Review: Mimi no Kaidan [2002 – 2003] (+ 2 bonus stories!)

a review by the Crow.

The works of Itō Junji, Part 2

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OPENING THOUGHTS

(Note: This review really drained me, for some reason.)

This was originally meant to be the second part of a double-feature (along with Gyo [+related stories]), but that post ran too far long, and here I am with a whole new post (gift horses and their mouths and all that, I suppose)! And considering I don’t want to be anything-less-than comprehensive in my coverage of Itō Junji’s works, I’ll be adding two extra one-shot comics to the end of this review!

Mimi no Kaidan (otherwise known as Mimi’s Ghost Stories) is a collection of shorts by Itō Junji. I came across this when the Azure-Winged Magpie shoved the collection in my face and made me read them at beak-point.

I don’t personally read manga (or comics, for that matter) much. Far as manga goes, I’d only read Ghost in the Shell and 20th Century Boys up until now (and finished both — although how I got through the latter is beyond me, but I was much younger at the time and probably had tons of more time on my hands, so there’s that).

Now, due to the nature (and length) of these stories, some of them will be summarised to a higher degree than others. Nearing the latter half of this review, each entry will be dealt with as less of a review as opposed to being mostly a summary of what happens.

But enough about all of that, let’s dive deeper into the works by our mangaka of the moment, who’s (with Mimi no Kaidan, at least) working with material not of his own creation, unlike usual:

[NOTE: EACH STORY-REVIEW SECTION WILL BE MARKED SEPARATELY FOR SPOILERS]


Mimi no Kaidan Mimi's Ghost Stories The Corvid Review 1

MIMI NO KAIDAN (a.k.a.: MIMI’S GHOST STORIES)

ATOP THE ELECTRIC POLE

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS

Yes. Yes, I know. I just named both got the title wrong and counted Atop The Electric Pole as ‘Number 1’ on the image.

Mistakes aside, this story’s better considered as a prologue to the rest of the stories, but I’ve noticed a distinct lack of mentions of Atop The Electric Pole in reviews of Mimi no Kaidan. And while that may be right, considering how it’s too short to really be taken as a story, I like to think that the encounter with the figure atop the electric pole is the reason for the subsequent events in the collection.

I mean… am I meant to take it as if Mimi’s like Ms Marple, only for spooky happenings? Maybe the encounter with the weird old lady has something to do with her run-ins with the supernatural? Just maybe?

Since it’s so short, here’s the story in full: Mimi (our protagonist) and her boyfriend Naoto are driving down a street. Mimi spots a figure atop an electric pole: an old — almost skeletal — woman. She drops onto their car, but when they look for her after coming to a stop, she’s nowhere to be seen.

And that’s that, far as this story’s concerned.


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1: THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS CONSIDERABLE SPOILERS

And now, we get to the first of our proper stories: The Woman Next Door.

Mimi — as it happens — lives in a bit-of a dump. A dump as it might be, there’s one thing above all that really grinds her gears: the music from the person living upstairs.

Now, I have noisy neighbours (I mean, arguing, chucking furniture around at three in the morning, my few local friends constantly talking about the “psychopaths” nearest to me, no one batting an eye, etc.), and I can completely sympathise with Mimi’s issues — don’t worry about my situation, though, it’s amazing what you can do with a murder of trained crows backing you, staring silly humans down.

And Mimi does what I (and my mum, and the Magpie, and a few choice others) once did: knock on their door and tell them to pipe it the heck down. She has some words with him, but the guy seems unconcerned, since the neighbour next door hasn’t said a peep about the noise he makes (been there, done that). He tells her that if the neighbour agrees with her, he’ll turn his music down. Until then: no dice.What a donkey!

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Just as Mimi hears no response, and has a heated conversation with the donkey about how it seems like no one’s actually living next door (although he says sounds of activity can be heard, which he attests as proof that there is someone living next door), a ‘woman’ emerges — seemingly unfazed by Mimi’s earlier barrage of knocks. Covered head-to-toe in black, she walks past them, without so much as taking notice of them.

Another random neighbour comes into the picture for a short scene, complaining about the noise from the fight the hallway. After the issue’s cleaned up, the random neighbour tells Mimi that she thinks there are three woman living there. They come in different shapes and sizes, and she (the random neighbour)’s always thought that they (next door) were sisters.

