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Review: Akaneiro #2

Akaneiro 2Akaneiro #2 does more than live up to the official Dark Horse descriptor “brilliant,” placing the Japonic demon-hunting game world of American McGee into the young-to-comics hands of Justin Aclin, with art by Vasilis Lolos and colors by my personal favorite, Michael Atiyeh.

The story is that of a young Ainu-Japanese girl in ‘feudal’ Japan, whose destiny it seems is to become a demon hunter. This book has been described as, and was pre-marketed as, a Japanese version of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. This becomes even more evident in Akaneiro #2, which follows Kani into a den of werewolves, tricked into going there by a fox demon, who told her it was the village where she would learn to become a Red Hunter (yokai, or demon fighter) of the Order of Akane.

The plot hangs on the premise that the natural/supernatural, human/non-human, and good/bad must be placed in balance, and that it is the role of the Red Hunters to achieve this. The concept is not unprecedented, and is in fact age-old, something witnessed in almost every reconceptualizing of traditional Japanese culture for American audiences—every animal is a god, and demons aren’t necessarily bad. As Kani goes through her unforeseen trials among the werewolves, she starts to discover this for herself; surely the mark of a chosen one who will bring balance to the For-, I mean, nature.

Justin Aclin may be a comics newbie, but it’s obvious he’s talented, having adeptly adapted American McGee’s video game to the comics medium. However, the turning of dead demon blood into ‘karma’ which the Red Hunters consume is a bit clunky, since in the game it serves as a means to gain power and level up, but is obviously an awkward holdover from the game medium.

Every page of this issue is a piece of art, thanks to Vasilis Lolos, who’s worked on a lot of other Dark Horse books, and whose style is reminiscent of Mignola (especially his uncanny and creepy portrayal of demons!). With the aid of colorist Atiyeh, the story has the lighthearted seriousness of a Miyazaki film, colors dancing across the wonderful art like a Japanese watercolor print.

Akaneiro is of the caliber of incredible storytelling that continues to make Dark Horse one of the best, most artistic publishers in the business, and the second issue is a must-have. The Miyazaki-meets-Hellboy patois is endearing, its protagonist a stolid outcropping in raging rapids, desperate to keep her moral code and values in the face of overwhelming odds. Kani is a modern hero in an ancient time lost in a tale of identity challenged and retained. We all have something to learn from this book, and I think we all know a few Yokai playing at being human…

Story: Justin Aclin  Art: Vasilis Lolos and Michael Atiyeh
Story: 9  Art: 9  Overall: 9  Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review