July 27, 2009

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Mail Volume 3

Written by Housui Yamazaki
Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse

This is the final installment of Yamazaki's horror manga, which makes me sad for two reasons. First of all, the concept is a good one and for the first two volumes, the quality of the stories held up very well. The second is that, unfortunately, this final volume doesn't quite live up to the quality of the prior stories, partly because it feels like there was supposed to be more.

In the first section of this trade, Akiba tells a story of his past--not the first one we've seen, but certainly the first time we see that he may not be quite as altrusitic as we might have thought. In the process, a new wrinkle is introduced into Akiba's power set, one that had the potential to radically alter the path of the series.

Now, personally, I was not a big fan of the change. It takes the "Twilight Zone" or "Alfred Hitchcock" feel of the stories and changes it into more of a Fox Mulder personal quest type of deal. However, my bigger problem is that when you make this change 13 stories in to a series that's only running 18 stories, you leave the reader wondering why.

That was my problem, anyway--maybe other readers won't feel quite as slighted by the radical shift that doesn't even seem to matter after we go to the trouble of using 1/9th of the available space (and 1/3rd of the volume) to introduce the concept. Maybe the series was intended to go longer? I don't know.

Once we get past this, the stories are better, if a bit more sensational artisticially (there's a shift to more T&A, for one thing). Akiba warns of a new danger regarding cell phones that goes beyond distracted driving in a bit that follows the formula I like best--he knows the problem, inserts himself into the story, and saves the day.

Next up is a commentary on ghost hunters, and why, from a professional perspective, Akiba would treat them rather like a real detective would an amateur slueth. This is probably the best of the bunch, as it deals with the mental hororr of a woman who made a tragic mistake. Akiba's speech to her at the end is very well done, making up for his opening of, "A to the K to the IBA."

"Seabed," the penultimate story, takes Akiba to the point of death himself trying to figure the mystery of souls damned to the ocean depths. Again, Yamazaki teases the idea of Akiba's failure, a theme I wish we'd have gotten to see more of, had the series lasted longer.

Finally, the series ends on a rather abrupt note, as Akiba chastises reckless youths on stirring up the souls of the dead. We get a few (presumably) Japanese folk legends about how to tell if you have a ghost, which again would have been really cool to see more of.

I think there was a lot of potential in "Mail" but at times it seemed like the author didn't know exactly where to go. The idea of Akiba taking cases no one else could handle fades in and out, as by the end, he's just showing up randomly or planting clues to get involved in the story. We see new plot devices used, but without a lot of explanation. Maybe I'm so conditioned in the idea of long, drawn out manga series with intricate continuity that a series which played fast and loose with its storyline threw me for too much of a loop.

That being said, the artwork was always of top quality, with the horror elements drawn very well to be creepy, sometimes gory, but always appropriate to the tale in question. I really liked the narrator aspect of Detective Akiba, as I am a big fan of both television and comics with framing devices. I just wish that Yamazaki had either stayed longer on one thread or had the opportunity to work longer within the story itself (i.e. more volumes) to make the disparate elements blend more smoothly.

I really enjoyed reading Mail, and I think you would, too.

Mail Volume 1 Mail Volume 2