Reading a Shuzo Oshimi manga is like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie: those who are familiar with the psychological play and dramatic framing will be tickled pink at all the teases on the way to the horrible lynchpin that confirms the audience’s worst fears. Newer audiences will be taken in by what seems on the surface to be an ordinary story, but for the extended pauses and close-ups signaling something is out of place to be revealed soon. The dread builds over several deliberately paced chapters like a slowly inflating balloon, and when it bursts in volume one, readers will be scrambling for volume two like Hot Ones guests reaching for milk. Blood On The Tracks is just that spicy.
Japanese thirteen-year-old Seiichi (Sei) inhabits the most milquetoast, middle-class life. His father works long hours as a salaryman, and his housekeeper mother, Seiko, is a pleasant, agreeable guardian in his life, right down to asking which of two choices he’d like for dinner each evening. His school friends are a little rougher around the edges and tease him somewhat, as does his cousin Shigeru, but all in all Sei’s got a good, stable life. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything goes wrong, so horribly, horribly wrong! Oshimi’s series are great at looking gentle and inviting one minute then veering into unexpected nightmare territory the next. During a family camping trip, Seiko goes to extreme lengths to protect her son when she perceives Shigeru as a threat to him. In the second volume, when a school crush is beginning to blossom into a relationship, Seiko again intervenes in an over-the-top, monstrous way, revealing herself as unhealthily attached to her son in a way that has quietly been sapping any potential for personal growth and social connection from his life. Anyone who’s read a Courtney Summers book and thought, “Wow, these characters go to extreme lengths, but I can’t look away” won’t be able to put down Blood On The Tracks.
When it comes to manga horror, I enjoy Junji Ito and Kazuo Umezu, but I savor Oshimi’s more grounded storytelling in a way the others’ wackiness prevents. Ito and Umezu strike at primal fears while also asking, “Can you believe what just happened?” With Oshimi, there’s no doubt what people will see, allow, and do for themselves. His use of visual direction, timing, and visual metaphor all elevate the material beyond shock value. I could tell you a child is mortally wounded in this series, but I’d also have to include how the framing of a cliff is used to suggest characters are approaching a dangerous point of no return, or are perhaps already leaping over it. I could point out an element of incest in the story (and am), but not without emphasizing the unsettling, skin-creeping nature of its use in controlling a minor. The same open, clear framing of the “safe” chapters come back around like a microscope to zoom in on the compromising of naive Sei’s soul. This is not titillation of R-rated excesses, but an unflinching look at bone-deep corruption and how far it can go. Two volumes in, this series feels like a more domestic version of Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil.
Where age recommendations are concerned, this is definitely Older Teen, at least for now. Sometimes reading stories about toxic, harmful people and lives spiraling out of control are a good way to reassure oneself of personal balance and seeking out restorative hugs from loved ones. Stock this in your manga collection with the knowledge that readers will return it while gasping at the events that transpired, followed by demanding to know when the rest of the series will arrive. Sei and Seiko’s happy faces on the covers will be waiting for them.
Blood On The Tracks, Vols.1 & 2
By Shuzo Oshimi
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_on_the_Tracks_(manga) (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: East Asian Straight
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator