fox spirit) hanging around outside. I've seen him at past events, and I figured this would be a good opportunity to talk to him a bit. I asked if I could take a photo, and he said "yes," guiding me into the lobby where his wife was waiting. I asked "why kitsune," and he answered that his wife paints and sells the masks.

They graciously posed for a few photos, then let me leave without stealing my soul. That was very nice of them.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 9-10, 2017

The music at Amu Plaza for their Christmas Market this year has been pretty disappointing so far. But, I've also been really busy with work for the last couple weeks and haven't been able to get out of the apartment much Mon.-Fri., anyway. I hung around Central Park for the event there on Saturday, then had one class at the English school at 6 PM. That finished a bit early, so I walked the mile up to Amu Plaza in time to catch the 7:30 PM singer, Anna Toribuchi. She started out with Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you," which is of course copyrighted and therefor not worth uploading to youtube. I still had a lot of work to finish, so I returned to the apartment for the night.

Nakashima Yoimai Fair
I did get done the part I needed to get done, and on Sunday I hit Tenmonkan at 3:30 PM to check out Shochu Street, and the other stuff related to what had been going on in Central Park Saturday.

That included products from Nakashima (fish, bakery goods and vegetables) under the umbrella term "Nakashima Yoimai Fair" ("yoimai" is a local slang meaning something like "happy," I guess). I didn't buy any of the products advertised, just looked around.

Shochu Street was much smaller this time, with just two tables offering "all you can drink" shochu for 500 yen ($4.50 USD) and shochu cocktails for 100 yen each, but they only had 3 different shochu brands to pick from. I didn't feel like spending the entire evening drunk, so I just got two of the cocktails. These consisted of the brand of shochu of your choice, a fruit liquor (melon, lemon or cassis), club soda and a garnish. One drink had the melon liquor and the other was cream de cassis. Both were good, and in glasses that matched the price. It was a decent deal.

(People with shopping receipts waiting to try the lottery for extra prizes.)

Amu Plaza

Then I went up to Amu Plaza for the Yoichi Tajima Group set. I've seen them before, and they do ok jazz. I wasn't planning on recording them at first, then I figured I could at least shoot one song for my archives. Instead, I ended up recording two of the songs, editing them together and uploading them to youtube (see below). There was a lot of background noise with all the people talking, which the camera picked up better than it did the louder music...

Oh yeah, the weather. Friday was nice, Saturday morning it rained. By 4 PM when I got outside, the rain had stopped but the sky was still cloudy. Sunday morning, the rain poured down hard, tapered off around 2 PM, and ended by 3. At 4, the sky was an absolutely clear blue. At 5 PM, the clouds were back and it was raining again. I had stuff I still needed to get done in the apartment before I received the next batch of work on Monday, so I returned home and concentrated on that.

One thing I realized, though is that the Christmas Market schedule only covers from Dec. 1st to the 10th, meaning that they'd have to provide a new schedule soon. I went to the Amu Plaza website, and they finally had the stage show listings available for the month. There's really nothing I have any interest in until the 24th, when Bon DX will be playing on Saturday at 3:30 and 4:30 PM. I have two lessons that day and I don't know what time they'll be. If I have the option, I do want to watch both Bon sets. We'll see.

Direct youtube link

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Suginoko 2017

The shops in Tenmonkan had a 3-day sale over the weekend. The idea was that you spend a certain amount of money at a participating store, then bring your receipt to a table in the open space in front of 7-11 for a chance at a "free" prize. At the same time, a few food booths were set up in the same area for another Shochu Street. This time, the shochu sellers had a 500 yen ($4.50 USD) all you can drink ticket, and shochu cocktails for 100 yen each. I had to teach a class Saturday night, and didn't want to be drunk for it, so I had to skip that part then. (We'll see what happens on Sunday.) The event also included the Suginoko 2017 Christmas Fest in Central Park a couple blocks over, for Saturday only.

(Christmas Hello Kitty and Soft Cream for you.)

The fest had the normal event foods, and some advertising for cars and stuff.

Plus foam sword fighting for the kids against local mascot hero Hayato Kenshin.

There was also an event stage, but really only 3 events that played twice each, from 11 AM to 1 PM, and 3 PM to 5 PM. I'd wanted to catch a bit of the 3 PM show, but my shopping schedule didn't allow it. As it was, I missed half of the Doburokku manzai comedy show at 4 PM as well. When I got to the park, there had to be at least 200 people there for it.

