Kodansha Comics’ Elegant Yokai Apartment Life is a heartwarming comedy manga that has managed to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. The series’ first three volumes introduced the protagonist Yushi, his emotional struggles with learning to be more open-minded, the supernatural inhabitants of the yokai apartment where he lives, and the grimoire he is learning to control, the Petit Hierozoicon. Given their high number of plot points, it’s unsurprising that these volumes suffered from rushed pacing despite their otherwise high quality. Does Vol. 4 slow things down a bit? Is it good?
Thankfully, this volume doesn’t blow through months’ worth of story progression in mere pages like its predecessors did. There isn’t a clear sense of how much time passes in Vol. 4, but its events could easily fit within a single month, if not less. Writer Hinowa Kouzuki’s main plot concerns this time around are the supernatural phenomena popping up at Yushi’s school. These developments force Yushi to reconcile different aspects of his life to a degree we haven’t seen before, thus building a solid foundation for character growth. As per usual, the moments when Yushi examines his own emotions and position in society are among the most enjoyable to read. Even though this volume is more plot-driven than previous installments, it still makes time for the sort of thoughtful character analysis that made me fall in love with the series way back in volume one.
Visually, this volume is fantastic. Artist Waka Miyama has impressed since the series started, and has yet to make any major fumbles. As in previous volumes, the characters have beautiful shine to their hair, sunlight and shadows dance beautifully across foliage, and the yokai apartment’s residents delight with their charming designs. In addition to the usual highlights, we also get to see Miyama bring their highly detailed style to more traditional horror story elements. One of this volume’s most pivotal moments is when Yushi finds a collection of violent, misogynistic graffiti on the wall at his school. The image is disturbing, and Miyama effectively shifts the tone away from the usual lighthearted comedy and to suspenseful terror instead.
As far as cons go, my main complaint with this volume pertains to its beginning. A new character shows up at the yokai apartment, establishes the existence of a previously unseen race of giants, and then quickly departs. This portion of the volume provides ample opportunity for Yushi’s always enjoyable introspection, but that’s about it. The pacing feels a bit rushed, and we don’t get to know the new character very well; they just serve as a springboard for Yushi to reexamine his world views. Even more disappointing than this scene itself is the fact that it’s the only part of the volume that centers around the actual yokai apartment. I appreciate Miyama and Kouzuki’s efforts to flesh out Yushi’s school life, but we miss out on several of the series’ most memorable characters and relationships as a result.
Overall, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Vol. 4 is, like its predecessors, an enjoyable read. Miyama’s artwork is consistently lovely to look at, Yushi has some poignant moments of self-reflection, and straight-up horror elements are effectively incorporated into the story. On the downside, the actual yokai apartment doesn’t get much page-time, and pacing problems still pop up on occasion. I’m looking forward to future installments, but this one is just good as opposed to great.