Domu – Horror is Atmosphere, not Story

I’ve had this manga book, Domu: A Child’s Dream, on my shelf for around 2-3 years, and I’ve found myself looking for something to read, my memory reminded me of Domu and where it was on my shelves (even though my shelves look like this, I know where all my books are!). So I picked it up, and a couple of hours later it was done. And I have some things to say, and this is my blog, so say them I shall!

(Guy’s Note: Well, Hobby Search not loading its pages in English means the “Figure Friday” of sorts post I was meaning to make will be postponed for sometime during the week (or next Friday).)

For those who don’t know, Domu is an anime written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira, and had been written (and serialized) between 1980 and 1982. I’ve read the graphic novel version translated by Dark Horse, unsurprisingly. The story follows an accursed housing block in Japan. Accursed you ask? There’s an astonishingly high number of deaths and disappearances around the block, and they send detectives to investigate the matter. And things escalate into a psychic duel.
And this covers the general plot of the story, which you could probably find out online with minor poking.
(This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such covers more my thoughts, and is less focused as an actual bona fide review. There will be a LOT of spoilers in this post.)

So, there isn’t actually much story in this manga. It’s kinda like a horror movie in this regard – you have a psychic old man who’s killing people, and it’s unclear from the title of the manga – “Domu: A Child’s Dream” and a small comment by a visiting psychic, whether the old man is trying to fulfill children’s dreams, or he’s killing them because they compete with his dreams? Anyway, he’s killing them in order to get their things which kids want, toys, a shiny hat, etc.
And then you have a small girl with awesome psychic powers whose family moves into the housing block, and then the two resident psychics fight it out, with some detectives coming to try to get to the bottom of all this.

You know how you can distill any story down, but there’d be a lot left outside? Sure, I could tell you of the kid she befriends, the retard who helps the small girl and her friend, her friend’s drunk father who’s controlled by the old man… but it’s all incidental. It’s not “Story”. It’s not what the story is about, it’s not really “plot”, it’s just “stuff that happens”. I adhere to the notion the story is what the story is about, not just “what happens”. So this story, it really could be summed in about two to three sentences.

But this is unsurprising. Horror “stories” are not about what the story is about, it’s not even about what happens. Horror stories revolve around atmosphere. They revolve around 2 minutes of looking at a close-up of a character while nothing happens, and seeing the fear in their eyes; their anger as they are pushed against a wall, and as they fight for their survival. It’s the shock we experience as things go “Bump” in the night (and also “BAMF!” ;-)).

This works very well in movies, where things can be drawn out. This also works well in books, where they take the time to scare us, where we pull page after page and get sucked in, as we can hear the characters’ thoughts, as we can read those descriptive words that add no content but add atmosphere (Hurriedly, desperately, out of breath…), but in a manga, where there’s very little talk or thought bubbles, and almost everything is action? Well, it’s the kind of horror you get from Alien versus Predator when you take the humans out of the equation. It’s an action story, and there’s nothing to reinforce the atmosphere – not enough dark shots, no ominous music.

Domu is a nice manga, with ok drawing, but there’s not enough meat in it, and it’s not scary, or even very emotional in its resolution. It does feel a bit like a real housing block with the gossiping neighbours and the atmosphere of that, of the ordinary suburban life. But it’s not scary, and it’s more like X-Men than Scream.
Horror storytelling had advanced since, and I’m not sure if manga is the best medium for horror.

Domu: A Child’s Dream gets 6/10 screams from me. Well, more like 3.5 as a horror manga, but it’s an ok book.

BTW, do you think manga is suitable for horror, and if so, which good horror manga have you read? I can see suspense in manga, since I’ve read thrillers in manga (Deathnote).

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4 comments on “Domu – Horror is Atmosphere, not Story

  1. Yi says:

    The art looks great for a horror manga. Creepy and creative
    Agreed about the atmosphere aspect of horror. It’s not as much the story as it is about the suspense. Sad to see that this doesn’t succeed that well.

    Btw. if you’re interested. Uzumaki by Junji Ito is a pretty good horror manga.

    • Guy says:

      You know, hearing of this manga for the first time, all those years ago, I suddenly realized why Naruto is “Uzumaki Naruto”. A very fitting name for an orphan as well.

      The art is very… well, it exemplifies the time it was made. When I think of 80s-early 90s manga, this is the style I think of. I wonder if this mangaka was affected much by the era being the sole reason, or whether he affected others. It’s the creator of Akira, after all.
      Noting the style-changes over the years is really interesting. You can see how the moe-style really changed the way faces are drawn – a far cry from how real the faces look in this book. Almost too real.

      I need to read Uzumaki. I wonder if manga can actually capture my attention, in the way horror requires.

  2. lovelyduckie says:

    The BEST BEST horror manga I’ve come across is The Kindaichi Case Files, hands down it’s #1 for me. It’s a survival horror series that features a new cast in each volume. I also enjoy Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and Higurashi: When They Cry.

    Also I’ve only read the first volumes of these but March Story, 20th Century Boys, and 7 Billion Needles are series I have high horror expectations of. I also plan on reading Monster sometime soon.

    I’ve read quite a few horror series, but the ones above are what poop into my head first as the best.

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