Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Volume 1 by Sakae Esuno
I had high expectations for this title. I really liked the first volume of Esuno’s other series Future Diary, which I keep meaning to read more of. I tend to enjoy stories about wacky detectives, so a detective of allegory or folklore seemed intriguing. Unfortunately after reading Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, my reaction was mixed.
A girl named Kanae goes to consult detective Daisuke Aso. She’s haunted by the tale of “The Man with an Axe Under the Bed” so she can’t sleep. Aso has a unique way of welcoming a female client to his office. He offers her a porn magazine to read and after being turned down, mutters “As I thought, normal women don’t read porn mags. I guess it’s just her.” As Kaede starts telling her story, Aso has a curious reaction. He denies his interest in unusual cases and starts hiccuping. He tells Kanae that she’s been possessed by an allegory. Some stories have the power to manifest in reality if the belief in them is strong enough. Aso is haunted by two allegories himself, the story of someone who dies after hiccuping 100 times in a row and Hanako, the girl in the toilet. Hanako is Aso’s porn reading, traveling through toilets intrepid allegorical girl assistant.
Aso and Hanako manage to save Kanae from the man with the axe under her bed, and Kanae decides to join the agency. Other cases tackled by the trio include “Slit Mouthed Woman” and “Human-Faced Fish.” There were some elements of the manga that I really liked and others that honestly squicked me out a bit. I enjoyed the central concept of a detective dealing with folktales come to life. Esuno’s art is clear and dynamic. The illustrations of the allegories gave the book a bit of a j-horror feel, especially the slit mouthed woman whose mouth and teeth extended in all directions around her. I was amused by Hanako’s constantly needing to be drawn sitting on a toilet, and her face is just non-human enough to be a little unsettling. Aso’s hiccuping reaction when confronted with allegories ensures that he has to resolve each case quickly.
I wasn’t fond of the final story in the collection “Human-Faced Fish,” about a school bus of children who go missing after crashing in a lake, and the creepy sole survivor of the accident. I’m just generally weary of seeing rape used as a story element unless the story really earns it. In this case, I don’t think it did. Hanako also seems to often come up with technological solutions to fighting folktales, but I’d prefer if Aso were to fight them more by using the internal logic of stories the allegories inhabit. There are hints of this here and there, but with Hanako breaking out the big guns, the solutions to the mysteries are more action oriented than cerebral. The episodic nature of Hanako and the Terror of Allegory made it feel a lot less focused and cohesive than Future Diary. If I had to recommend just one manga from this author based just on the first volumes, I’d go with Future Diary. There were still elements in Hanako that I enjoyed. If the second volume has slightly less questionable gender politics and more interesting folktales I’ll want to follow the series.