Kids love ghost stories, but a lot of manga featuring supernatural beings and vengeful spirits are too violent, gory, or sexually explicit for young readers. This month’s column focuses on two spooky titles that are better suited to middle school students than, say, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or The Ring. Up first is The Dreaming: The Collection (Tokyopop), a new omnibus edition of Queenie Chan’s popular series about a haunted boarding school. I’ve paired it with Rin-ne (VIZ), a comedy about a teenager caught between the physical world and the afterlife. Though the age ratings indicate that both series are for teens, I think those guidelines are too conservative. Details below.
The Dreaming: The Collection
By Queenie Chan
Rating: Teen (13+)
August 2010, Tokyopop, ISBN: 978-1427818713
608 pp., $19.99
In this tween-friendly horror story, twins Jeanie and Amber Malkin enroll at Greenwich Private College, a boarding school located deep in the Australian wilderness. The school’s Gothic ambiance, musty Victorian furnishings, and strange art collection inspire the students to tell ghost stories and conduct seances in their rooms. Not long after Jeanie and Amber’s arrival, however, one of their classmates disappears, giving credence to the rumors swirling around the college and its elderly headmistress. Jeanie is determined to find out what happened to her friend, but Amber is suddenly paralyzed with fear, haunted by dreams about young women who vanished under similar circumstances.
Tweens won’t recognize one of The Dreaming‘s most important touchstones, Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, but Queenie Chan deftly synthesizes some of Hanging Rock‘s plot points with elements of urban legend and aboriginal folklore to create an original, entertaining story. Unfortunately, Chan does a better job of establishing the central mystery’s parameters than resolving them; many of the story’s biggest revelations come in the form of voice-overs and newspaper clippings, sapping the finale of its full dramatic impact. The ending also suffers from an odd and arbitrary plot twist that an attentive reader couldn’t have anticipated, thus violating one of the most important contracts between a mystery writer and her audience. Tweens probably won’t notice, but older readers may find the ending a let-down, especially after the spooky, atmospheric introduction.
Tokyopop has done a fine job of collecting the series’ original three volumes into a single edition, adding some glossy color plates, a new side story, and an interview with the creator. The price point, too, is attractive; the omnibus costs $10 less than the three individual volumes. The large size and paperback covers make this edition a better choice for a personal collection than a public or school library, as the binding probably won’t withstand heavy circulation.
Objectionable Content: Characters brandish knives and axes, though we never see anyone murdered, nor do we see any mutilated bodies; Chan creates suspense primarily through suggestion.
The Bottom Line: Chan’s crisp, detailed artwork and fertile imagination keep The Dreaming afloat until its final act, offering tweens an appealing mixture of drama, suspense, and supernatural thrills. Though older teens may enjoy The Dreaming, readers aged ten to thirteen are the ideal audience for this story.
Review copy provided by Tokyopop.
Rin-ne, Vol. 4
By Rumiko Takahashi
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
September 2010, VIZ, ISBN: 978-1421536217
192 pp., $9.99
Rumiko Takahashi’s latest series explores the relationship between Sakura Mamiya, a high school student, and Rinne Rokudo, a gruff boy who’s half human, half shinigami, or death spirit. The two share a secret: both of them can see ghosts and demons. Rinne, however, has an additional gift: the ability to ferry spirits from the human world to the afterlife. Hungry and perpetually cash-strapped, Rinne ekes out a living performing exorcisms, relying heavily on assistance — and snacks — from Sakura to keep him going. Rounding out the cast are Rokumon, a black cat; Tsubasa Jumonji, a ghost-buster with a crush on Sakura; and Tamako, Rinne’s grandmother.
The latest volume introduces Sabato, Rinne’s ne’er-do-well father. A vain, youthful-looking man (he appears to be the same age Rinne), Sabato turns out to be a damashigami, an unscrupulous spirit who lures people into the afterlife before their appointed time. The showdown between father and son is mostly comic, with sight gags and humorous flashbacks sprinkled liberally throughout their duel.
These early chapters feel labored, lacking the comic zest and brisk pacing of Rin-ne‘s previous installments; the net impression is one of frenzied activity, rather than narrative unfolding. The volume’s second story arc — in which Rinne clashes with a female shinigami — is more successful, with funnier jokes and a hint of romantic tension. In these chapters, we see what Takahashi does best: juxtaposing the supernatural with the everyday for comic effect, showing us how grade-grubbing students are easily lured to the afterlife by promises of easy As.
Objectionable Content: Having read all four volumes of Rin-ne, I’m puzzled by the Older Teen rating; I’ve yet to encounter the kind of material — swearing, nudity, bloody violence — that usually merits such a designation. That said, parents should be aware that Rin-ne includes a few scenes of mild fanservice (there are a pair of female demons in skimpy costumes) as well as bloodless duels between Rinne and various opponents. Concerned parents can read full chapters of Rin-ne online to determine whether the material is suitable for their kids.
The Bottom Line: Rin-ne may not be Takahashi’s best work, but it is her most tween-friendly, thanks to its clean, straightforward layouts; humorous, PG script; and bloodless ghost-busting. Recommended for readers ten and up.
Review copy provided by VIZ. Volume four of Rin-ne will be released on September 14, 2010.