cover image Tono Monogatari

Tono Monogatari

Shigeru Mizuki, trans. from Japanese by Zack Davisson. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-77046-436-0

Mizuki (NoNonBa) adapts Kunio Yanagita’s 1910 folklore history of yokai, or spirits, into an energetic series of manga vignettes that are often silly and sometimes genuinely terrifying. The tales are set in the small town of Tono, which was close to mountains that were believed to be full of yokai. Spirits range from deadly to annoying to occasionally helpful, including a beautiful, raven-haired young female spirit that causes agonizing death for those who cross her path and a fox creature who reanimates corpses. (A particularly unexpected encounter cleverly ties the dozens of episodes together.) Just as Yanagita inserted himself into his narrative, so too does Mizuki, who presents himself as a reverent narrator traversing the region and running into spirits. Mizuki encounters the spirit of Yanagita himself, and they have a conversation that leads Mizuki to believe he had lived in Tono in a past life. Released in Japan on the 100th anniversary of the prose classic, late in Mizuki’s career (the artist died in 2012), it also reflects his turn to more personal work; he had based his comic Kitaro on Yanagita’s yokai, and the adaptation is imbued with his respect for Yanagita and affection for the Tono region. Mizuki’s cartoonishly exaggerated character design blends with his lush backgrounds, bending reality while also grounding the work in local detail. The acrobatic visuals lend these fables a giddy charm, and the inviting collection opens up Japanese history for a broader readership. (Feb.)