QQ Sweeper Vol. 1

QQ Sweeper Volume 1 by Kyousuke Motomi

I’m generally excited for any debut series in the Shojo Beat line, but I was particularly interested in reading the first volume of QQ Sweeper because I enjoyed Dengeki Daisy so much. Motomi’s slightly offbeat and cynical sense of humor makes her series stand out, and I was curious to see how the paranormal and cleaning would come together in this title.

Motomi does cranky heroes well, so I thought the male lead of the series was quite promising. Kyutaro Horikita is a member of the beautification committee at his school, and he’s introduced in the first chapter as a bit of a loner who is obsessed with cleaning. He comes across a girl sleeping in an abandoned room in his school. Fumi Nishioka is a new transfer student who is homeless, trying to hide evidence of how poor she is, and on a mission to become a real life Cinderella by snagging a rich guy. This doesn’t sound like the most flattering character description, but Motomi also is able to easily create sympathetic yet quirky heroines. Motomi’s slightly offbeat humor is on display in the first few panels, when Kyutaro seems to rely on threatening people with cucumbers a bit too much, and Fumi enters into a dangerous fugue state when she’s assessing the material possessions of a male student/mark.

I don’t even find shoujo cliches all that annoying when Motomi is executing them. In very quick order, Fumi finds herself interviewing for and getting a position as housekeeper for her school principal, who just happens to be Kyutaro’s older brother. Fumi quickly discovers that Kyutaro’s obsession with cleaning extends to cleansing the spiritual plane, and she also has the ability to help him. Motomi packs a great deal of plot and character development into this single volume, setting up the relationships between the characters, and establishing the background for the supernatural aspects of the manga. This is a very solid addition to the Shojo Beat lineup, and I’m very much looking forward to Motomi’s slightly twisted take on the supernatural romance genre in future volumes.

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A Manga About Urban Horror Stories Become Real

Upon hearing the news that Big Order, the newest manga by Future Diary‘s Sakae Esuno, is getting a short anime adaption next month, I re-read the whole manga. But when that wasn’t enough to satiate me, I had no choice but to pick up the author’s premier work: surreal detective story Hanako and the Terror of Allegory.

In the world of Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, if someone believes in a folktale or urban legend enough, he or she can unwittingly be drawn into the story—set to become the victim of the tale. Yet, with the police powerless at best and unbelieving at worst, most poor souls turn to the net. It is then that they learn of Daisuke Aso: The Folklore Detective.

Daisuke would much rather deal with normal, mundane detective work. But thanks to his unique circumstances he gets caught up in case after case involving these urban legends become real—or “allegories” as Daisuke calls them.

You see, Daisuke has spent his life perpetually haunted by two allegories. The first is a severe case of hiccups that start up whenever an allegory is near; if he hiccups 100 times in a row, he will die. The second is his roommate and best friend: Hanako of the Toilet (a Japanese folktale similar to the Bloody Mary urban legend in the West).

With his hiccups to act as a supernatural litmus test and Hanako to provide backup, Daisuke reluctantly helps those whose lives are at risk because of these supernatural stories gone wild. Soon, their group is joined by Kanae, a young college-aged girl, who begins working at the detective agency to repay the pair for freeing her from her own allegory troubles.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is a four-volume collection of short stories about Daisuke and company, with each case taking up one to three chapters. Each case is set around a different Japanese urban legend or folktale. These range from the “the serial killer under the bed” to the Kokkuri (the Japanese equivalent of the Ouija Board). So if you’re interested in modern day Japanese horror tales, this manga is a great little introduction.

Of course, along the way, Daisuke’s own legend grows as he becomes the center of the newest iteration of the urban legend: the internet-spread Creepypastas. As the tales told by his past clients spread and grow online, Daisuke becomes seen as a supernatural figure in his own right. He is the unstoppable Folklore Detective—a man able to defeat any horror. Because so many people believe in his legend, it starts to become true, with Daisuke having almost superhuman strength and speed—not to mention a healing factor on par with Wolverine.

But there is, of course, the downside to this: If Daisuke relies too much on his urban legend, he will become transformed by it—and we all know that few urban legends have anything even remotely resembling a happy ending.

This is where Kanae comes into play. Kanae is a normal girl—despite her brief stint haunted by an allegory. She quickly becomes the one thing that Hanako cannot be: Daisuke’s anchor to the real world.

But as they go on dangerous adventure after dangerous adventure and Daisuke comes to care more and more for Kanae, he is faced with a quandary: How can he drag someone normal into the world of allegories? While his status as the Folklore Detective provides him a large measure of protection—even as it is a double-edged sword—Kanae is incredibly vulnerable to the supernatural horrors they face. It is a question with no easy answer.

The climax of the manga brings together the main theme of the whole tale: Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is a story about the nature of stories. It raises questions about what it means to be an author and what it means to be a reader. Who does the story belong to and who gets to decide the meaning? In other words, the ending is more than a bit metaphysical—as anyone who’s seen/read Future Diary might guess—but it is ultimately satisfying.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is a manga that gets a lot of mileage out of its premise. It goes from horror to action to comedy to romance and back again. Through each case you learn about a different Japanese urban legend and get hints about the deeper motivations and personal histories of each of the three main characters. It’s great fun. Don’t be surprised, though, if you have a nightmare or two after reading this—some of these tales are more than a little creepy.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory was released in Japan from 2004 to 2005. It was released in the US in 2010.

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