Gannibal Volume 1

Writer/Artist: Masaaki Ninomiya
Publisher: Ablaze
Genre: Horror, Mystery

The small town is its own ecosystem. Tucked away far enough from large cities, it operates within its own rules. Old traditions and dark things can hide plain sight. These secrets stay hidden as long as outsiders don’t show up. There’s a tension between long time residents who keep these secrets and new people who could uncover them. This is what happens when a beat cop moves his family to a remote Japanese village in Masaaki Ninomiya’s horror manga Gannibal. This manga has been adapted into a live an action show currently streaming on Hulu. US publisher Ablaze Manga is going down the route of the Kickstarter campaign to offer an English language hardcover edition for American audiences. In the first volume of Gannibal, Ninomiya sets up a satisfying mixture of mystery and tension with an answer that might be horrific.  

Police officer Daigo Agawa recently transferred with his family to the remote Kuge Village. Daigo spends most of his time ingratiating himself with the townspeople and breaking up various civil disputes. His wife Yuki complains that he spends too much time at work and not enough time setting up their new home.  Some of the residents though remain suspicious of this new police officer. As Daigo know, the previous cop had a rough relationship with the town and disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Before he disappeared, that officer claimed the village was full of cannibals. The absurd claim seems laughable at first. Soon a villager, a member of the Goto family, turns up dead due to a possible bear attack. As Daigo investigates this murder, he both fears the cannibalism rumors may be true. 

From the opening chapter, mangaka Masaaki Ninomiya sucks you into the world of Kuge Village. Readers become instantly aware of how isolated this place is from civilization thanks to Ninomiya’s images of lush forests and mountains. The occasional building pokes through the foliage to become part of the landscape. There’s friendly villagers who wave hello and tease Agawa as he rides his patrol bike up and down mountain roads. Most of the “crimes” he investigates are quiet non-violent ones. His wife doesn’t mind the move but she barely knows anyone outside her husband and their child. If you’ve ever visited or lived in a small town, especially a small mountain town, this is all familiar.   

Then there’s Officer Agawa’s relationship to the family that seemingly has its fingers in everything, the Gotos. From their introduction, Ninomiya sets up tension between Agawa and the massive Goto family. The Gotos hold control over the village both politically and socially. It’s clear the antagonistic relationship between his predecessor and the Gotos lingers in his interactions with them. Keisuke, the closest the family has to a spokesperson, is friendly with Agawa. Still Keisuke’s motives to be friendly might not be altruistic. In one scene, the Gotos invite Agawa to drink with them one night. Members of the family belligerently remind him he’s new in town throughout the evening. They let him know it’s a small town. Everyone knows what he does. When Agawa brings up the cannibalism rumors, they laugh it off. Ninomiya deepens the conflict as he puts Agawa on the trail of his predecessor Officer Kano.

Masaki Ninomiya’s storytelling choices as an artist do a great job of heightening tension. Clearly influenced by Takehiko Inoue, Ninomiya favors a more realistic style of drawing with thick lines. His ability to render facial expressions helps his use of close ups. He frequently focuses on the reactions of characters to dialogue and turns every interaction into a powder keg. You never know if Agawa or Yuki will survive an encounter with the Goto family. While his rendering of the forests and mountains around the characters is beautiful, he also draws these backgrounds so that it’s clear these characters are operating in isolation. They’re constantly dwarfed by the world around them. Additionally, his adherence to realism allows Ninomiya to convey the horror of dead bodies and severed body parts. There’s a scene where Agawa’s daughter comes home with a severed finger that won’t leave readers anytime soon. 

Gannibal vol. 1 sets up an intriguing mystery; what happened to Officer Kano in Kuge Village. Writer/artist Masaki Ninomiya creates a believable world where a small town may hide potentially horrifying secret. It is the small town mystery of Twin Peaks but also a story that could very quickly veer into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre territory. Ninomiya renders this all in terrifying detail. This volume ends on a tense note between the Gotos and the Agawas. Volume two cannot come out soon enough. 

Gannibal vol. 1 is now being funded through a Kickstarter campaign from Ablaze Books