Things quickly take a turn for the worse. A few days later, Mimi encounters the once-noisy, but now silenced, upstairs neighbour on the street. He’s slowly becoming obsessed with the woman (or women) living next to him, only to be interrupted by one of the ladies in black. And then, just the next day… he’s gone. Just like that, he leaves.

And Mimi takes his flat.

Oh, Mimi, why did you go and do that?

Of course, things take a turn for the worse when she does. And here’s where I’ll cut myself off to avoid spoiling anything else.

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Overall, I don’t consider The Woman Next Door to be a very complete story. What little we get isn’t bad, however, but it’s ending leaves a discomforting vacancy both due to how it cheats us out of a resolution, and refuses us closure in the final few lines. We don’t need a full explanation or anything, but we need an ending. Here, we’re left hanging without anything. And therefore: it’s something I’m going to hold against the story.

The Woman Next Door has just the right touches of mystery and suspense to work as a great foundation. But considering what we’re left with: we don’t really have a story here on our hands.

STORY RATING: 2/10


2: THE SOUND OF GRASS

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS

And here, we come to the shortest story in the collection: The Sound of Grass. Naoto and Mimi are out on a walk in the woods. Naoto’s being a bit of a goof, and is being a little… well… amorous (which I can’t really fault him for, especially considering the fact that I’m completely fine and am not being made to point this specific point out due to recent incidents.) blink-blink! Save me!

They hear some kind of a noise. Naoto rushes off to find the source, and when Mimi catches up to him, we find out that we’re at the scene of…

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As they gather their wits and decide to do the right thing (far as they see it) and get her down, they hear something like that noise again. Initially, they’d thought it was one of her shoes dropping off, but this time: there’s nothing that could’ve dropped.

Now, here’s where something interesting happens. You remember that snapshot of them finding the body up there, right? Well, the next time Naoto looks up, he realises that the corpse is looking right at them.

And just as they recover something… a dark fluid starts gushing out of her. But it never appears on the ground once it makes contact. And it happens again and again as Mimi and Naoto panic in front of the corpse.

Our protagonists decide to just make a run for it; and all the while, as they leg it out of the woods, the hanging corpse never once turns her face away from them.

Okay. I mean… does this really count as a story? I guess one could say it does, since it does have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but again: there’s not really much for me to review here. The art’s pretty as always, though.

STORY RATING: ?/10


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3: GRAVEMAN

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

From here on, we’re entering a run of stories which are more ‘complete’, unlike what’s come before. And we’re quickly closing in on my favourites out of the collection.

Sometime after the incident with The Woman Next Door, Mimi moves into a new apartment like she said she’d be looking for after encountering the titular woman of that story. It’s new-ish, it’s cheap, and why wouldn’t it be? After all, it faces a stacked graveyard lovely! It’s pretty much meant for her!

And hey! a few crows appear early on in this one! Kaw-KAW!, my brothers and sisters!

After some conversation about how the deceased are dealt with in urban Japan between the couple (which freaks Mimi out a little), Naoto goes home.

When night comes… she hears things. She hears things from the direction of the graveyard. And, in time, even begins to see ghostly lights swarming in the air above the graveyard (or, as she calls them: “spirits”).

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Eventually, she meets her workout-obsessed neighbour, who seems to know nothing about the sounds in the night-time. And that’s where things start to get stranger.

I won’t spoil any more of the story, but to talk about it in broader strokes, I must admit that this is an odd one. After finding out the root of the mystery of the graves (and I guess I can say that there is an explanation for the lights as well), I can’t even be sure I could call this straight horror.

All-in-all, this story works as more of a comedy in my eyes. It managed to elicit a chuckle or two, and at no point did it even hint at a scare, although I can see at what points some people might find the imagery unsettling.

The next-door neighbour’s character is certainly a strange one, and I actually liked how Itō Junji played around with him quite a bit.

A disclaimer I just realised I should point out at this juncture is that I have zero idea what the original urban legends behind these stories are. So, I don’t know how much of the character’s ‘weird-ness’ actually belongs to Itō Junji’s own design, but I’ll just consider that it’s his work, since not many urban legends tend to go beyond the core mystery.

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And much like Gyo, and unlike both the rest of the stories in this collection as well as every other thing I’ve read by Itō Junji — this story offers more in the way of explaining what’s going on within the story. To be quite honest: I think it’s the most complete “explanation” I’ve seen apart from Ribs Woman (reviewed below).