Manzai is a Japanese form of vaudeville, that usually consists of two comics engaging in music, spoken skits, and broad slapstick.

Often, the slapstick gets very crude. You can guess the joke the guy is making here.

But, you'd only be half right. He's dropped his pants and is about to empty all the air from the balloon into his butt.

And the crowd goes wild. "Thank you, thank you very much. Anyone want the balloon for a souvenir?"
Their show then ended and the emcees spent 15 minutes gabbing with the duo, and allowing the audience to take photos. After that, 60% of the audience left.

The last performance was the Kagoshima Mass Choir doing Christmas songs. A few people hung around for that, but they just didn't have the same appeal as slapstick does.

I had to get ready for my evening class, so I left for that at 4:45 PM.

Direct youtube link

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jabberwocky 1914, vol. 2

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Jabberwocky 1914, vol. 2, Masato Hisa. Grade: A-
Jigoro wraps up Samoed's knife wound, and then discusses what had just happened with Apricot (we learn her first name is Lily). Jigoro mentions that his student had learned of a battle in China a little while back (mentioned in vol. 1) where the Japanese forces had attacked like berzerkers, absolutely free from fear. The only clue was that a Japanese orchestra had been playing next to acoustic amplifiers. Maybe the dinosaurs learned how to manipulate human fear sensors through sound. If so, then the city of Aoshima may be the next target. The two of them vow revenge for what had just happened to them, and set out for the building in the hills Jigoro's student had pinpointed as an enemy base. Meanwhile, Shelty is hating herself for injuring her brother, so she runs out to her bike and tries to disappear forever. The sound of the engine wakes Samoed up, and he runs out after her. Her bike is too fast for him to catch up, but he has a sudden flash of insight that a side alley would act as a shortcut. A little later, Shelty's not paying attention and she hits a tree branch lying in the road. This sends her flying and she prepares for a just ending, and then smashes on top of Samoed. He asks if she's afraid of him, and she says "no." He replies that the first time they'd met, he was afraid of her. Lily had just delivered Shelty as a baby, and she was so soft and helpless that he refused to hold her. They reconcile, and Samoed suddenly realizes that the drawing they'd looked at for the sound weapon wasn't a schematic - it's the Aoshima city map. Kuun had worked with the Japanese army to design the new buildings they'd erected specifically to amplify and route sound throughout the town.

(Samoed refusing to hold baby Shelty.)

Kuun, the dinosaur leader, is a Styracosaurus. The frill on the sides of his head acts as a sound amplifier. Originally, this protected his ancestors from attackers approaching from behind. Now, it's helped him become a master-class concert conductor and composer. His latest work is "Goodbye Aoshima." His dinosaur orchestra plays it for the Japanese general and the men that erected all of the new buildings in town, and by the end of the song there's not a soldier left in the building alive. Kuun's boss, Pagu, is happy with the results, and they eagerly look forward to killing the thousands of civilians in town next. Kuun then comments that they have visitors. Jigoro and Apricot enter the building and make their way up to the top floor. Jigoro easily wipes out the orchestra musicians, but Pagu turns out to be a much tougher opponent because he has a very low center of gravity and a whip-like tail. Kuun goes to the roof to implement his plan, and is accidentally intercepted by Apricot, who'd simply been planning on climbing the outer walls to the roof and then entering the building from a second point. These two start fighting, but Kuun's hearing acts like sonar and he knows exactly when and from where Apricot is going to strike, and he throws his batons at her to hit like bullets. Back in town, the two kids have returned to the brewery and discovered that all the kegs are covered with a webbing that cancels out sound. If they could get the kegs distributed in town, they would save everyone. The problem is that they're all full and too heavy for the kids to move them by themselves. It looks like the town is doomed.

(Kuun leads his orchestra on his latest composition, dedicated to the Japanese forces.)

