by Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët
Beautiful Darkness is, at its core, an anti-fairytale. It begins with princess Aurora having tea with the boy she has a crush on, only for things to turn sour when their surroundings suddenly start collapsing. When she emerges, we realise she wasn’t in a building: instead, she was inside the body of a dead girl.
With how this starts, you wouldn’t think it could get darker. But it does. In a similar fashion to the fairies in Peter Pan, the creatures lack compassion; or, they do have compassion, but it is quickly replaced: one moment friends, the next letting their friend’s die and moving on to another person out of convenience. They are loyal to noone but their own changing moods, and it’s fascinating to read a story where not a single character is reliable.
In spite of this, I did feel myself caring more for Aurora than any other character. She’s loyal to her people and intent on doing what is right for them, but is completely roadblocked because of their flighty moods. I loved seeing her transform from a princess trying her best to someone stone cold as she loses sight of everything because of the horrors inflicted upon her.
The artwork is soft, almost a watercolour effect which is a lot clearer in the detail of the backgrounds. It’s similar to what you would find in a children’s fairytale book, and only sets to make the violence more unsettling. Imagine Toy Story except all of their weapons are real and they actually did get crushed in the third film, and you have the tone for Beautiful Darkness.
Besides the exploration of morality, there’s also so many different narratives going on to keep you reading. It’s a graphic novel that understates the need for survival, from setting– it pans back to this shot of the girl decomposing throughout, and it’s very unsettling– to the constant threat of nature. It’s as fascinating as it is horrifying.
I highly recommend this graphic novel, but be warned, there is a lot of graphic violence and death, and there’s also the death of a minor and animals.
by Jun Abe
Jun Abe’s Portus employs a very common horror trope: a scary video game that was never made available to play is circling and people are taking their own lives because of it. However, the cursed objects in question were very original and are rooted in Japanese folklore, in the form of a tsukumogami. The manga weaves a very personal, and violent, backstory.
I do feel like the narrative confuses itself in the middle, specifically when it begins explaining the horror. Everything is revealed too quickly and too early on in the story for my tastes, and I feel with more time, the mangaka could have spread it out a lot more.
There’s a two page jump between chapters where it seemed like the art style for a character changed so much I couldn’t even recognise them. He went from being normal to having the face and personality of the gamer man in the Warcraft episode of South Park, which sounds very specific, but I stand by it. It just threw me off, but I quickly got back into the story.
At some points it seems that there is a sexualisation of women and young girls, putting them in scenes of distress where they fall victim to assaults and rape. It’s unfortunately very common in the horror manga I’ve read so far. However, it is ultimately the compassion and friendship of two teenage girls that transcends life and death that helps them overcome and stop evil from taking more lives, and I really love that. I really was drawn to the main character, but I can’t pinpoint exactly why. There were moments where she was in distress and had to be saved, but more often than not it was other women who saved her, and I really liked that part of the narrative.
Portus also has some great artwork. There’s this three dimensional box head that I really enjoyed the design of, and the gore is really well drawn. Earlier on in the story there’s a panel I really love, but won’t spoil here. If you’ve read it, it’s related to what happens to the main girl’s friend. It’s graphic without being unrealistic and gratuitous.
Overall, this is a very solid manga, and it has a satisfying wrap up. I can be quite picky with endings, but this one hit the mark for me. Content warning for suicide, graphic violence, sexual assault and rape, murder, and violence against minors.
by Masasumi Kakizaki
Hideout follows married man Kirishima Eiichi, who has brought his wife to a secluded cave on vacation… to kill her.
This is a very intense story. It draws on the claustrophobia of the setting and contrasts it with the free space of Kirishima’s previous life in flashbacks, to show the couple’s descent. The art style is unlike any other I’ve seen in manga. It’s incredible detailed and harsh, going well with the increasingly violent main character. At times the panels are dark and it can be difficult to distinguish what’s happening, but that only adds to the reading experience.
The characters are absolutely brutal and act and live without remorse, never taking responsibility for their own actions (other than the little kids), and I loved that about them. Sometimes you just want to experience a story where both characters are irredeemable and feel content in that. None of their actions feel justified, the man and his wife are both unpleasant and use one another as scapegoats instead of accepting responsibility.
Similar to Portus, there is some violence and strange treatment of women’s sexuality, but I felt it wasn’t all out of place in this type of story. Every character is despicable, so the wife not being any different makes sense, and she definitely uses her own strength and sex to get what she needs in a situation. It’s more about survival, whereas the violence against women in Portus can seem gratuitous and unneeded at points.
Narrative wise, I think the use of flashbacks is very efficient. Certain things are revealed at the perfect point in the narrative, so we go from believing one thing to realising it’s actually the opposite, or having conflicting emotions. The mangaka plays with you the same way he plays with character’s and their roles within the genre, subverting cliches along the way.
Another solid manga that I would recommend! Again, content warnings for death of a child, sexual violence, in general violence and and torture, and mistreatment of children.
With my horror reading, it’s increasingly difficult finding horror manga and comics written by women. I’m following a lot of different people who talk about horror, and manga, specifically, but there rarely ever seems to be crossover in their discussions. I would love if anyone could recommend me some, whether that be manga, comics, graphic novels, webcomics– anything!
Also, I’ve decided to switch up the format of my graphic reviews and recommendations by including examples of the artwork. Does that work for you? I made sure to include panels that are non spoilery and not as scary.
Thank you for reading❤
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