May 25, 2009

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Mail Volume 1

Written by Housui Yamazaki
Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse

Dark Horse doesn't have a lot of manga to their name, but I like a fair amount of it--Oh My Goddess (which I read before I was doing reviews and need to go back and re-read from scratch), Blade of the Immortal, and Lone Wolf and Cub, to name a few. At least from the small sample I've read, what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality.

This is definitely the case for Mail, a horror manga based on a supernatural detective with an interesting gun--it can only hurt malicious ghosts. Akiba, with a lot of unwitting--or unwilling--help, enters a variety of situations and uses his gun and a prayer to send the ghosts to their final resting place.

The series opens with a photo shoot gone bad that leads to a serial killer who won't die. We also get a haunted condo, a twin with a a death wish, a haunted trunk, and even the old favorite--a haunted public bathroom.

These are all fairly standard horror tropes, as is the idea of a ghost hunter (though I love the origin story that makes up the final entry in this volume). What makes them work for me is Yamazaki's pacing. Each story is just the right length, with the build up, the tension, and the disbelief lasting just long enough before Akiba enters to save the day.

The "mails" feel very much like episodes of something like the Twilight Zone, and Akiba even intruduces them here and there. I'm a fan of the format and combined with artwork that is both straightforward and horrific--there's no "anime eyes" going on here--Yamazaki is able to bring to the reader a true sense of horror. There's not even a stupid amount of gore, which is rare for a modern horror comic. To give you one example, jagged fingernails are drawn in such detail as to bring a chill to my spine and make me glad I read the book on my porch during the day!

As with any good horror, all of the stories give you the impression that the protagonist is going to die and die horribly, only to be saved at the end. If there's one small problem, it's that so far, no one has crossed the line and been seriously harmed, so it loses just a bit of impact. I'll be curious to see how that plays out in the future volumes.

Mail is a great horror manga, my second favorite genre after shojo. I'm looking forward to more, and I definitely recommend it to others looking for a new series to start.