Orochi: Blood is a supernatural thriller that explores the notion of nature versus nurture. Originally the sixth and final volume of the Orochi series, the English language edition was published by Viz Media in 2002 with the artwork flipped for western audiences. The author and artist, Kazuo Umezu, has a manic bibliography ranging from gag Simpson-esque comics like Makoto-Chan to disturbing surreal gore in Dali’s Man. He even has several departures into established franchises like Godzilla and Ultraman. In terms of tone and bizarre twists these franchise contributions are not unlike reading Moebius’ Silver Surfer: Parable. The Orochi series came out of Japan in 1969-1970 when Umezu was going through a phase of sci-fi that often bordered on horror. Orochi, with its strange narrator and focus on biology and psychology fits right in the middle of this period in Umezu’s career. I would even go so far as to say that it is his crowning contribution to the sci-fi/thriller genre that he so loved.
As an ageless young woman watches from afar, two sisters grow up together in a loveless, wealthy household. The eldest is beloved by her sister, her parents, and everyone who meets her. The youngest is reviled. Kazuo Umezu’s delicate line art and heavy shadows really drive home the oppressive atmosphere of the old family mansion that the sisters inhabit. His use of soft black framing in the first half of the story is a very effective visual technique. Not only does it convey the otherworldly nature of the sisters’ ghostly observer, but it flows very smoothly into the second half of the plot as the story of the sisters and the mysterious voyeur jumps 20 years into the future.
(Spoilers) The setup for the paths that each sister will take seems fairly set initially. The eldest receives the title of heir, she marries well and continues to preside over the family estate. Internalizing the abuse that she has grown up with, the youngest sister is a social outcast who falls into an unhappy marriage and alcoholism. Throughout these formative years the reader watches the drama of the sisters’ lives unfold over the shoulder of a young woman named Orochi. It is never explained who Orochi is or how she neither ages nor is ever observed by anyone in the household. All that the reader is given is that she desires to watch over the sisters. When Orochi interferes to save the life of the younger sister a strange compulsion causes her to collapse in a deep asleep. Upon awakening her mind is within a different body. Now living inside the head of a young girl named Yoshiko, Orochi tags along as the girl is brought to the sisters’ mansion to work as a nurse for the eldest sister. Despite the heart failure that is slowly killing her the eldest sister is kind and generous to Yoshiko. Soon the two have developed a strong affection for one another like that of mother and daughter. The youngest sister, now old and bitter, tortures Yoshiko mercilessly as a proxy for her perfect older sibling. The torture only gets worse as the health of the eldest sister declines, until the only chance to save her is for her to receive a full heart transplant. How convenient it would be for Yoshiko, a healthy girl with the same blood type as the ill sister, to die.
Evil emerges through human nature, while the way it is expressed has little to do with nurture.
The eldest enacts her evil plans through manipulation. She wants to live, and with a little nudge and some well placed evidence it wouldn’t take much effort to push her unstable sister to violence. In the end her sister would do the dirty work of killing a person with a heart that she could then take.
The youngest sister explodes with violence, jealousy and contempt. All her life she has been labeled a devil and has embraced people’s expectations of her. For her, proving that her sister is no better than she is would the ultimate justice. She turns her sister’s high-handed manipulation against her tricking her into putting all of her efforts into getting a heart that she can’t use. The cost is the life of Yoshiko, but it is worth the price to see her sister’s legacy destroyed.
Orochi: Blood is a magnificently told story of backstabbing, bitterness, and the selfish evil of human nature. Umezu’s story sends a strong message that nurture will not prevent evil. It will only affect the way in which it manifests. There is no linear correlation between nurture affecting nature or vice versa. Both concepts feed off of each other.