A manga adaptation of the visual novel by the same name made by the circle HaccaWorks*, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi (Aka ya Akashi ya Ayakashi no) is published in the relatively new monthly Comic Gene magazine from Media Works. Having cut her teeth on mostly Gintama doujinshi, the artist nanao heads up this adaptation. Yen Press brings us the English release with Jocelyne Allen, translator for Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (Hoshi no Samidare), providing her work as translator.
On the night of a festival in the small town of Utsuwa, we find our hero, the ayakashi Yue, having given his guardians the slip for a chance to enjoy a night on the town in the human realm. Yue’s adventure quickly brings him face to face with Tougo Tsubaki, a standoffish high school boy who for some reason looks different to Yue compared to all the other people at the festival. When Tsubaki quickly leaves, he’s confronted by another boy who looks different in his eyes, Toochika Akiyoshi. Akiyoshi doesn’t have much to say other than to hurl accusations in Yue’s face before Yue’s familiar Kurogitsune steals his tissues to get him away from Yue. Confused by these chance encounters, Yue returns his attention to the festival only to hear a strange song haunting on the air.
The next thing he knows, he’s back at the temple where he lives, being tended to by the kitsune Mikoto and the temple priest Satou. After apologizing for his illicit escape, Yue tells them both about his encounter with Tsubaki and Akiyoshi. To his surprise, Mikoto and Satou know the reason why these two boys looked different in Yue’s eyes. One of them is meant to be his meal. With little other explanation of what a “meal” is or what it entails, Mikoto has an abrupt change in heart, commanding Yue to enter the human realm and the town of Utsuwa so he can learn more about Tsubaki and Akiyoshi to decide which one of them he’ll eat. Confused, but grateful for the chance to leave the temple, Yue sets out in pursuit of both boys. But when the principle of the kindergarten that Tsubaki’s little sister attends becomes a “meal” himself, Akiyoshi accuses Yue of being the culprit in his sudden disappearance. Confused and defiant, the three of them set out on an investigation to find the real reason behind the disappearance, while Yue begins to question the task Mikoto’s charged him with and what it will mean for Tsubaki or Akiyoshi.
As a story, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi firmly establishes itself as a mystery within this first volume. With Yue’s unawareness of his own powers and what it means to choose a meal, hints scattered throughout of some sort of previous connection between Yue, Akiyoshi, and Tsubaki, as well as the general air of intrigue surrounding the town of Utsuwa, it’s clear that the trio’s choice to investigate the recent rash of disappearances will only draw them deeper into uncovering the secrets of their own pasts. Though at times these little snatches of foreshadowing are well placed, revealing just enough to catch the reader’s attention before quickly moving on, the refusal to reveal details about characters and their motivations sometimes goes too far, leaving the reader wondering just what details are important to the unfolding plot.
This is especially apparent with the side characters inhabiting the temple where Yue leaves. When the story introduces us to the girls “Sacchan” and “Nacchan,” not only does it fail to give their full names, but Yue’s comfortable familiarity with them isn’t even giving a passing explanation. This becomes increasingly more confusing when we see the two of them out on the streets of Utsuwa investigating the threat of other ayakashi feeding without abandon throughout the town. The same can be said for the introduction of Mashiro and Kagetsu later in the volume. While these two characters are at least given names, the story doesn’t tell us who they are or what their intentions are, leaving us wondering at whether or not Akiyoshi’s suspicions of them are well-founded or not, despite Yue’s familiarity. Though it’s difficult to say just where the mystery will lead us from the first volume alone, it’s frustrating at times when the story doesn’t even help the reader out by giving a more complete picture of what the entry character, Yue, is aware of in the context of Utsuwa and the temple he calls his home.
This lack of clearly defined characters is also apparent in Akiyoshi’s somewhat confused motivations. Though the story cleverly lampshades his stalker-ish tendencies towards Tsubaki, it sidesteps an explanation of why he’s so interested in the other boy even though this is his driving motivation throughout the entire volume. While it’s understandable that the authors have a great deal more up their sleeves that they’ve yet to reveal, the story at times comes off too much as mystery for mystery’s sake, rather than a well-crafted work.
Despite the somewhat frustrating nature of the plot, Nanao’s art is clean and distinct throughout the volume. Though sometimes Tsubaki and Yue wind up just on the edge of shoujo-sameface, their expressions remain distinct enough to tell them apart for the most part. The crowd scenes are also particularly delightful with the story choice to depict unimportant side characters as black fox shadows when seen from Yue’s perspective. It’s definitely a small detail, but it’s a fun way to reflect how Tsubaki and Akiyoshi look different in his eyes.
Allen’s translation also serves the volume well. She strikes a good balance in having only a few necessary translator notes for specific story-related Japanese supernatural terms and the usual rundown of honorifics at the end of the volume. Throughout the story itself, though the sound effect choices are Yen Press’s usual parenthetical notes, Allen’s translation keeps the character voices strong and consistent. Not once do Yue or any of the rest speak in a way that wouldn’t seem fitting for the high school boys that they are.
Overall, though the first volume is a little jumbled in its attempts to plant the seeds of intrigue for the unfolding plot while not revealing too many details, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi opens strong with a clear promise of more to come. Though the story itself may come out as stronger than the characters who inhabit it, it’s an enjoyable read for any fans of shoujo supernatural mysteries.