The creepy atmosphere of horror manga series Dark Gathering
Cover of Volume 1 for Dark Gathering featuring Yayoi Hozuki
Writer: Kenichi Kondo
Translator: Christine Dashiell
Lettering: Evan Waldinger
Publisher: Shonen Jump/ VIZ Media
(print and digital)

CONTENT WARNING: Dark Gathering regularly features plot points and discussions involving death, murder, bullying, and suicide. If any of these topics bother you in any way, please proceed with caution.

When it comes to literature, I believe that one of the most underrated aspects a series can possess is “atmosphere”. To me, atmosphere refers to the overall feeling it gives the reader throughout their experience with the series. This can be something that is both positive, (such as an uplifting or inspiring feeling in the series), or negative, (as in a creepy or suspenseful air in the story). Personally, I tend to prefer watching and reading series with a more lighthearted, comedic, or romantic atmosphere, or inspiring sports or action series rather than the darker and heavier atmosphere of drama or horror manga. When it came to Dark Gathering though, there was just something about it that caught my eye and made me want to give a darker, horror series like this a shot. I’m glad it did.

Dark Gathering is a newer addition to the Jump family (it was originally serialized in Shueisha’s Jump SQ magazine). It’s a series that I was shocked to find was absolutely loaded with “atmosphere” right from the very start, to the point you can almost feel the uneasy creepiness of this series weighing on you on every page. This heavy vibe in Dark Gathering is only further accentuated by the creepiness that bleeds out of the artwork into each and every panel throughout the series. The style is akin to something you’d see in the popular horror manga series Mieruko-chan, or in many Junji Ito works. The panels feature lots of inky, black tones to the characters and the backgrounds, even during the daytime.

You can get a taste of it from VIZ Media’s manga trailer for Dark Gathering:

As for what to expect in Dark Gathering, the story opens as we follow three central characters as they go about on numerous ghost-hunting adventures: Kei Gentoga, a college freshman and grade-school tutor to the young Yayoi Hozuki, a ghost-obsessed middle-school girl that mysteriously has skulls for irises, and her older cousin Eiko Hozuki, Kei’s chaotic and energetic childhood friend. There’s just one small problem… Kei is a scaredy-cat who wants absolutely nothing to do with ghosts and dealing with the dead after a traumatizing childhood encounter. This is where Yayoi, a ghost-hunting fanatic and the youngest of our trio, comes in. Despite being the youngest, Yayoi is the most calm, cool, and collected member of the trio, which luckily rubs off on the cowardly Kei, as well as Eiko but to a lesser degree.

DARK GATHERING © 2019 by Kenichi Kondo/SHUEISHA Inc.
DARK GATHERING © 2019 by Kenichi Kondo/SHUEISHA Inc.

Our first instance of our trio at work is also our first real experience with the dark and foreboding atmosphere. In this instance, Yayoi and Eiko excitedly drag the cowardly Kei out to visit an urban legend of a phone booth that is haunted by the restless soul of a popular escort who was murdered by a group of her many suitors. At first, there seems to be no supernatural presence, that is until it fully reveals its terrifying presence once Kei steps foot inside the phone booth. She attempts to trap Kei inside and manages to nearly strangle Kei to death with the phone cord. This scene is perfectly set up by the pitch-black background to the panel, the bloody footprints and handprints all over the booth, and the smokey, ethereal depiction of the woman, without going too overboard into the world of pure body horror. After all, this is only our first introduction to what is in store for us readers with this series, and let me tell you it only gets darker and more gruesome.

From here, Dark Gathering only builds up more and more momentum as it continues its “monster of the week” formula, or in this case, its “ghost of the week” formula, all the while gradually introducing readers to the main plot thread of the series, new obstacles, and new horrifying and psychological elements. This shift largely begins to occur in Volume 2, which I will have to give a warning about for now as this volume gets into some very dark and graphic territory, with storylines predominantly involving bullying and suicide. That dark and heavy tone continues well into Volume 3 as well, but with a much more dominant focus on the supernatural with the introduction of a new, major threat.

DARK GATHERING © 2019 by Kenichi Kondo/SHUEISHA Inc.
DARK GATHERING © 2019 by Kenichi Kondo/SHUEISHA Inc.

Now, one aspect of Dark Gathering’s atmospheric horror that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did was how the series is able to properly balance the extremely dark artwork and themes with some charming and comedic moments sprinkled throughout. This shows some skillful writing from Kenichi Kondo, as there have been too many instances of dark or powerful story writing ruined by unnecessary comedy or fanservice. The moments that should be taken seriously are done so with the respect they deserve, and the time for lighthearted comedic banter or emotional moments only happens when the team is winding down from a long day’s adventure, in the non-canonical rewrites of certain scenes that are part of the chapter covers, or Kenichi Kondo’s author notes at the end of each volume.

For those interested in an alternate way to experience the series, Dark Gathering also recently received an anime adaptation that did a very good job of nailing the dark atmosphere of the series. It is currently available to watch on HiDive.

Dark Gathering is a supernatural horror series by Kenichi Kondo. 3 volumes are available now from VIZ Media. It’s also available as part of their Shonen Jump app/subscription service.