From Shūzō Oshimi, creator of The Flowers of Evil, comes a new little series called Happiness. I don’t know much about it other than the creepy cover, so let’s jump in blind.
Happiness Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Shuzo Oshimi
Translated and adapted by: Kevin Gifford
Lettering by: David Yoo
Life could better, but it certainly could be worse for high school student Makoto Okazaki. He doesn’t have many friends, is often used by other students in his class, is sexually frustrated, and more issues we’ve all gone through in high school. Still, things could be worse for the guy. However, one night when returning a DVD, he is attacked by a strange assailant who goes straight for his neck and bites into it. From then on, nothing is the same for him.
The Initial Impression
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Happiness since I had never read anything by this creator before nor did I know a single thing about the series. Having read it now, the series sort of reminds me of Tokyo Ghoul in some respects, with similar elements from that series appearing here like with hunger and dealing with a new, almost uncontrollable desire around others. However, besides that stuff, Oshimi is taking a much different and rather slow, foreboding direction with his manga that I’m very intrigued in seeing more of. This is perhaps one of the most dread-inducing mangas I’ve read in a long time. You know something bad, VERY bad is going to happen, but you don’t know when and it leaves you uncomfortable.
The first volume of Happiness has a strong sense of dread and unease to it from the end of the first chapter all the way to the volume’s ending. It’s a story essentially about a guy trying to deal with this new hunger and thirst within him, that’s constantly is dripping out and wrecking him on a mental stability level. He tries to hold it in, but it’s almost impossible and people are noticing something is wrong with him. You know something bad, VERY bad is going to happen at some point, but you don’t know when and it’s getting under your skin. And as a horror series, that’s amazing. The only other series that gets to me like this, that’s currently being released, is Goodnight Punpun, but that’s not a horror series.
Joke would be on the guy if the glasses kid didn’t have any money at all.
The manga succeeds on a horror level, but what about on a character level? The main character is Makoto Okazaki and he’s your normal, typical high school student. He’s relatable and has his own problems at the very beginning of the series that are something I’m sure a lot of young teenage guys have felt or dealt with. He’s normal, but then the incident happens and everything is flipped upside down for him. His life is different and he’s constantly struggling to control this insatiable, dark urge in him to “drink/feast”. It turns him into a vicious, ugly kind of person, but still sympathetic since he really doesn’t want to become this thing and he is trying to suppress it. It’s going to be an interesting character arc for him as the series goes on to be sure.
Then there are the rest of the characters in the book, which are sadly not explored that much. We get the start of a character arc or exploration into the cast’s minds, but nothing too deep. We have characters like Yuuki, who take advantage of Okazaki and end up showing another side to them. There’s Nunota, a friend of Okazaki who can tell something wrong is happening with him, but is not sure what it is. Then there are mysterious characters like Yukiko Gosho, who seem to take Okazaki’s weird and disturbing outbursts rather well for some reason. There’s not a ton to these characters so far–it should be very intriguing to see where the creator is taking everyone.
Writing wise, the first volume was pretty solid. It may be a bit too slow moving in the plot department and the manga does deal a lot in decompression, so the story may not be for everyone. However, the pace is perfect for what the creator is intending on doing and works wonderfully well for instilling that sense of dread and fear into the audience, dragging out intense moments and scenes for a long time. The dialogue is pretty good and feels realistic enough to where I can imagine people talking like this. It’s tonally consistent in its moods and it never feels off at any points. The book also feels like it has some underlying themes about sexuality and people going through changes when they’re younger, but they don’t feel fully fleshed out yet. We’ll probably see more on as the series goes on.
Lastly, there is the artwork and it’s really good. At first look, it seems pretty average manga artwork. The characters look fine and a bit standard design-wise, the layouts are alright, and the settings are decently depicted when actually drawn. However, where the artwork really shines and makes everything so good is when it gets into the creepy horror factor of the series. The art style shifts and changes tones immensely. The line and patchwork for shadows gets heavier, layouts and word balloons get messier, the scene gets wobbly or the panel focuses in on specific parts of a person, and more. It’s uncanny and unnerving, especially with how easily Shuzo Oshimi shifts between the normal and the horrorific.
Happiness Vol. 1 is a strong start to a brand new series. While it’s definitely slow moving and basically just setting things up for where things can go, this is one of the most effective series I’ve read in a while at inducing dread in an audience. With its strong writing and artwork, this is a series that is definitely worth keeping your eyes on this Halloween.