Anime/Manga: Bizenghast #1
Sign a contract in a cemetery, and your whole world turns upside down. If Neil Gaiman worked on manga with H. P. Lovecraft, you’d have Bizenghast, a Gothic tale of decaying churches, spooky cemeteries, and spirits tormenting unsuspecting mortals. The suitably monikered M. Alice LeGrow-tell me you can’t see that name on something with a title like Ye Witches of the Northe Wood–pens this tale of madness and ghosts in Bizenghast, Massachusetts.
Dinah is a strange girl who has “fits,” in the Victorian sense of the word, which means it’s very likely she’s dancing on the edge of madness itself. Dinah lost her parents quite tragically and now lives in a strange, old house with her aunt in Bizenghast. Bizenghast of those crumbling New England towns where eldritch evils always lurk on the edge of consciousness and nothing is ever quite what it seems.
The story is framed with little snippets of information. A newspaper account begins the story, detailing a tragic accident and the aftermath. The survivor, one Dinah Wherever, is remanded to the custody of her aunt, who lives in an old school, now renovated into a home of sorts. Dinah lives a quietly tormented life, seeing things others don’t, with her doctor and aunt trying to medicate away her symptoms and only Vincent, a deeply caring friend, to comfort her.
Vincent rescues Dinah from her existence in the spooky old house and takes her out into the spooky old world. This is the New England of ghost stories and Lovecraft, where decaying artifacts of bygone times surround the characters, an old broken down world of spooky churches and decaying statues and dead things. They venture into a cemetery and find themselves in a devil’s bargain with an insect-legged vault keeper. The terms of the bargain, well, they require confronting the very things tormenting Dinah, the unresting spirits of this ghostly New England.
That’s as far as I’m going to go into the setup of this first book, as part of the joy of it is watching the plot unfold, wondering how much of it is in Dinah’s troubled mind and how much of it is legitimate. Letters, notes, and newspaper articles frame each chapter, following Dinah’s development as a medical case, while we follow her development as a character suffering either the delusions of ghosts or the possibly-more-horrifying actual ghosts.
As a sucker for the art style, I was doomed to love it. Bizenghast successfully fuses a decaying New England aesthetic with the wide-eyed traditions of manga and creates something dark and beautiful. It’s amazing how unsettling big, empty eyes can be, and the art can even be a little offputting. Shadowy churches are almost too spooky, and some of the statues were almost disturbing in their realism. Very good stuff there. I can’t remember the last time I looked at something that made me shift uncomfortably and say “Wow, that’s eerie.”
What attracted me to this was a series of sample pages in Tokyopop’s cotton candy fluffy new mag Takahui that hit me right in the aesthetic. I didn’t care what it was about, the art style made me covet it. Fortunately, once I got the book in my grasping hands, it had a really good story, one of those awesome stories that leaves you grumbling about the second volume not being out yet. It’s…just…not…fair! While the nominal setting is semi-modern enough for Vincent to carry a cell phone, the true setting hearkens back to pre-Revolution literature like Hawthorne, where the wilderness is full of ghosts and mysterious places where you may sign a contract with evil simply by showing up. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as boring as those older stories.
Bizenghast is worth buying for the art alone. I didn’t even know what it was about and I had to own it.
The story is as fascinating as the art, with the caveat that this isn’t a very action-oriented title, but it definitely sucked me in.
Shannon “Vandemar” Drake is the Community Development Manager for Warcry’s efforts in all things that aren’t games. He also serves as Site Manager for FMA Warcry and frequently contributes to the hubsite. He will talk about anime until you roll your eyes and walk away, which makes him sad.