09 August 2012

Enma the Immortal (Fuki Nakamura)

After my mission re-statement last post, I'm gonna be mentally classifying my reviews for a while--this here, of Fumi Nakamura's Enma the Immortal, is a Boost Up Obscure Title piece. As with most Japanese imports I've enjoyed, thanks are due to Ed at Vertical for sending this my way!

I was utterly charmed by Enma, which is in more or less equal parts a fantasy involving magical tattoos, a bittersweet love story, a murder mystery, an "at least we meet, my nemesis!" thriller, and a historical novel about Japan from the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate (1860s) to the end of World War II. This passel o' genres, nimbly blended, is linked by the prolonged life of the title character, originally a young double agent for the anti-shogunate resistance (confession: Japanese imperial politics is not my strong point, but I'm pretty sure this is right), found mortally wounded by an aging tattoo artist trained in the arcane art of oni-gome--a means of using a tattoo to invite an oni ("demon" would be the closest Western analogue, I think) into a person's body, granting the oni possession in exchange for some favor. Baikou Houshou has never tattooed immortality before, but when he finds Amane bleeding and begging not to die, he jumps at the chance to perform the feat again, hoping to get an obedient apprentice into the bargain, to replace his first, who proved false, tattooing immortality on himself. And who also has a nasty habit of eating people's hearts.

Amane, now Enma (after a Buddhist hell-god), doesn't welcome his agelessness and near-invincibilit, but views them as a curse, wishing to lead a normal life. As the decades wear on, he moves from place to place, inking tattoos both ordinary and oni-gome, his secret known only to a policeman friend, Nobumasa; Natsu, the daughter of a fellow samurai who entrusts the girl to Enma upon his death; and Yasha, the false apprentice, a malevolent shadow. As he remains unchanged, Japan undergoes radical shifts in government and foreign influence. And he struggles with an impossible, though requited, love for Natsu, who he watches grow from a child into a woman and on into old age, her public role in his life going from "younger sister" to "grandmother." (No, it's not gross. It's super tragic and sweet in an operatic sort of way.)

AND there's also a comic! If all those words get in the way.

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