Yue has grown up isolated from humanity in a shrine overlooking the strange town of Utsuwa. His only companions are spirits called ayakashi. Though Yue is forbidden to leave the temple, his friend Kuro-Gitsune, the fox-spirit, persuades Yue to venture down into the town to enjoy the celebration on the night of the winter festival. Yue is mesmerized but perplexed by the festival and the town, where all the people—represented by identical fox-like shadow creatures—look alike to him. Soon, Yue decides to make friends who can teach him how to interact with the townsfolk.
Yue instantly feels a connection with two boys: though gloomy, withdrawn Tsubaki and spirited Akiyoshi don’t seem to show any interest in befriending Yue, he is intrigued by the fact that they look different from all the other humans. When Yue returns to the shrine and the master learns that Yue has met these unique people, she commands him to return to the town, befriend the two boys, bring them back to the shrine, and choose. One of the two, Tsubaki or Akiyoshi, will be the one that Yue wants the most—and that boy will become Yue’s Meal.
Based on a visual novel of the same name, the first volume of this new series is shrouded in mystery. The story opens with a dream, and though Yue wakes almost immediately, the rest of the volume retains an unsettling, dreamlike quality. Though Yue’s spirit friends seem mischievous rather than malevolent, the story is pervaded by a sense that something is “off” about the shrine. Even Yue’s origin is unknown. Is he a benevolent spirit? Is he a demon? What is the Meal, and why is it necessary? Will Yue really devour one of his new friends?
In the end, the reader is left with even more questions than at the start. For instance, when Yue descends into the human world, we hear rumors about humans being spirited away; eventually we learn these rumors refer to the terrifying shadow-creatures that roam the town and devour people indiscriminately. Although that mystery is solved, we are still left in the dark as to the origin and nature of these beings—and why Akiyoshi can see them when other humans cannot. Readers who expect their initial confusion to fade will be disappointed—the story thrives on keeping its reader in the dark. Unfortunately, this practice is sometimes to the story’s detriment, and it is frequently frustrating when characters keep details to themselves simply for the sake of the mystery. Readers who can endure the suspense, however, will be rewarded with a compellingly creepy story and the promise of more to come.
Nanao’s delicate artwork lends a dreamlike quality to the volume. All of the boys are long-limbed and slender, and Yue has a lean, feral quality that sets him apart from the humans (even though Yue and Tsubaki do look unfortunately similar). The scenes in which Yue and the boys are surrounded by crowds of the shadowy, fox-like background characters are lovely and whimsical, and they have an otherworldly quality even in scenes that would otherwise have been mundane.
While young teens could enjoy this volume and it contains no graphic violence, nudity, or swearing, the series is rated OT (16+) by the publisher, implying more mature content may come later in the series. Still, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi is an easy recommendation for older teens who love supernatural shoujo manga. Readers will be intrigued by the unique premise, and those who finish this volume will eagerly anticipate solving the mystery of Utsuwa. For fans who can’t get enough supernatural mysteries, recommend Ryukiishi07’s Higurashi: When They Cry (rated OT 16+), or for another protagonist conflicted about eating his peers, try Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida (rated OT 16+).
Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, vol. 1
Art by Nanao
Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)