by Shin Mashiba; adapted by Kristina Blachere
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Hiruko is a baku, a being that eats nightmares. Each night, clients come to the Silver Star Tea House to find freedom from the dreams that torture them. In volume two, we are introduced to a new recurring character, Hifumi Misumi. He’s the son of a rich textile merchant who fell in love with the owner, Mizuki, at first sight. He’s rented a room on the second floor of the tea house in hopes of winning her affections. We are also introduced to another supernatural establishment. Delirium, a place people go to get lost in their fantasies.
This volume gives us some of the back story on Hiruko, Mizuki, and the tea house. It’s hinted that there’s a connection between Hiruko and Delirium. The third volume is solely stories of clients and their nightmares.
The second volume opens with the second half of the “Facing Mirrors” story arc. This tale introduces a new formula to the series: two-part stories of separated lovers. In these tales, each lover separately seeks out Hiruko and tells their version of the events. Of course, the two accounts don’t match. Hiruko has to work through the discrepancies and uncover what really happened. The lovers are reunited when they both drop their illusions and embrace the truth. Unfortunately, none of these stories have a happy ending.
The stories in these two volumes are slightly darker in tone than the first volume. The twist at the end is usually tragic. The stories are now morality tales, where a client’s demise is at the hand of their own character flaws. Don’t get me wrong, both books are wonderful reads. Mashiba is a master of the unexpected. Even knowing that things won’t end well for the client doesn’t prepare you for exactly what happens. I love being caught off guard at the end of each story.
Mashiba’s masterful artwork continues in these volumes. I still can’t believe this is his first manga. Everything about the art speaks of an experienced illustrator at the peak of his career. I rarely use this word, but the art is truly flawless. There’s so much to praise in this series: the fabric patterns in the kimonos, male clothing designs, architecture, superb use of high contrast black and white, etc. There are moments when the art is breathtakingly beautiful. In one chapter, we see the true form of a baku, and I literally stopped reading and just stared at this gorgeous, exotic creature. A few times in each volume, I’ve gotten lost in the artwork.
I continue to highly recommend this series. Honestly, every comic fan needs to own at least one volume of this series just for the artwork alone. This series makes a great introduction to manga, since it contains a blend of Japanese and western cultures. Mashiba’s work ranks up there with the best in classical horror comics. It deserves to be placed next to Wrightson, the best of EC, Ploog, Eerie, etc. I fear Nightmare Inspector is going to suffer the fate of Planetes, a great series that only the critics end up reading. (A complimentary copy of volume 3 was provided for this review.)