Anomal is a collection of short stories that is loosely centered around yokai and things of a generally supernatural origin. (I say generally because chapter three is a detective story that is about as supernatural as Sherlock). Anomal is but one of an archive of indy titles brought to the English language market by up and coming publisher GEN Manga. Like Android Angels and Alive before it, Anomal is a single artists’ portfolio of short stories originally published in the company’s ongoing anthology series simply titled GEN. Where Android Angel is the sci-fi short story collection and Alive is the slice-of-life drama collection, Anomal hoped to fill the place of GEN Manga’s horror short story collection. Unfortunately, Anomal is lacking any strange or bizarre style to make it stand out in the company’s catalogue.
Visually a horror manga needs to be atmospheric and gripping, with effective use of framing and deep shadows. Anomal’s art has little atmosphere, and the direction of the style feels like it at some point lost its way. The artist, Nukuharu, seems to be unsure of what direction his own style wants to take – whether he wants it to be a bright and shiny shojo or a grittier, more heavily textured shojo. The quality varies widely from story to story, as does the application of tone sheets, effects, and pen strokes. Some stories, like the final installment, are fine lined with very soft, understated and clean cut tones. The two chapters dedicated to stories about a fledgling ayakashi-nushi or “spirit master” who loves to hug yokai have much rougher artwork. Lines don’t look as clean and tones don’t appear to have been applied as thoughtfully. However way the stories were ordered there just doesn’t seem to be a progression of technique so much as an experiment in different techniques.
This isn’t to say that Nukuharu’s work is a complete dud. Some stories do warrant a thought as to what they would be like fleshed out into a full series. The first chapter, titled “Kaeshi”, tells the story of a young man with supernatural abilities indebted to a hyaku-me (a hundred-eyed demon) who cures his blindness for an undisclosed price. The characters are interesting and spontaneous, the setting is full of possibilities for further stories, and the artwork looks like it could become very enthralling as the artist’s style focuses and refines with application. “Ayakashi-Nushi” could be a sweet story of an awkward, Luna Lovegood-like character finding out how to use her powers and connect more with people. If those stories were allowed to intersect the results could be even greater. But as it stands Anomal doesn’t allow itself to stretch into those realms of possibility.
Is it full of, “Weird tales of horror and the bizarre”? Well, kind of. It is a weird book for a number of reasons. Is Anomal a “horror” anthology? No, but it does feature demons and psychic abilities. If you were sold on xxxHolic for that reason alone then you will find this collection to be entertaining. Most importantly is it what it attests to be, which is, “a peculiar vision of the world”. Not in the slightest. Anomal in no way feels like the stories are interconnected or even taking place on the same planet. The majority of the book deals with things of a supernatural origin as a world of spirits existing in tandem with the human world. That is until you get to the final chapter, at which point it’s not spirits, but aliens who are pitted against human protagonists. Put succinctly it’s a cute, harmless shojo book that spanned 30 minutes of mild enjoyment. It breaks no boundaries, pushes no limits, and doesn’t allow a larger, interconnected world to build out of what are unrelated stories. It would be a good read at the library for a tween fresh to manga or the shojo genre, but with other better titles available to fill that role Anomal is best left out of your personal manga collection. Instead, go to GEN Manga and spend a few pennies to support one of their other great independent artists.
The publisher GEN Manga is a fascinating subject in and of itself. To meet the demand for more current Japanese titles, and to undercut the issue of piracy and competition of scanlations, GEN manga proudly publishes its titles simultaneously in English and in Japanese. Their titles range from gay to straight themes, comics for girls and boys all the way to adult men and women, as well as a swath of genres. Probably most fascinatingly GEN Manga has delved into the self-published and small press artists who have no prior presence in the English manga market – the uncut diamonds and gifted amateurs of Japanese comics. Known in Japan as doujinshi, this format of underground small press and self-published media fills much of the same niche that zines, online comics, and local comic book creators do in North America. This is a very risky venture for GEN Manga as there is no telling what the exact reaction will be to a title that not only had to be licensed in english, but printed and distributed to stores and shops across a picky and fickle population of manga fans. Thankfully the price of digital copies of GEN Manga’s titles is too good to pass up. There is still the option of a paperback copy for many of the company’s books, but for between $1.99 to $24 you can get the Kindle version from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and directly from the company shop. $1.99 for a 200 page book of indy Japanese comics? Heck yeah! Support struggling artists by supporting GEN Manga, just not necessarily via the purchase of Anomal.