Pagu smashes Jigoro into a wall and is about to finish off the old man once and for all. The guy then says that he's learned two things. First, Pagu is like a weeble who wobbles but doesn't fall down, and is almost an immovable statue. Second, the building is hollow all the way down from the top floor to the ground. Pagu replies that most everyone comments on that, and it was part of Kuun's designs. Jigoro then proceeds to sumo stomp the wooden floor in a circle around the dinosaur leader (safely outside the reach of Pagu's tail). Eventually, the floor collapses and they fall 6 stories. Jigoro demonstrates that it is possible to judo throw someone in mid-air, and smashes Pagu's face into the walls to slow their fall somewhat. He uses Pagu as an airbag, and just barely manages to survive the impact at the end (Pagu doesn't). On the roof, Apricot is in a similar bind, and she calls "time." She grabs a bottle of alcohol, takes a swig, spits the liquid at Kuun and then ignites the bottle. When the smoke clears, the woman has jumped down to the next floor and raced through a bedroom to come up the other side of the building behind him. Kuun prepares to kill her this time, and is stunned to find the enemy right at his back. Apricot slits his throat, and he looks down to see that she'd tied pillows to her feet. "Goodbye Aoshima" had been burned to a record, and Kuun gives it to his minion to play for him. The minion flies up to a building shaped like a huge record player, and sets the needle on the disk. Kuun relaxes, waiting for the lovely sounds of humans screaming in pain and terror. Instead, he just hears laughter. In a rage that his plan has failed, Kuun rips out his own brain and pulls his head off his neck. Down in town, Shelty and Samoed are leading the townsfolk in an impromptu beer fest in the brewery.

The next day, Apricot berates them for giving away all that beer, which she'd been planning on selling to make a profit on this adventure. Instead, she's going to dock them one year's worth of wages. Jigoro is going to continue on his way, but Apricot asks him if he'd been able to gather any information on "him." "He" is Lily's former lover (not sure if they'd been married), and Shelty's father. He'd disappeared many years ago to fight the war his way. Lily wants him back, and Jigoro says that if the guy is going to be found anywhere, it'll be where the fighting is the thickest. She goes out to the bike, and rubs Shelty on the head, telling her to grow up to be a good kid. Shelty panics over her mother acting nice like this, and Samoed demands to know what his sister has done wrong this time.

(The founder of Judo analyzes how to throw a regular dinosaur.)

The next chapter is set in Nov., 1914, Baarle-Nassau. Baarle is a village divided up into segments that are either Dutch or Belgian properties. Lily Apricot tells Samoed that with the German occupation now, the camp of Jandehoven is even crazier. Barbwire separates little pieces of land into German, Dutch and Belgian domains, and no one is allowed to cross between them (if they try, the German guards will shoot to kill). However, Apricot Corp. has been hired as a package and letter courier service, and to that end Shelty has specially-fitted tires that let her very carefully ride along the top of the barbwire to reach anyone that has something to post in the mail. Suddenly, a group of men surround Lily and Samoed and tell them to not try anything stupid - there's no room to maneuver to get a clear shot at the boss (a guy with a scarred face and a foreign speaking style. Samoed pulls out his pistol and twists to get his shot to prove the guy wrong, and the attacker lashes out and twists the hammer off the pistol. Lily and Samoed relent and let the enemy escort them to a nearby building. Barbwire runs through the house as well, with Lily and Samoed on one side, and their "host" safely on the other. Lily recognizes their host as Boothloyd (Bu-suroido), currently head of the British secret service, OHMSS (OHMSS = "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is a James Bond film). He and Lily had worked together with a group dedicated to having dinosaurs and humans living peacefully together, but then he betrayed everyone somehow. Lily lunges at Boothloyd, only to have the foreigner guy grab her by the shoulder and casually throw her to a couch at the other side of the room. Boothloyd tells his minion, John Clayton, to not damage their guests. (Note: John Clayton is the name of that Tarzan guy that was raised by apes in the jungle. He's very strong, you know.)

(Dakkel orders his "men" to use Dart Ryuu to destroy the town, as Shelty dangles helplessly from the barbwire above.)

