Yokai Rental Shop, Vol. 1

By Shin Mashiba. Released in Japan as “Yokai Nii-san” by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine GFantasy. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Amanda Haley, Adapted by Julia Kinsman.

Those who are familiar with this author’s previous series, Nightmare Inspector (released by Viz, though I think Yen Press has the digital rights now), will be very familiar with the sort of series this is. There’s a mysterious shop where people come to have wishes granted that they can’t quite achieve using normal means. An eccentric shopkeeper hooks them up with a yokai monster that will theoretically give them what they want. In reality, of course, almost all the customers are selfish and warped individuals who need to get what’s coming to them instead, and karmic retribution is not all that far off. Into this fairly typical setup walks Hiiragi, a salaryman who’s just found he has a half-brother – who turns out to be the proprietor of said shop. His heartwarming meeting with his brother instead becomes a long stream of reaction takes as Hiiragi slowly realizes who that brother really is.

There are two very good reasons to read this series. The first, as with the artist’s other series, is the compelling artwork, which draws the eye in and entertains you even when the story being told is predictable. I especially liked Karasu’s overdramatic dynamic entry, as he drops into his shop from the ceiling for no apparent reason other than to look cool (which honestly, given he’s almost totally covered in bandages, I think he has going for him anyway). And the yokai look scary when they need yo, also important given this is at heart a horror sort of series. The other big plus is Hiiragi, who starts off somewhat nebbish but gets better as he reacts against the supernatural events going on around him. His inner tsundere comes out when he’s dealing with his brother, who he immediately tries to force to eat healthier, and it leads to some very funny situations. He also can drive the plot due to pigheaded stubbornness, always a valued trait in a straight man protagonist.

The downside is that there’s not much in these stories that you haven’t seen done elsewhere many times before. It’s an anthology of “be careful what you wish for” stories. I’d joked that this was something of a gender-reversed xxxHOLIC, and the two do share similarities, but unfortunately Karasu just isn’t as interesting or funny as Yuko was, though he tries. And the fact that all the customers have, for the most part, unlikeable and selfish motivations makes it pretty hard to root for anyone – even the bully who wants something to help him avoid getting beaten up breaks the rules the moment he gets a chance to. You’re left only caring about our heroes, which is not what you want to see in a horror anthology manga.

Still, overall the good outweighs the bad, and the series is only four volumes long, which is about right if you’re doing a shop with the customer-of-the-week. If you like hot supernatural guys who makes bad things happen to bad people, or just like cool art, Yokai Rental Shop is worth picking up.

Also, it gets bonus points for the “Fake news!” translation/adaptation.

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