But did I like it?

Well, while I enjoyed it quite a lot, and found it hilarious at points, I don’t think it’s such a strong entry in the collection. It’s a very classic horror story, and while I can’t fault it, it fails at being impressive, when I think of the author’s body of work in general. So, I’m going to have to treat it a little harsher than I might have otherwise.

STORY RATING: 3.5/10


4: THE SEASHORE

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

And now, we enter the second half of this collection. And oh, is it ever-better than the first half. The Seashore follows the same format as Graveman, and like the subsequent Just the Two of Us after it, falls into a trilogy of more ‘classic’ horror. I’m going to be a lot more curt with these sections because I’d really like to not give anything away, so I’ll skip summarising the plot and head straight into what I thought of the plot.

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Summary: Mimi, Naoto, and their friends (Furusawa and Tanaka) take a trip to the beach. Almost immediately, strange things start showing up. But of course, it’s only Mimi who sees them.

They encounter a waitress at a shore-side bar (I assume), who seems to know quite a bit about the beach and the spooky happenings surrounding it. And the story takes a darker turn when she starts mentioning specifics about the strange things that show up on the beach and starts posing for photographs with the small group.

Overall, the story serves as a nice bridge to the two final entries. It’s a story told in a very ‘classic’ format, and has the hallmarks of the kinds of stories elders tell us in the night when we’re children.

The very final moments, I thought missed some very decent opportunities at furthering some of the mysteries the story throws up to us. But that said, the very final pages of this story do make up for it. It could’ve been a lot more, but it does it’s job just fine.

I’d have liked to see Itō Junji tackle the story on a deeper level, though.

STORY RATING: 3.5/10


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5: JUST THE TWO OF US

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

And now, we come to my favourite story out of the collection… or at least, it could have been, if not for the ending, and a certain missed opportunity right in the last few scenes.

As I stated elsewhere, recently, I’m the kind of crow who calls his mum every day, come whatever might (tonight, she had to deal with my yammering on about the Europa League semi-final between Manchester United and Celta Vigo — although she was doing much the same, to be fair). [Side-note: My mum mentioned reading an excellent story along the same lines the very same night I was discussing this short with her. If a translated version is available to me at any point, I’ll surely add a link to it.]

With all that said, this one resonated with me the hardest. It’s a story about mothers and children which throws up a wide array of themes that manage to hit home.

The ending is a bit of a let-down, in my eyes. This is a concept that could’ve been taken so much further; and yet, it ends in an abrupt conflict. What I would’ve personally done is add a little more bit of ink to the final panels to really drive the story home. This is one of those concepts in which having an “absolute ending” might’ve been the poorer choice.

I’ll still rate it quite higher than I otherwise would because of how ‘pure’ certain aspects of the story are; but oh, how I wish it had done more with itself!

STORY RATING: 5/10


6: THE SCARLET CIRCLE

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

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And now, we come to the final story in our collection: The Scarlet Circle.

And right off the bat, this is a strange one. Mimi and Naoto have a disagreement about the supernatural (in which Naoto makes like me) and soft-split up. Enter their mutual friend Misa (who’s been there all along), who agrees with Mimi’s belief that the supernatural exists. And more than that, she has her own proof of it: a half-demolished house which belonged to her grandparents.

As it was being torn down, the demolition crew found a room below the kitchen floor: a room (mats on the floor and all).

And in this room? No doors, no windows, no escape apart from the hatch opened up in its ceiling. Oh, but wait: there’s this red blot on one of the walls.

To stop talking about the plot so directly, this chapter has a sense of mystery that’s quite well-executed. The story lures us into wondering why the events of the story are happening.

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Apart from what I felt what was a forced angle to do with Misa and Naoto (and eventually Mimi), the core plot worked quite well for me.

But like with all the other stories in this collection, the loss of closure hangs over this one as well. We do get an ending, but it’s not an ending. The right balance — I find — in horror is to leave just enough unexplained, while still delivering a complete product.

This story, much like every single other story in this collection doesn’t do that. It’s not bad, and this story manages to be my second-favourite of this collection, but it’s not The Enigma of Amigara Fault, or Gyo, or Uzumaki.

