When we first see Akamushi Fujiwara, the subtitle figure of Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist (DMP), the mysterious Noh dancer has half of his face in shadow, obscuring the fact that it’s a mass of spidery scars. Later, when he shows up in the second volume of this Hideyuki (Vampire Hunter D) Kikuchi and Shin Yong-Gwan YA manga series, his face looks pristine, so beautiful that the sight of it drives an innocent fisherman into homicidal madness.
As the lead of this new horror manga, then, Fujiwara makes for an ambiguous rescuer: if he shows up to save you, chances are you’re in a dire situation indeed. In the first story — which spans one-and-a-half volumes — hard-drinking professional woman Megumi Ohtori gets unknowingly pulled into another plane of existence where she’s pursued by menacing figures with insectoid shadows, a whip-wielding woman whose face turns bat-like, and zombified versions of her office mates. Megumi’s plight catches the attention of Gyounja, a blind and mercenary fortune-teller who (for a fee) sends her to the Noh dancer.
The resultant mystical battles have a pleasing sense of the old Doctor Strange comics to ‘em — only with more bugs and physiological disfigurement tossed into the mix. In one early memorable moment, for instance, a demon holds out his palm to reveal a mouth that seemingly swallows up our hero. Fujiwara returns from this trap by following a mystic spider thread that’s perhaps attached to a crater on the moon. “As long as this thread endures,” he explains, “I’ll return from anywhere. Even from the edge of the galaxy or the depths of Hell.” In the second story, centered on a crazed gothic family reminiscent of the disturbed clan in Hideshi Hino’s classic horror manga The Red Snake, we see a snake-faced geezer with an insatiable appetite and a woman with a bulging laughing face on her stomach. “What a delightful household,” Fujiwara says, a half smile on his unscarred face.
Whether our exorcist is a heroic altruist or is taking on demonic forces for some as-yet-undisclosed reason doesn’t particularly matter at this point in the series: what counts is the intensity and fervor of scripter Kikuchi’s horror imagery and Korean artist Young-Gwan’s ability to convey it. The first two books of Red Spider Exorcist largely succeed (I’m especially fond of the extraterrestrial plant that bursts out of Fujiwara’s face after its seed has been planted by the sexy bat-faced demoness), even if a few panels of cartoon-ized figures threaten to disrupt the mood. And for those into good old gratuitous B-movie tease, Gwan even provides a few shots of Megumi being nakedly menaced in a hot spring. The Japanese version of a shower sequence? Works for me.