If there’s a difference between a cliché and a trope, it’s that atrope can be the start of something great, but a cliché is where thingsend up, often being not-so-great. Nightmare Inspector has its own internal set of tropes, but they never bottom out into cliché. We have Hiruko the baku, anintriguing narrator with motives of his own, with an instinct forthings being askew. Said instinct leads him into the ugly spaces inpeople’s lives that are never what they seem like at first (or evensecond) glance. Think of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, turningover rocks in Paris’s darker corners and finding human monsters. Here,it’s 1920s Tokyo, and it’s every bit as decadent and seamy if not moreso.
It’s either great or terrible that the first chapter ofvolume 7 is the best thing in the whole book—possibly even the seriesas a whole. Great, because right from the start you get a sense of justwhat sort of heights this series can rise to. Terrible, because whilethe rest of the adventures in the book are still inspired, they come ina distant second. Put this episode last and it would have had even moreimpact. Said episode gives us a manga-ka who’s come to the Silver Starto have one of his dreams investigated—a dream which is itself in the form of a four-panel manga.The whole way this is depicted is nothing short of brilliant; it’s asmuch a commentary on manga as an art form as it is a clever use of themedium for the sake of the story.
The rest of the book, as I mentioned, never rises quite thatstratospherically but hits plenty of high notes all the same. They alsohelp solidify the approach for the whole series: every nightmareexplored is a reflection of the guilt and fear of the dreamer, a map oftheir transgressions. Problem is, sometimes the mapmaking isn’t allthat accurate. The unconscious is a warping mirror, and what seemedlike paradise turns out to be hell or vice versa. This comes throughmost effectively in two chapters; the first features a young man whoisn’t sure if he’s a man or a woman seeking Hiruko’s help, and eventhose of us in the audience with some understanding of the knottyissues surrounding gender dysphoria will be surprised at what happens.
The other involves a photographer becoming obsessed with apicture, convinced that a murder is taking place there. It’s sort of abackwards tip of the hat to Antonioni’s Blow-Up: instead ofthings becoming more disturbing as they are obscured, the plain anduncontroversial truth of the matter (it’s not a murder after all) turnsout to be a trapdoor into madness.
Art: I’ve spent a good deal of my time in reviews ofprevious installments talking about how great this manga looks, butpermit me to repeat myself: this is one of the best-looking comics I’vecome across lately. So much so, in fact, that I’m a little disappointedViz didn’t print this in a larger format. Every page practicallyglistens with detail, and Shin Mashiba’s character and costume designsboth pay homage to the Taishō period and expand on it. Mashiba alsodoesn’t neglect the more macabre side of what he’s depicting: there’sblood and some mildly disturbing imagery (although it doesn’t push toofar against the envelope of the T rating for the book). It’s nice to beable to recommend a book this gorgeous without somehow feeling guiltyabout it. My only gripe, such as it is, is that many of the characterstend to have the same consistently androgynous look: sometimes they canbe a little difficult to tell apart at a glance.
Translation: The text of the translation itself Ihave no objections with: it’s readable and free of any obviousproblems. However, there are a few things about the retouch job thatbugged me—for one, effects and some signage have been reworked inEnglish, but part of the beauty of the book is in the way such thingsare presented. I couldn’t help but feel that those things would havebeen best left as-is and annotated in the margins. They did preservethe right-to-left formatting of the original, though, which issomething of a must for a book like this. Bonuses this time aroundinclude a three-page “Afterword” (one page of which is a gorgeoussplash panel); a single-page gag manga—one of the pages from the mangaproper, but with different lettering and to hilarious effect; a pair offour-panel “tag team manga” drawn by the art assistants; and asingle-page bonus rough sketch contributed by one of the staffers.
The Bottom Line: Nightmare Inspector’sremained consistently good-to-excellent across its run, and the factthat this volume contains one of my favorite episodes through the wholeof the series speaks for itself.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind