The supernatural investigations continue in the second volume of Saka Esuno’s sprightly older teen manga Hanako and the Terror of Allegory (Tokyopop). As in the first book, detective Aso Daisuke takes on cases involving suspected allegories — urban legends made manifest by their victims’ belief in them — aided by his own living allegory and a susceptible assistant named Kanae.
Though most of the cases in this series fall under the horror action category, the second book’s opener proves more self-consciously comic. In it, spunky Kanae, our newcomer to the world of allegory, drunkenly calls up a demon in a mirror. Said allegory has the power to grant our girl her heart’s desire, so Kanae asks to be made a mega pop star. Once she sobers up and realizes she’s put her soul in jeopardy, she’s forced to keep elaborating on her wish, making more elaborate demands to buy time until Aso can rescue her. This provides Esuno the opportunity to mildly satirize the trappings of modern disposable pop-dom, with Kanae singing a personal anthem that simultaneously declares in neo-feminist style “I’m not powerless,” while inviting listeners to look at her rack. You can practically imagine Camille Paglia hyping our girl as the Voice of New Empowered Womanhood.
More serious — and generally more successful — are the next two pieces, which work off suitably disturbing word-of-mouth tales. The first, “Teke Teke,” is about a living torso that reportedly rose after a young girl was cut in half by a moving train; the second concerns another young girl who was made blind when an ear piercing went horribly wrong. First of these is the purest horror yarn in the book, as it centers on a group of middle school girls getting thrown in front of commuter trains. The second is a more character-driven haunting — with its victim being driven to acting out the urban legend by a stressful family life. Though it broaches sentimentality in its conclusion, the latter tale has its moments: most notably when its young girl becomes the eyeless personification of her horrors.
Fourth and final entry focuses on our detective hero himself, as Aso is attacked by a fox-faced allegory out to push him into “allegorification.” In it, we learn that the detective’s continued exposure to allegories (manifested in repeated hiccups whenever he gets close to one) will ultimately result in his own transformation — into what, we’re not sure, but since the book ends on a cliffhanger, we’ll hopefully find our in volume three.
Volume two works as an entry to the series characters and world: you can pick it up without having read the first entry and not feel the least bit lost. The featured urban legends featured remain fun, though as with the first book we’re still not provided an explanation of the allegory behind title character Hanako, the little girl computer genius who aids Aso and who can travel from bathroom to bathroom. From what I can garner off the ‘net, the urban legend Hanako is sort of a Moaning Myrtle figure, a young ghost haunting a school girls’ restroom, though how this version gets to be a computer whiz is yet to be explained. Perhaps she spent time in a .hack toilet?
As horror manga go, Hanako and the Terror of Allegory proves about as unsettling as an episode of Supernatural, though its core trio — porn addicted Aso, impulsive Kanae, and wise-beyond-her-seeming-years Hanako — remain appealing enough characters to get most readers wanting to find out what happens in the next book. Think of it more as a dark fantastic hero comic (at one point Hanako even refers to Aso’s love of pornographic comics as his “kryptonite”) built on stories that kids have been repeating for generations to freak each other out.