Mail Vol. 1

By Housui Yamazaki
208 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

When I first encountered Housui Yamazaki’s art in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, I remember being impressed with not only Yamazaki’s art, but how well he worked with writer Eiji Otsuka. What I hadn’t realized was that Yamazaki is a writer as well, and that Dark Horse was also set to publish Yamazaki’s series Mail. Now that I’ve seen it as well, I’m glad I viewed them in this order, because as enjoyable Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was, Mail is the book that’s truly entranced me.

Reiji Akiba is a private detective, but not one you’d call for cheating spouses or tracking down missing people. Akiba can see ghosts, and that’s a very bad thing for most people. Once you notice a ghost, it won’t let you walk away in peace. That’s where Akiba comes in, with his gun full of blessed bullets that sends ghosts into the spirit realm. A psychic return to sender, as you will. And there are a lot of lost souls just waiting to move on.

Reading Mail, I was absolutely delighted to see that for a book that has such a very specific idea and focus that it’s able to actually be varied in its actual approach from one story to the next. Sometimes the chapter is from the perspective of the clients, not really understanding what they’re getting into. Other times it’s focused more on Akiba himself, moving through the hunt and removal of the ghost as he sees it. Even Akiba’s exact involvement in the story can change from one comic to the next, with one inventive story having the person being haunted only able to communicate with Akiba through a cell phone. Each story is short yet creepy, taking some basic ideas and taking them to a new level of being disturbing. It’s pleasing to find that someone can take what has become an old chestnut in horror (seeing a ghost marking you for death after a set period of time, for example) and being able to make it feel original all over again. Mail not only serves to entertain and surprise the reader, but to remind them that sometimes it’s not so much the plot matters but how it’s actually executed.

Yamazaki’s art in Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was good, reminding me a bit of artists like Mike Allred with its clean lines and character designs. It wasn’t until Mail came around that I really understand just how much atmosphere he’s able to put into his art. It was in the second chapter that his skills were made really apparent. In a double-page spread, Yamazaki draws a woman sitting in her apartment looking up as, just in the next room and tucked out of the way, you can see a ghost’s head starting to appear around the corner. It’s the wonderful culmination to the story with the woman having just discovered the truth of the hauntings in her home, and how very deadly it is for her to be alone with the ghost. By drawing the scene in a double-page spread, it gives Yamazaki the space needed to make the woman feel truly alone, with lots of empty space surrounding her even as the ghost begins to appear. It’s in many ways one of the most effective double-page spreads I’ve seen in comics, because it’s a scene that really couldn’t be drawn any other way to achieve the same effect. The rest of the art in Mail is just as strong, from ghostly children seeping through cars to a hospital room suddenly covered in blood-drawn symbols, Yamazaki seems determined to make the reader jump as much as possible. It’s not until afterwards that I was able to go back and really appreciate the amount of detail that Yamazaki puts into his characters; with the way he draws hair and apparitions there’s a certain resemblance to Katsuhiro Otomo’s art in the seminal work Akira. It’s a beautiful, terrifying final effect that needs to be read from start to finish in order to be truly appreciated.

So much of Mail is about the way that Yamazaki tells his stories, letting them unfold in a just-so manner, slowly letting the finished product expand and blossom into something that contains both beauty and terror. If I had a single complaint about the entire series, it would be that it only ran three volumes. While it’s always good for a series to end on a high note (and I’d be shocked if the about-to-be-published conclusion didn’t), this is the sort of book that I desperately wish there was more of, and quickly. If you like comics to make you jump, you absolutely need to check out Mail. Highly recommended.

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