As part of my new year plan to improve my Japanese, I am on a manga collecting binge, starting with Psychic Detective Yakumo (Shinrei Tantei Yakumo,心霊探偵八雲) by Manabu Kaminaga. This is a series of case files about a cynical and slightly misanthropic college student called Yakumo, seen mostly through the perspective of the slightly eccentric college girl Ozawa Haruka. Yakumo was born with a single red eye that enables him to see spirits and ghosts, and the trouble that this eye has brought him has turned him into something of a recluse and a bit of a bastard. His mother even tried to kill him and then abandoned him when he was a kid, so he’s understandably a little cynical about people. Haruka, on the other hand, wants to help others because when she was about 8 years old she accidentally got her older sister killed, and ever since she’s wanted to be the child who everyone loves, but behaves eccentrically in her quest for this fulfilment. What she doesn’t know – but finds out through Yakumo’s red eye – is that her sister’s ghost is following her around as a kind of guardian angel – and maybe this is why Haruka is the impetus for the adventures that we read in the manga.
In the first episode we also discover that Yakumo is a bit of a fraud, cheating at card games through a mirror pinned to the door of his club room in the University, and then offering to exorcise a ghost from a completely normal memorial picture of the English professor’s dead daughter – in exchange for higher marks and attendance records. “I sell peace of mind,” he tells Haruka, “And it’s an awesome business!” However, he is basically good at heart, and although very off-hand and cool with Haruka maybe he has a bit of a thing for her. By the end of the first instalment we have seen hints of a love triangle, and then tacked on to the end of the book there is an amusing “interview” conducted by the intrepid report “M” who ambushed Yakumo as he was waking up, in which we see the depths of his misanthropy and lack of interest in ordinary life.
The story itself is simple but effective. From here on I shall give a few spoilers, but since there’s no english translation of this manga as far as I know, i doubt you will be reading it, gentle reader (if you can read Japanese, maybe skip this paragraph). Haruka approaches Yakumo for help, having never met him before, because her friend Miki is in a coma in hospital after a strange incident, and a friend suggested Yakumo could help. Miki visited an abandoned house with her boyfriend Kazuhiko, and was attacked by a ghost from behind the door of “the forbidden room,” a room whose door had a sign on it saying “do not open.” Subsequently Kazuhiko “commits suicide” on the train line. Yakumo visits the girl and identifies that she has been possessed by the ghost of a girl called Yuri. Haruka and Yakumo do some investigating on the computer system of the university (which Haruka has access to through a part-time job) and discover that a girl called Yuri went missing a little earlier. The girl was from Haruka’s class, and by tracing rumours of attachments they identify Yuri’s ex-boyfriend, who Haruka goes to talk to. He tries to kill Haruka, revealing as he does so that he had a brief fling with Yuri and got her pregnant, even though “after we had sex just a few times she started acting like my girlfriend.” But Haruka’s sister’s ghost gets Yakumo, who comes and saves her, revealing as he did so that he had guessed that the boyfriend killed Kazuhiko as well. The reason? When Kazuhiko and Miki were fooling around outside the abandoned building, Kazuhiko took a photo of Miki and in the background was the faint image of Yuri’s boyfriend carrying her body away from the scene of the crime. In good Japanese style, having been discovered, the boyfriend turns himself in. The story closes with Haruka and Yakumo getting involved with the case of a serial killer.
The story is pretty simple, but it works as a basic detective story, and a lot of it is about boy/girl interactions between the lead characters. In fact, the manga is probably better called “bumbling helper Haruka” because it seems to focus more on her (and the story of her sister’s tragic death) than on Yakumo, who remains an enigma. The narrative force is largely with Haruka, who though a little ditzy and physically weak is a clever and forceful character, possessed additionally of an emotional depth and moral depth that Yakumo definitely lacks. In all it’s a good story and an amusing tale of a burgeoning friendship (or love affair?) between two people whose characters are guaranteed to create trouble for each other, and it is clearly set up so that we will slowly learn more about Yakumo, while we watch Haruka become a skilled ghostbuster and reconcile herself with her sister.
The artwork is fine, typical manga black-and-white drawings, though everyone seems to have the same features, which makes it hard for me to work out who is talking. But the clear plan in this series of manga is to focus on the story and interactions, not the pictures, so it works as basic background information to support the basic story. I can recommend this to anyone who is able to read Japanese (and I might add, the kanji are entirely supported by furigana, so it’s smooth and easy to read compared to, say, Emma or Shuna’s Journey). If you’re looking for an easy introduction to intermediate Japanese with a fun story and good characters, this is the manga for you!