Boothloyd tosses Samoed a replacement hammer, and the boy sets to repairing his Colt 1911 while Clayton eats cold Campbell's condensed soup directly from the can (he doesn't care about the taste). When Samoed is done, he aims the gun around, and Clayton tells him to not shoot it because the sound will alarm the Germans and get them shot. Lily asks what OHMSS wants with her, and Boothloyd replies that he has business in Jandehoven that doesn't concern her, but it's delicate and he's waiting for his contact. He doesn't want her interfering. Lily gets alarmed, wondering what the guy means by "partners", at the same time that Shelty finds herself wandering into a region of the camp that's not on her map. The map has 4 colors, but up to this point she'd only encountered Germans, Belgians and the Dutch. But, the land in front of her belongs to a fourth group; the buildings are unoccupied but filled with dirt. Lily yells "Impossible, "@" is here!?" as a couple dinosaurs pop out of the ground and try to stick spears into Shelty. Samoed leaps to the window and Clayton again attempts to break his gun. This time, though, the boy is faster, grabbing the soup can and jumping up on top of Clayton's arm. He uses the can as a silencer, and shoots through the dinosaurs' spears, but Shelty is still knocked off her bike and ends up having to grab onto the barbwire to keep from hitting the ground. Boothloyd finally gets to clearly see the boy's face and marks him as an aviraptor. He realizes that the the boy is from the egg that Lily stole a long time ago. They don't have time react on this information, because another dinosaur comes out of the hole. This one is commanding officer Dakkel, who has a drill bit for a cap. Dakkel orders his men to wipe out everyone, and they activate Dart Ryuu ("ryuu" = "dragon), a giant drilling machine. Dart creates a huge hole directly under Shelty, destroying the nearby posts and snapping several of the lines of barbwire.

There's also a bonus short story at the end. It's Dec., 1914, and a dinosaur known as "Assassination Teacher" has orchestrated a battle between the British and the Germans that results in both armies wiping each other out, with 23,783 dead. Lily tracks down AT, and they fight. The problem is that AT can't be killed conventionally, and his preferred weapon is the barbwire he normally has wrapped around his body like a jacket. AT easily subdues and binds up Lily in the barbwire, then wonders why she's still smiling. When she first arrived, she'd grabbed the field telephone and called her location in to the British commander at HQ. She's just been acting as a distraction to keep AT from noticing the incoming artillery until its too late. The shells hit, and AT is blown to pieces. Lily frees herself and returns to the phone. We now learn that the commander had hired Lily to locate his son's body. She tells him that there are now the corpses of 23,783 "sons" to wade through.

Summary: Again, I love Hisa's art style and his sense of humor. The characters are imaginative and the action sequences are well-drawn. But, J1914 is still not quite as much fun as Area 51 was, and the violence that the heroes have to withstand borders on the sadistic side. Still, I've already bought volume 3, which came out last August, and I will probably get number 4 as well when that's released. Recommended if you like over-the-top action.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Macaroni Switch, vol. 1 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Macaroni Switch, vol. 1, Daichi Kawada. Grade: A
There's not a lot of information on Kadawa in English right now. He does have a Facebook page, which has lots of character sketches. Macaroni Switch started in 2014, and he also wrote and drew a short piece for Harta Cover Stories (one-shots that appear at the beginning of each issue of Harta magazine). Switch is a collection of short nonsense gag chapters, 220 pages total, that all ran in Harta, vols. 17-29.

Kawada has a very clean, highly developed line style, and his characters, while manga-like, look very realistic. His backgrounds are very detailed, and he likes drawing parodies of other artists' works. His gags are on the order of Hideo Azuma and Tori Miki, but without Azuma's lolicon elements and Tori Miki's penchant for SF themes. Kawada's running gags in this volume range from a girl that looks cute only when she takes her glasses off, a salaryman that dresses up as a dog to get cute girls to pet him only to get angry at being patronized, and an anti-gravity zone that causes weird things to happen to anyone that enters it.

Kawada also occasionally channels Fujio Akatsuka (Tensai Bakabon), when he plays with the entire idea of panel artwork on paper. I especially like the story shown here.

Summary: Macaroni Switch is a collection of nonsense gags by Daiichi Kawada. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, others just make you tilt your head and go "hmmm." The artwork is good, and it's an easy read. Highly recommended if you like Azuma, Tori Miki and Akatsuka.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mos Mas

The Mos Burger in Tenmonkan was closed all through November for renovations, and reopened right at the end of the month.

He knows if you're sleeping. Because you'll walk right into him, and bring down the whole display.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Moon 171128

The weather keeps acting tricky, with rain one day, clear skies the next, heavy clouds in the morning that clear up and then turn cloudy again in the evening. So, when the air is clear enough and the moon is up and bright enough to attract attention, I keep trying to get at least one good shot of it. I'm also messing with the little pocket camera to figure out how to get more control over the contrast levels.

Anyway, I ran this photo through two different monochrome level curve filters in Gimp to try to bring out the main features on the face of the moon in one, and then the craters and mountains at the dividing line for the other.

