Yokai Doctor (vols. 1-3)
Also known as: Yokai no Oisha-san (vols. 1-3)
Medium: comic
Year: 2007
Writer/artist: Yuki Sato
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: yokai, manga
Format: 3 volumes, 19 chapters, 600-odd pages
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=9864
Website category: Manga
Review date: 2 October 2016
Yokai no Oisha-san
I bought it on a whim. Last year I was in Japan, buying the odd volume here and there of random titles, when this caught my eye in the bookshop. I'd never heard of it before, but I bought these three volumes because the story concept appealed to me.
I enjoyed it. I'll probably buy the rest next time I go back.
Gokokuchi Kuro is a high school student and a yokai doctor. (No one knows about the latter.) "Yokai" are like demons but weirder and most of them like to kill, eat, turn to stone and/or otherwise do fatal things to humans. Gokokuchi is human, but this doesn't bother him. He has an unusual family background and he's deadly serious about being a yokai doctor. He's also a cheerful goofball dork in glasses.
Kasuga Kotoko is a cute girl with the second sight. She can see yokai, but unfortunately that's all she can do. She can't fight them. If one tried to eat her, she'd probably get eaten. She's an ordinary human. She starts out with a pretty normal opinion of yokai, although associating with Gokokuchi eventually, painfully, helps her get over it and start to see them as people. A lot of yokai are lovely. Some are trying to atone for their past deeds.
I just love the idea. I'm a sucker for "sympathise with the monster" stories, especially when the monsters are indeed monstrous. This has strong similarities to a standard monster-hunting series, but the difference is that Gokokuchi's helping yokai, instead of fighting and killing them. I approve. I want to read more stories like that. Vol.1 introduces our heroes and their world, sets up Kotoko for some surprisingly harsh emotional journeys and shows us some amazing yokai. (The frog yokai licking its human-cube... eyaaaagh.) I thought it was excellent. It contains some powerful emotion, e.g. with Kotoko, the yokai and the four-leafed clover. It tells its opening story twice, once from Kotoko's point of view and then again from Gokokuchi's. It makes Kotoko the strongest and most important character in the book, even though the format means that in the long run the stories are going to be built around Gokokuchi.
Gokokuchi, meanwhile, isn't just the lovable all-loving space case he appears to be. He's adorable, yes. He's pathetically keen to make a friend. (He's also very occasionally a little lecherous.) However even he doesn't know whether he'd side with yokai or humans if forced to a choice. At one point he debates whether to stand by and watch Kotoko get eaten, then later takes far too long to think to mention something critical about Amanojaku.
Vol.2, though, made me worry that the series might get repetitive. It falls into a yokai-of-the-week pattern, with lots of one-off stories that would never make any difference to anything else. They're good. I enjoyed them. However most of them don't strike home emotionally for Gokokuchi and Kotoko, except of course for the flashback story to Gokokuchi's late mother. That was a good one.
There's also some fanservice. However it's only occasional and done with a sufficiently light touch that it's actually sexy, as opposed to what one too often gets in anime and manga, i.e. an overload of sexualised imagery being shoved at you.
Vol.3 then got personal again. Vol.2's yokai had almost all been cuddly sweetie-cakes. Vol.3's yokai aren't, although admittedly you'll melt for the ugly-cute blob monster. There are yokai who want Gokokuchi dead just for violating the human-yokai boundary. There's the killing of a childhood friend and then a follow-up story with the mother. There's a dragon that could swallow a village in one bite and its dark relationship with Gokokuchi's mother. There's a thief and some really unpleasant spider-yokai.
I like it. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't buy the other twelve volumes, partly because the ongoing plot is bubbling underneath rather than being front and centre. However I'm sure I'd enjoy them. It's a fairly low-profile title, with no anime adaptation and only three or four volumes translated into English. However I really like what the series is saying. I like Gokokuchi and Kotoko. It has cool yokai designs. I'm often impresses me with the emotional force to be found in what looks like a fun monster manga. It's on my "to-buy" list.