Last week's selection was certainly a gruesome one. Well, this week I have a special sort of present for you, although you may not end up liking it....
PRESENTS, by Kanako Inuki. First published in 1993, and first published in North America in 2007.
PLOT: Sometimes in this world, there are cruel people, those who would use, abuse, and exploit those around them for selfish reasons. Where those people are, so too is Kurumi, a creepy little girl who always seems to have a present for every occasion. Unfortunately for those who receive them, these presents always contain horrible things to serve as ironic punishment, and these presentsa are always non-refundable.
STORY: Oh look, a horror anthology series. How original.
I will give Presents this: it does have a creative angle to its stories, in that all are connected by the common plot thread of 'presents,' but that angle comes with some serious limitations. Some of the stories allowed for an organic insertion of the presents, such as the one about the greedy girlfriend who demands gifts from her boyfriend, the bullying older sister who always steals and ruins her younger sister's presents, or the little girl whose parents substitute stuffed animals for affection. In others, the presents are awkward additions. It doesn't help that most of the chapters here are extremely short, so there's very little time to establish character beyond the broadest of strokes or to build any sort of spooky atmosphere.
Unlike many horror anthologies, Inuki actually incorporates Kurumi into the stories, versus her commentating and hosting them like the Cryptkeeper of Tales From the Crypt. It's a clever move, because Kurumi becomes a plot thread in her own right, tying together what would otherwise be a rather eclectic selection of stories. Too bad that she's not the least bit creepy. The mangaka does delve into her backstory to try and make her sympathetic and tragic, but even that just seems to fall flat, and it makes Kurumi less of a character and more of a mildly strange deus ex machina.
The cast here is exceedingly shalllow - the anatongists are all blatantly, one-dimensionally awful, and the protagonists are all meek, mild, and utterly helpless until Kurumi comes along. Because the cast is so shallow, the only interesting thing about these stories are the horrors that serve as comeuppance to all these wretched people, and even those are so over-the-top that they become somewhat ridiculous or ludicrious.
Presents is an total dud of an anthology. The stories are too short, the cast is too shallow, the plot threads are too forced, and the horror is too ridiculous to be scary.
ART: Now, Presents might have overcome its shoddy writing through high-quality artwork. Sadly, while the art does bring a certain degree of gore to the proceedings, it also fails on some levels.
First and foremost, Ikumi's choice of character designs are downright bizarre. Everyone looks the same - they are short, squat, and bug-eyed, like some sort of hideous animated doll. They also are always making strange, over-the-top expressions, complete with gawping mouths and rolling eyes. These two elements combined were more than enough to defuse a lot of the horror from the stories.
It's not all a complete failure, though. Ikumi did put a lot of effort into the backgrounds, which are varied, dark, and detailed. She also puts plenty of effort into the gore, with lots of melting skin, contorted limbs, and monstrous forms to go around. I just wish that she had put equal amounts of efforts into less ridiculous character designs (or better still, the writing), because that might have added some genuine horror to these situations.
PRESENTATION: The only extras here are author's notes after each story, complete with sketches of Kurumi.
Sadly, this manga series fails at too many levels to work as a horror anthology. This series is one present that should remain unopened.
This series was published in the USA by CMX. All three volumes were published, and all are now out of print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!