I'll keep practicing. Maybe one day I'll get something I'm satisfied with.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 4

It's that time of year again, when Amu Plaza has their seasonal booths out in the open area in front of the main train station, from the 1st to the 24th. I had to work Friday and Saturday, but I managed to swing by for a few minutes Sunday afternoon to check out the schedule.

Nothing says "Christmas in Japan" like roast chicken. Reserve yours for $25 now and beat the rush.

Quite a few people out for the food and beer. A few of the booths sell jewelry and crafts, while the others have mulled wine, cocktails, beer, cotton candy, and heavier foods like fried potatoes and meat platters. I got a moderately-sized plate of spare ribs for 600 yen ($5.40 USD), which weren't too bad for the price.

Last year, the Market had live music every day all the way up to Christmas. During the week, the performances were between 5:30 PM and 8 PM, or so. However, the only schedule showed the main headliner acts, and if you wanted to know who the lesser artists were during the day, you had to go up to Amu Plaza and wait until the MC announced them. This time, things appear to be really scaled back. The school kids here played Christmas medleys and AKB 48 tunes on tubular bells, for something like an hour. I couldn't find out who else was to be playing later in the afternoon, and I did have a lot of work waiting for me in the apartment. According to the schedule for this year, the main artists are the same jazz, light folk/pop and gospel singers they had last year, but there are only two or three listed performers on Saturdays and Sundays this time, and nothing during the week. I got to Amu Plaza at about 2 PM on Sunday, and didn't bother waiting until 7 PM to get photos of whoever the singer was then. I did come back up on Monday at 7:30 PM after I finished teaching a class near City Hall, but there was no music then at all. Just the MC interviewing the operators of the food stalls in an attempt to get people to spend more money. I'm hoping that things will get better as we get closer to Christmas, but I'm not holding my breath. My guess is that Amu Plaza is scrimping pennies as the economy continues to nosedive, and there's not going to be anything I want to listen to.

Monday, December 4, 2017


Last year, one of the architectural groups had a big display set up in the arcade in Tenmonkan in front of 7-11 to show off a lot of weird construction ideas, and some building models. On Saturday and Sunday, the same group just had this one piece up called Hangatecture.

It's kind of a geodesic structure made out of wire clothes hangers. Not really sure what the concept was supposed to prove, but whenever a young Japanese person got close to look it over, one of the students would approach them with snacks and give some kind of spiel. They mostly just ignored me.

It doesn't show up that well in the photos, but it was kind of eye-catching in person. At night on Saturday, the students dismantled it and apparently put it in a truck for storage. It was back in place on Sunday, so at the least, it's designed to be collapsible and portable.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fall Shoes Chalk

This is another chalk board from Loop Shoes.
The kanji reads "aki kutsu hakouze" - "Put on Fall shoes."
I assume the singer has a song that has lyrics that are loosely similar.
It's nice chalk in either case.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Divide in valley, vol. 1 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Mikumari no Yami, vol. 1, by Koushin Ogawa. Grade: B
I was given this manga to read, so I did. It's not really something I would have picked up by myself. The title, Mikumari no Yami, is a bit difficult to translate. The subtitle is "Divide in valley." Mikumari is a Shinto goddess, and there are four shrines dedicated to her in what is now Nara prefecture. She's associated with water, fertility and safe birth. "Yami" breaks down to "valley" and "deep place". So, maybe we could read it as "The Shrine to Mikumari in the Deep Valley." There's little on Koushin in English, and most of the titles listed for him on are for hentai manga. Mikumari no Yami is more of a folklore-based horror story, though.

(Nonoka helps straighten shrine statues that someone else vandalized.)

The story is set in a city named Manyou New Town, in an area outside of Tokyo. Manyou shuu is Japan's oldest collection of poetry, compiled in the 700's in Nara, and "Manyou" (10,000 leaves) is being used here for the town name. It's a new city, with skyscrapers, amusement parks, and shopping malls, but it's small. It only takes a few minutes to get out of the city center and reach rice paddies and wooded hills. Nonoka Atori is a first year student at Jinshin (Benevolent) University. She also likes visiting old shrines in the hills, and works part-time as a tutor for Rui, a younger girl that suffered a major shock some time ago and can no longer speak. Rui lives in the countryside, and Nonoka has to come out from New Town to teach her. Along the way, she encounters a strange old priestess running a fertility-related shrine.

(One of the kappa people kills the paintball player before going after the school kids.)

