Happiness was one of my top 15 mangas of 2016 and also the best horror series among them all, ending the year on an unsettling note in its second volume. Things can only get worse (in the best of ways) as the third volume is now on store shelves. Let’s dive in.
Happiness Vol. 3 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Atsushi Ohkubo
Translated by: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Lettering by: AndWorld Design
After an encounter with Saku that nearly killed him, Makoto manages to rescue Yuuki just in the nick of time from where the vampiric boy dumped him. However, even after all this, things are only getting worse and worse–Makoto is barely able to hold it together. Something is going to crack and he may need to get away before it all goes to hell.
After two volumes of slow, building horror and things growing worse and worse, the house of cards that is Makoto’s life falls apart. While still keeping its slow and dreadful (in a good, horror-esque) pace, the story unfolds in both some surprising and not-so surprising ways as it throws several twists and turns into the plot. We see the fallout from Yuuki’s return, Nora returns with an offer for Makoto, and the police investigation into the several deaths in the city takes an interesting turn. These all really raise the stakes for Makoto and the others, who have been really fleshed out over the course of these three volumes, making the tragedy and horror of everything more shocking and powerful. It’s hard to really get into the details without spoiling what happens, but from here on out, things are never going to be the same within this series.
Seriously, you’ve got to be a mess of a person to sleep on a bunch of rocks next to a train.
Speaking of characters, Shuzo Oshimi has done a splendid job of bringing the cast to life and making them feel fully realized. There’s depth, backstory, strong relationships between each one that feels personal and different from each other, and more. You understand everyone’s motivation and know why they do what they do. You understand why Makoto is desperately trying to cling onto his humanity and not to lose any of it, seeing the friends he has and a family that loves him dearly. In an interesting contrast to him, Yuuki is almost the opposite, giving in to his vampiric urges almost instantly and killing his mom right after being intoxicated by this new power. It shows a strong and clear difference between the characters, especially when Nao reveals how empty his life is like when talking with Gosho, and how their own home lives shaped them into becoming who they are. This clear difference in personality should to lead to an interesting confrontation very soon. After reading all of these volumes and reflecting back on my initial criticism about how underdeveloped the characters were at first, this series has significantly improved and I’m more than eager to see what happens to everyone from here on out. The only thing I wish we got more of is Yuuki’s mom, who was never really developed much besides three very brief appearances and a flashback.
The writing is fantastic here, and really sets the manga apart as one of the best horror series that I’ve read in a while. The pacing still feels very slow, but unlike other series I’ve read, it works to its benefit (and things also happen every chapter, so there’s that as well). It helps build the tension, the unease, and dread of the book, leaving you with a sense of danger and horror that is coming soon. You don’t know when something bad will strike, but you are just left uncomfortable and on edge the entire time as you wait for the inevitable. The manga is also capable of being able to say so much with little to no dialogue at points, just letting the artwork do most of the talking. No heavy exposition at any points or speeches (the closest we get is when Nao talks about Yuuki, but it feels pretty natural), just simple conversations and letting the expressions and body language of a person say all that needs to be said. The characterization is well handled like mentioned and horror-wise, between the pace, the visuals, and how Oshimi depicts and writes the bloodlust and losing one’s self, this is one of the most uncomfortable books I’ve read in a while and in a good way. My hands were shaking at points at how much the book got to me, especially during chapter 13.
Damn my sleepwalking! I always end up in weird places!
The artwork is just as fantastic as the writing and characters, making for such a haunting book. When Oshimi’s just drawing scenes where nothing is happening and things are just normal, the artwork is perfectly fine with no problems to it, outside of being a little bland at times. But in almost every other instance of the artwork just gorgeous and jaw-dropping. The characters are so full of life and expression, showing so much personality there is in every panel. The scenery is beautiful at moments, especially during snowfall and depicting how the night looks through a vampire’s eyes (very Van Gogh in its stylization), and the fact that almost every panel has a background helps ground this world more instead of seeing it in some colorless or black void. The visualization representing when a character is losing it and suffering from hunger is quite eerie and uncomfortable, leading to some really nasty and creepy moments (again, see chapter 13). Overall, I really have no complaints for this artwork. It’s wonderful in all situations.
Happiness Vol. 3 is one of those rare horror books you see in a while that does almost everything perfectly. The characters are well-written, relatable, and you generally feel bad for everyone. The writing is excellent and the artwork can go from decently mundane to nightmarishly surreal. The horror is also done well with such a strong, slow buildup and execution throughout, leaving the audience disturbed and uneasy. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest ongoing horror series in any market.