Titan Comics

The Great Yokai War: Guardians, Volume 1

Writer: Yusuke Watanabe
Artist: Sanami Suzuki
Translator: Motoko Tamamuro and Jonathan Clements
Lettering: Jessica Burton and Cale Ward
Publisher: Titan Comics
Genre: Horror, Action/Adventure, Fantasy

Japan is under attack by a massive snail kaiju, trying to return to the sea, and in its path lies the city of Tokyo. Naturally, the only hope for Tokyo’s citizens is a teenage boy who can see and command yokai (Japanese spirits) and his kid brother. But can the two brothers get the various spirits to cooperate with them? That’s the premise of The Great Yokai War: GuardiansThe Great Yokai War: Guardians, Vol. 1, the first volume of a manga adapting the family-friendly fantasy adventure film directed by Takeshi Miike (yes, this is the same director who did gruesome movies like Audition and Ichi the Killer). For the manga, the film’s screenwriter Yusuke Watanabe and artist Sanami Suzuki adapted the film, yet to be released in the US, into a funny adventure comic filled with solid characters and world-building but a little light on the action. 

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Kei Watanabe spends his days as an anti-social teen. He skulks around school and dismisses his classmates’ interest in yokai and ghosts. Usually, he walks around listening to his headphones and shuts out the rest of the world. On top of this, he mourns for his recently deceased father and gets easily annoyed by his younger brother, Dan.

One night, Kei dreams of meeting various yokai of Japan. Apparently, The World Yokai Conference convened and decided Japan’s yokai had made them too tolerable for humans. During this meeting, we learn that a kaiju has awakened and wants to go home to the sea. What lies in its path? Tokyo, of course. However, instead of coming up with a plan to stop the kaiju, the conference attendees decided to use it to take care of their Japanese yokai problem, and if it destroys the great city, even better.

The Japanese charge Kei with saving both the monsters of Japan and Tokyo. Before Kai can decide, Dai gets kidnapped and starts his adventure.

Watanabe adapted his own script for this manga, and the story is well-suited for adventure manga: an unlikely boy has to engage in a huge quest with lots of monsters, and there are fights. Watanabe does a good job of making Kei a likable, if flawed, protagonist. The central conflict in this volume isn’t Kei fighting yokai, but his anger at his father’s passing and the brother he partially blames.

That said, Watanabe keeps the plot moving, introducing readers to the world of yokai. His script is very funny regarding the yokai; e.g., a laugh-out line about a monster wanting to get in on merchandising rights. If anything is lacking in this volume, it’s that this volume spends most of the page count setting up for action. There’s plenty of yokai, but it’s light on the battles for an adventure comic. 

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However, Suzuki is a more than capable collaborator to compensate for the lack of action. Suzuki draws in a hard-lined angular style, possibly influenced by Hiroyuki Takei (Shaman King), fondly filling his pages with black shapes and white lines. Clearly, he has fun drawing the various yokai throughout this volume, populating the World Yokai Conference with a variety of legendary monsters from throughout the world.

Suzuki also does a lot with the double-page spreads throughout the volume. In one example, the artist combines both with the spread that depicts Kei witnessing the Night Parade of 100 Demons. On top of this, he indulges in using a lot of unique textures with his use of grayscale. With the future volumes, it will be fun to see how Suzuki steps up for the action scenes and the yokai that will show up in those volumes.

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Suppose you’re expecting an adventure comic heavy on battle action or have gruesome expectations with a name like Miike attached. In that case, a reader might be disappointed by the first volume of The Great Yokai War: Guardians. Instead, this volume focuses on character moments and world-building. However, Watanabe used those moments as a guide into the strange domain of yokai. As unique as that world is, Watanabe and Suzuki do a good job of not making it too alienating. This volume may all be set up, but it’s a lot of promising set up.  

The The Great Yokai War: Guardians, Vol 1. is available now from Titan Comics.