In 14th-century Japan, an orphan with no face finds herself haunted by the ghosts of a samurai and his lover, both of whom died more than 200 years before. That's this story's premise, but the telling itself is more than a little muddled—in particular, it's difficult to keep track of who is related to whom. Whether that's a problem with the original story or the translation isn't entirely clear, but it doesn't really matter. The real reason to buy this graphic novel is the art. Physically, this work is simply gorgeous. Printed on heavy paper and lavishly colored with a computer process that approximates and at times transcends watercolors, Jung's illustrations capture a supernatural world not often seen outside of the better Japanese anime. Ghosts made of blood, ghosts made of lake water, ghosts that take the form of an army of malevolent infants: Jung renders all of these images with an attention to detail that makes them plausible, and therefore all the more haunting. Jung's layouts also show a real cinematic sense (he even thanks directors Miyazaki and Kurosawa in his acknowledgements). This graphic novel is not so much about story as it is about spectacle. Readers looking for a straightforward, plot-oriented book may not be satisfied. But those seeking a graphic novel that mirrors the best in impressionistic Japanese cinema (like Kurosawa's Dreams) will be pleased. This work offers an adult-themed story as a welcome alternative to the many juvenile manga on the market.
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To level the playing field, the plainer of two twelfth-century Japanese sisters who love the same warrior splashes acid in her sibling's face. The disfigured sister despairs and drowns herself. When the warrior learns of this, he despairs, too, blinding himself at the edge of the lake in which his beloved sank. Two hundred years later, the plain sister still lives, thanks to the water of the fatal lake, which is a spirit trap containing many souls, including those of the drowned sister and blinded lover. Enmity between the sisters persists, and when a baby meant to reembody the drowned one is born, the other sends a ghost to kill it. The attempt fails, as do subsequent attempts to kill the growing girl or divert her from her destiny. The many ghostly onslaughts on the heroine eventually seem like padding, but what padding! Jung and Jee-Yun draw liberally on the visual vocabulary of Japanese ghost films, both anime and live action, to create a dusky, misty, muted-color dream of a graphic novel. Magical, indeed. Ray Olson
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