It’s almost Halloween, so you know what that means: Hocus Pocus. Lots of Hocus Pocus watching, along with The Nightmare Before Christmas. But that’s not all! October is the perfect time to read some scary material, and luckily, there’s plenty of horror-themed manga out there. So today, we’ll be taking a look at a little manga called Goth, written by Otsuichi (Hirotaka Adachi) and illustrated by Kendi Oiwa.
I confess, I didn’t pick this manga up solely so I’d have a Halloween-themed manga to discuss; I picked it up because a quote and the blurb on the back cover really intrigued me. They’re a bit long, so to sum up, the main character is attracted to this girl’s hands because she has a self-inflicted cut on her wrist, there’s been a slew of serial killings lately where the murderer cuts off his victim’s hands, our main guy hopes the killer will cut off this girl’s hands and give them to him, but this desire goes away when she asks our boy to teach her how to smile. The blurb ends with a warning that we’re about to see “humanity’s darkest side revealed in all its glaring, gory glory.”
So, yes, I knew I needed to buy Goth. The darkness! The angst! Right up my alley. And I’m happy to say that Goth does not disappoint. There are four shorts that feature our main characters, Itsuki Kamiyama and Yoru Morino, looking into gruesome murders. These high school students are so fascinated with the macabre that they routinely travel to crime scenes, keep an eye out for interesting murder cases, and are more than willing to find and confront killers. Yoru goes so far as to dress up as a deceased victim so she can attract the killer’s attention, and Kamiyama (who remains nameless until the very end of the manga) enjoys smiling viciously as he calmly speaks to the killer. Both of them know that they’re “different” from other people, and they deal with this in very different ways: Yoru is a loner, while Kamiyama flashes a fake smile and friendly disposition.
As each story is self-contained, they follow the ‘monster of the week’ trope, except with murder. Because of that, it’s pretty easy to spot who the killer is, and the stories don’t go out of their way to keep that a secret. What Goth is more interested in is that terrible murders happen and there isn’t always a reason behind them. We see the joy these murders bring to the killers, the sense of comfort, of absolution, and we’re not asked to condemn or understand this; we’re simply meant to observe. And in some ways, that’s what makes Goth a great horror manga: we’re constantly in a state of unknown when it comes to motives. We’re used to seeing a character’s tragic backstory, where they were abused, they watched a loved one die, or something happened in their past that would explain their actions. By denying us this sense of familiarity, Goth initially frustrates you and makes you wonder if there was even a point to the manga (I say this from personal experience). BUT! But that, I think, is the point of the manga: that sometimes there isn’t a point to things, and you have to learn how to deal with them. Ultimately, Goth really does show us “humanity’s darkest side revealed in all its glaring, gory glory” – that there is no rationalization for the darkness within us.
Okay, analysis done. Now, because the story is so focused on stripping us of familiarity and understanding, the art is very bare and minimal. The characters are fleshed out, but we don’t get elaborate background scenery like, say, the ones in Kaori Yuki’s work. But again, this just reinforces the idea that we should be focusing on the story so that we get that sense of shock when the story doesn’t give us a resolution. (Oh! Also, we don’t find out the fate of the killers…yet another thing that is frustrating, but the story purposefully does that to go along with the notion of taking your reader out of their comfort zone).
This manga is not for the faint of heart, but it also won’t gross you out too much: women’s bodies are dismembered, there’s a knife fight, murder and death are discussed VERY frequently, children are killed…if that’s triggering for anyone, then you might want to stay away. If you read the manga and wish there was more, well, you’re in luck! This manga is actually a companion piece to a novel penned by Otsuichi in 2003. It combines some of the story lines in the original novel, but it seems to stick pretty close to the source material. There’s also a live-action movie, but I regret to say I haven’t watched it. If you’ve seen it, drop us a line in the comments!
So, to wrap things up, do you plan on giving Goth a shot? What other horror-themed manga do you plan on reading for Halloween?