Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki - Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki! © Kanako Inuki/Kodansha Ltd.
Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki! © Kanako Inuki/Kodansha Ltd.

Writer/Artist: Kanako Inuki
Translator: Kevin Gifford
Lettering: Phil Christie
Publisher: Kodansha
Genre: Horror, Manga (Japan)

Dubbed “The Queen of Horror Manga,” mangaka Kanakao Inuki seems like a natural fit for fans of horror comics in North America. Her cartoony style is eerie and her stories hinge on a perverse sense of humor.

However, this collection from Kodansha is not the first time Inuki’s comics have traveled to America. Dark Horse published her series SCHOOL ZONE in 2006 while DC’s CMX imprint published PRESENTS, another short story collection, both in the 2000s. Unfortunately, neither series seemed to find a wider audience at the time. The short story collection BE VERY AFRAID OF KANAKO INUKI then feels like a necessary reintroduction to this manga master. With the current boom in Japanese horror manga thanks to the popularity of Junji Ito, Kodansha published this collection of weird horror comics last year in an affordable softcover edition. A short story collection is the perfect introduction to the style and sensibilities of one of horror manga’s very best.

The Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki collection consists of six short stories. Each story features a young woman in some kind of predicament that always turns out badly, either for them or the people around them. While none of the set-ups are particularly new, Inuki imbues each story with her own style of childlike horror.

“Childlike” is the best descriptor since the majority of the stories center on the point of view of children and the cruelty of children to each other. Birthday presents, one of the supreme joys of childhood, become harbingers of old age and impending death towards the end of life. A younger sister, whose toys are constantly destroyed, finally gets a doll that her older sister wouldn’t dare break.

Fumio Bukita, from Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki
Fumio Bukita, from Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki

This is all best exemplified by “Bukita-Kun”, a story where a five-year old girl wishes to be older because she can’t wait to go on dates. She runs into a horrid looking middle school boy who gives her a serum that will age her up. The serum does cause her to grow older but she still has the mind and understanding of the world that a five year old has. Then the serum keeps aging her, until the final page that sears itself into your brain. 

Even the two stories in this collection that are centered around more adult figures, those adults feel like they’re in a state of arrested development. The woman at the center of “The Haunted Examination Room” wishes for a boyfriend with all the passion of a teenage girl. The only boy she can attract is one she concocts in her head. Yet her passion of this false boyfriend is so intense that she horrifically wills this imaginary entity to life. It bursts forth from her heart in the goriest sequence in the book.

The other stories with an older protagonist is centered around a blind princess who is told that she’s beautiful, but doubts what people tell her. She captures a demon to grant her a wish and to say it doesn’t go well for her is an understatement. Inuki remembers childhood wishes, but as an adult knows the dark results that can come from those desires.

Visually, Kanako Inuki will be a welcome sight to any fans of horror master Kazuo Umezz aka Kazuo Umezu, the creator of A Drifting Classroom and Orochi: Blood. In commentary throughout the volume, Inuki praises the old master throughout, along with Moto Haigo’s seminal shojo manga series about vampires, The Poe Clan.

Looking at the cover art gives you an idea of Inuki’s style. A cartoony face pokes out of a field of pink roses. There’s something about the expression that’s both intriguing and off-putting. The eyes of the figure hint at excitement but also madness. The shade of pink used for the flowers is fleshy, though ominously one of the flowers looks decayed. Inuki favors making her figures as grotesque as possible. 

Like Umezu and Umezu’s contemporary Hideshi Hino (creator of Panorama of Hell), Inuki takes joy in making her characters as bizarre and visually unappealing as possible. The nerdy Bukita in “Bukita-Kun” looks about as repellent as a stereotype of a nerdy Japanese school boy. In the same story, Marimo, the child that taunts him into making her an adult, looks a ’70s shoujo nightmare. Sasori from the short “Big Sis Sasori” looks like a demonic Betty Boop. Inuki gets a genuine thrill out of drawing grotesque figures and it shows in every panel.

Sasori, from Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki
Sasori, from Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki

This glee for drawing the grotesque extends to the rest of her art. Inuki favors the bizarre and the occasional shock over gore and spooky atmosphere in her stories. Horrific things do happen, but Inuki’s interests as a storyteller lie in the reactions characters have to her situations rather than the situations themselves.

While she’s influenced by horror masters like Hino and Umezz, so much of the horror in her stories feels rooted in shoujo manga in its visual storytelling. She inverts those stylistic tics such as big sparkly eyes and delicate imagery to heighten the horror in her comics. The wispy, delicate lines of romantic comics for girls no longer serve as an ethereal tether to a character’s emotions. The intense linework now services a moment of terror and shock. A panel with a black background in an average shoujo manga might highlight an internal moment of emotional truth, but in Inuki’s stories, those kinds of panels highlight the horrifying realization of a devastating emotional truth.

Take the opening story “Presents,” In this tale, an old woman reminisces about how she convinced her childhood friends to shun a strange young woman and not give her birthday presents. In the present day, she’s haunted repeatedly by either the young girl or by her ghost. Every time this apparently demonic child confronts her, it’s on a black background, including the climax of the story. It culminates in a final panel of her opening a present that feels like a damnation of this woman’s childhood cruelty. Through her storytelling, Inuki’s eye for the grotesque is used to highlight the horrors of human behavior by subverting conventional storytelling tricks.   

Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki! © Kanako Inuki/Kodansha Ltd.
From “Presents” by Kanako Inuki – Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki! © Kanako Inuki/Kodansha Ltd.

Though it’s not her first book translated for American audiences, Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki reperesents a welcome return. Inuki certainly earns her title as “The Queen of Horror Manga” and these six stories are a great primer for her work. Her particular brand of horror storytelling is a direct descendant of horror greats like Kazuo Umezz and Hideshi Hino. Fans of those creators will find a lot to enjoy in this book. For people who favor comics with dark humor and a unique visual style, Inuki’s work will be a perfect fit for their library. Hopefully, there’s another book from her in the works and it isn’t another 18 or more years before a publisher puts out a book by her.

 Be Very Afraid of Kanako Inuki is now available in both print and digital from Kodansha.