A surprisigly poignant debut volume with a unique premise.
Ever since I was a child watching Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? reruns, I’ve had an affinity for stories involving ghosts and the supernatural. As a result, once I learned about Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, I was eager to try the first volume. Based on a novel series by Hinowa Kouzuki and featuring art by Waka Miyama, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life stars a high schooler named Yushi Inaba who moves into an apartment complex with rent so low it sounds too good to be true. There is, indeed, a catch–Yushi’s new home is also home to all manner of ghosts and yokai. Vol. 1 collects the series’ first five chapters and introduces the main cast; is it good?
Upon first learning of the series, I expected a mostly comedic tone. Little did I know that I was in for an orphan protagonist and specters who haunt each other in the wake of their violent deaths. Most of the heavy subject matter is handled very well; Yushi’s character arc rings true and touches poignantly on the emotional changes and identity shifts people experience after losing parents. The last two chapters contain a story about the relationship between two ghosts, a mother and her infant son, that is easily the strongest portion of the volume. With all that said, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life still has plenty of the humor I was expecting, and its comedic timing is solid. Nonetheless, it’s the more poignant subject matter that’s most memorable.
Besides its strong writing, this volume also impresses visually. Miyama’s work is (ahem) elegantly detailed, and the rich textures throughout are fantastic. The hatching and crosshatching used to render shade are great, and the less humanoid spirits have fun designs. The most striking character by far, though, is the aforementioned mother ghost. She is drawn in an extremely creepy style that reminds me of Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. If that’s not a compliment for a ghost design, I don’t know what is.
My main con with this volume pertains to its pacing. There’s a lot of information dumped on the reader in short succession at the very beginning, and it doesn’t feel as effectively integrated into the narrative as it could. With that said, all the information given at least feels relevant as it pertains to Yushi’s family history, from his parents’ deaths to his uncomfortable experience living with extended family members afterward. This is all valuable information that sets up why Yushi seeks out a new apartment in the first place, it’s just conveyed a bit too compactly. On the plus side, later portions of the volume pick back up on the early plot points and flesh them out well.
Overall, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Vol. 1 succeeds as a series debut; it entertains while fleshing out endearing characters and building anticipation for the second volume. On the downside, the beginning is a tad exposition-heavy and the overall timeline of events feels a bit rushed. Nonetheless, excellent artwork, strong character development, and a unique premise make this a series well worth trying.