STORY RATING: 4.5/10


Junji Ito Mimi no Kaidan Ribs Woman Phantom Mansion Analysis The Corvid Review

CLOSING THOUGHTS ON MIMI NO KAIDAN

Yeah, it wasn’t too bad, on the whole. The story was based on Kaidan Shin Mimibukuro: Yirei Manshon, which none of us have seen, among other sources; so we have no clue as to the original urban legends yet.

And for those of you with the actual print-copy, there’s something waiting for you at the end that we’re not going to be mentioning, here.

So, don’t forget to turn those last few pages!


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FINAL OVERALL RATINGS

(FOR MIMI NO KAIDAN ONLY)

THE CROW: 5/10

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 6/10


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And now, as promised: our two bonus stories!

And they are:

  • Ribs Woman

and

  • The Phantom Mansion

Junji Ito Ribs Woman The Corvid Review (1)

BONUS STORIES:

a review by the Crow.

RIBS WOMAN

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Oh, wow. This is a pretty weird one.

The story’s relatively straightforward, and telegraphs its twists from a mile away, but I find little fault with it. From what little I know of Japanese culture (despite the Azure-Winged Magpie’s words into my ear), the story works brilliantly as a criticism of many people in today’s society. The obsession with having that body, or that look, for the benefit of others (who’ll never really know you) is dragged out into the open in this story. And I’m sure everyone knows how prevalent ‘cosmetic’ surgery can be in certain countries.

And for this reason, I can’t fault the straightforward (and kind-of silly) storyline. It hits all the right notes hah! To someone suffering from issues relating to their body-image and considering surgical fixes, this is the exact kind of horror story that would elicit nightmares. It preys on a specific fear, and on that level, it works perfectly.

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I once knew someone who was terrified of As Above, So Below (which would’ve been the subject of one of my first roasts on The Corvid Review (a draft still exists!), because of how it utterly fails at everything) because of how the scenes dealing with claustrophobia made her squeamish. I can certainly respect that, and that’s exactly what Ribs Woman does.

And Ribs Woman does it so perfectly that it would be criminal in certain territories. Like I said: the story’s almost dumb in how direct it is, but to anyone with body-issues (and especially to those who have the specific concern addressed in the story), this has got to be one of the most horrifying tales they’ll have ever read.

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Overall, it manages to be a solid story. And I do think it needs to be respected for what it achieves. This is a great example of what I call ‘targeted horror’. It might not be for everyone, but for those it’s meant for: it might just be the scariest thing they’ve ever set eyes upon.

Pretty good job, in the end.

FINAL STORY RATINGS:

THE CROW: 6.5/10

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8/10


Junji Ito The Phantom Mansion The Corvid Review (2)

THE PHANTOM MANSION

And now, onto my favourite story of the lot we’re reviewing today (apart from Just the Two of Us): The Phantom Mansion. A young man — desperate for employment — takes up a lucrative job in a mansion.

His duties? He is to join up with the other members of staff to help the elderly couple of the house ease the pain that their son is constantly in. Sounds simple enough, yes?

Of course not, this is Itō Junji we’re talking about.

After having reviewed Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in the early days of The Corvid Review, and (now) knowing that Itō Junji worked with the legendary Kojima Hideo on P.T. (along with Guillermo del Toro), this one just fit perfectly with my tastes.

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This is just not a solid story, but a great concept at the same time.

And the ending… oh, the ending. This is the story I love above all the rest featured on this post so far simply because of how far it takes its concept. If nothing else, I would recommend reading this one first. It’s possibly the best gateway into the works of Itō Junji we’ve mentioned so far (apart from Ribs Woman).

There’s a solid plot, and a great concept running as the undercurrent to what we see unfolding with each page.

There’s just enough left unexplained, and just enough explained to us to strike that perfect balance that good horror nestles in. And oh my sakes’, I just have to point that ending out again.

What a strong story.

FINAL STORY RATINGS:

THE CROW: 6.5/10

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 5/10


Coming up in part Three:

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and in part Four:

Junji Ito Uzumaki Volume 1 Analysis Review Cover The Corvid Review

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2 thoughts on “Review: Mimi no Kaidan [2002 – 2003] (+ 2 bonus stories!)

    1. Sorry I missed your comment for so long! (No idea how I missed this.)

      I was only properly introduced to his work very recently.
      While I’ve been aware of him for some time, I’d never actually read any of his work. I’m trying to get through as many of his works as possible over the next month or so. I highly recommend looking over his work if it’s available to you!

      And yes: the man has a knack for drawing.

      Liked by 1 person

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