If there's one classic monster that doesn't get a lot of play in manga, it's zombies. The zombie craze hasn't quite overtaken Japanese comics in the same way that it has with American ones, but because of that they sometimes take it in some interesting directions.
REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP (Zombie-ya Reiko), by Rei Mikamoto. First published in 1999, and first published in North America in 2005.
Reiko is a girl with a very special gift. With the help of a magic symbol on her hand and a retinue of handy chants, she can bring the dead back to life. These zombies can speak out against those who killed them and even lash out against them. Of course, Reiko doesn't do all this for free, but for the bereaved parents, scared schoolgirls, fatalistic rock stars, and desperate criminals who call up her services, anything is worth the price.
Nonsense title aside (seriously, where or what is the zombie shop in the title?), Reiko is a solid, if shallow and bloody collection of morality tales tied together by our lead.
I'll give Reiko this much - she's not written as a terribly deep character, but she's forceful and willful enough to serve as a good anchor for the anthology-style storytelling. She's got a don't-give-a-shit personality which feels appropriate not only to her position as necromancer, but also as a teenage girl. Yeah, she can raise the dead, so what? She doesn't have time to ponder her own backstory, she's got a job to do! She's also very efficient at her job, even if no one ever seems to pay attention. She has a few ground rules - she wants payment upfront, restrain the resurectee lest they go berserk - but no one ever seems to listen until the ghouls start a-rising. Reiko does have a few friends, but we don't get much insight into her life beyond her work. Instead we follow her as she finds new reasons to resurrect the dead in increasingly outrageous ways.
The story starts out like your standard horror anthology, where each chapter is a new self-contained story about some blatantly wicked person who calls upon Reiko, who in turn resurrects the victim to deal out some old-fashioned ironic punishment. The topics of these chapters are incredibly sensationalist, as they feature victims of suicide, child molestation, teenage pregnancy, and more. Midway through the story starts condensing into something more continuous, as Reiko's work starts to cross over with the victims of a teenage serial killer. Said killer starts off fairly calm, but by volume's end she's an eyetwitch away from cackling like a loon as she slashes with abandon. When she and Reiko finally meet, and the conclusion is both insane and awesome at once. I can't imagine how this series continued beyond an ending like THAT. This is often an outrageous and ludicrous work, but that same ludicrousness made its bloody action more palatable. It does diminish the horror of these situations to some degree, but in return it becomes more entertaining and darkly humorous. Maybe that's the best way to approach a series like Reiko The Zombie Shop. It's not a great character piece or a pinnacle of horror, but it's a glorious, gore-ious bit of insane action.
Reiko's art is kind of odd and also very, very gory. People don't just bleed, they spray fountains of inky blood across the page along with limbs and chunks of flesh. The undead, regardless of how recently they died, all have these ghoulish and sunken faces stuck in permanent howls of anguish. The living in comparison are more simply drawn. Reiko in particular is meant to be cute with her sassy, swishy pigtails and slightly punkish wardrobe, but she's also bug-eyed in a way that makes her look slightly alien. It's even worse with the many children characters, who are so heavily chibi-fied that they look less like people and more like animate dolls. Everyone expresses themselves in ways that are both over-the-top and weirdly stiff, going from perfectly placid to Higurashi-style rictus grins and wild eyes without much transition. It's made weirder still by the fact that they tend to be outlined in thick, dark lines, as if they have been cut out and pasted on the page. Clearly the biggest attraction was meant to be the blood and gore, as it's given the attention that the characters or backgrounds rarely got.
There's a short gallery of fan art from Japanese fans, and I was personally kind of disturbed to see so many submissions from elementary-aged children. I know a lot of kids are drawn to horror, but I would question exposing them to stuff like this so young.
Reiko the Zombie Shop isn't deep, but it is a bloody good time. Its insanity and over-the-top approach to horror and gore help to make its contents palatable and even enjoyable to those willing to approach it on that level.
This series was published by Dark Horse. This series is complete in Japan. 6 of 11 volumes were published, and all are currently out of print.
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