At the same time, a slacker couple are out driving in the hills at night and they encounter a kind of big-foot creature that wrecks the guy's car. The story gets carried on the news, and a group of high school kids decide to go to that area one weekend to track down the creature and take video for youtube. Nearby is a paintball park, and two of the salarymen that are playing on one team decide to cheat and go outside the park and around the fence to attack their opponents from behind. The paintball players get lost and stumble across a bin, in the middle of a field, containing human remains. One of the guys gets killed by something big, and the other runs away. As the school kids get deeper into the woods, they find a river. The surviving paintball player leaps out of the water, screaming for help. Something that looks like a kappa (a Japanese river spirit) follows him out of the water and kills him. The kids scatter, and are killed one by one, although one of the boys does survive and is rescued, when the adults notice them missing and send out a search party. The boy is in shock and no one believes his babbling. The others remain missing.

(The power of kappa music.)

Nonoka hears about this story. Soon after, she goes to Rui's house to tutor the girl again, and discovers her sneaking out of the house with a flask of sake in her arms. Rui reaches one of the shrines, and moves a false wall to reveal a tunnel behind the shrine. Nonoka follows her to a hidden woods with a bridge made of braided tree branches. Nonoka gets bitten by a snake, and the kappa that Rui gives the sake to rushes up, grabs Nonoka and removes the venom from the bite. She's taken to a tree hut, where she recovers for a day or so. Later, she finds herself wandering back in the hills again. A villager spots her and she's taken to a hospital, where she just ends up taunting the doctors. Nonoka asks her father what kappa like, and a coworker replies that while the modern belief is that they eat cucumbers, originally kappa were the guardians of rice fields and rivers. Combine rice and water, and you get sake. Nonoka goes back to the secret tunnel and gives her savior a bottle of sake. The guy then shows her another secret passage to an open rice field. As Rui and a young kappa boy named Mikaboshi go swimming, the adult kappa plays a strange wood instrument that brings peace to the area, and attracts a lot of wild animals that approach to listen to the music. The man and Mikaboshi are revealed to have human features, and usually wear caps, beaks and scale skins made from either fish or snakes. They also speak a very old form of Japanese. The only thing that really sets them apart from other people is that they have webbed fingers and toes. The guy teaches Nonoka to swim kappa style, which causes her coach and the other members of the university swim team to get angry and yell at her to swim properly (kappa style is kind of frog-like, crossed with the breast stroke).

Nonoka wants to learn more about kappa, and she tracks down a retired folklorist she'd met at one of the shrines. He gives her his book collection, and she does a lot of research on stories from around the country. The main point is that farmers a long time ago would give gifts and sacrifices to the river people in return for their blessings. Occasionally, this would include children with webbed fingers. (This practice still continues at one of the shrines outside New Town.) Nonoka locates the graves of Rui's family, and one of the names engraved on one of the stones is "Mikaboshi," implying that the boy was given to the kappa some time ago, and then reported dead.

(Kappa want vengeance.)

Towards the end of the volume, a group of men working for some company are upset that there have been delays in obtaining land for their president's planned golf course. They set up a trap in one of the rice fields, and wait. Mikaboshi approaches the bait, and is darted. The guys put him in a tanning bed, and give him an extremely severe sunburn. When they finish, the boy is still barely alive. They take him back out to the field, dump him on a wooden drying rack, and wait in the trees again. Rui and the adult kappa find the boy and cry screaming. One of the snipers clips Mikaboshi's father in the shoulder, but before they can take another shot a number of other kappa appear out of the woods and bash the shooter in the face with a club. The leader of the group tries to escape, but one of the new kappa throws a dart that punctures the guy's car tire. The volume finishes with Rui and Mikaboshi's father crying over the boy's charred body, and about 10 angry kappa adults staring out from the shadows of the trees.

Summary: The artwork for Valley is sketchy and kind of amateurish-looking. It's not bad, but sometimes it's hard to tell characters apart. The folklore elements are interesting, and I like looking at the drawings of some of the more obscure shrine statues. The scenes where characters get killed are unnecessarily horrific, but it does work to show that there's kind of a guerrilla war between the humans encroaching on older wooded areas and the inhabitants that were there first. There's some nudity, so this is not a manga for those who are easily offended. Overall, it's interesting, though. I'm not sure if I'll get the second volume. Recommended to readers that like Japanese folklore and horror.