From the stack: Yurara Vol. 1

May 6, 2007

We’re in the midst of two mini-surges in licensed manga at the moment: series about people who see dead people, and series created by Chika Shiomi, specialist in beautiful, long-haired butt-kickers. Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint has joined CMX (Canon) and Go! Comi (Night of the Beasts) in the latter wave with Yurara, which offers Shiomi’s take on the former. I like Shiomi well enough, and I’m crazy for ghost-hunter manga, but Yurara gets off to something of a tepid start.

In it, a meek young high-school student, Yurara, is plagued by ghostly sightings. She’s worried that she might be crazy, and almost equally concerned that her intense, seemingly out-of-context reactions to these experiences will result in another friendless school year. Then she meets a pair of handsome classmates who see ghosts too and offer more aggressive responses than freezing in terror or bursting into tears.

Their confrontational approach brings out the long-haired butt-kicker in Yurara, a guardian spirit with the ability to help restless souls move on, or at least get out of Yurara’s assigned seat in class. She’s more benevolent than Mei, who favors burning pesky ghosts, or Yako, who uses water to bar them from their preferred haunting grounds. Her aggressive aspect is largely reserved for grabby, obnoxious Mei, and I can’t fault her for that.

The ghosts the three (four?) youths encounter are pretty generic. They’re malevolent by way of central casting, mostly out of confusion and frustration than malice, and Yurara’s guardian spirit seems to have little difficulty in dispatching them. (This begs the question of why she didn’t start helping Yurara earlier. Maybe it took the knee-jerk, volatile presence of the two boys to actually put Yurara in sufficient danger?)

Without more specific or threatening apparitions, there isn’t much in the way of suspense, and the episodic structure isn’t especially effective. In her other series currently available in English, Shiomi throws her heroines into long-form peril and keeps them at the center of the action. In spite of her titular status, Yurara spends most of her time on the sidelines, sometimes even in her own body. Without a driving supernatural narrative, that leaves the seedlings of an unpromising love triangle to keep the story moving. Neither aloof Yako nor outgoing (and jerky) Mei presents a particularly desirable alternative.

Yurara has the ingredients of an entertaining series, but their current combination isn’t very effective. As things stand, readers have more engaging choices in the ghost-hunting genre and in Shiomi’s own catalogue.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. The first volume of Yurara is scheduled for release on June 5, 2007.)