NEVER OPEN IT: THE TABOO TRILOGY

Cartoonist: Ken Niimura (@ken_niimura)

Translation: Stephen Blanford

Rewrite: Josh Tierney and Núñez Sánchez

Lettering: Abigail Blackman

Publisher: Yen Press

Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy, Yen Press, Ken Niimura
Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy, Yen Press, Ken Niimura

WHAT IS IT?

Using only three colors, (white, black, and red) Ken Niimura reimagines three classic Japanese Folk Tales all with his own style and twists.


A close likeness would be Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, but about Japanese Folk Tales instead.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

(Minor Spoilers)

Niimura picks three Japanese Folk Tales that he learned from his childhood which revolve around one theme: Never Open It. Each of these tales has Niimura's own additions in them to make Never Open It shine a new light on them, with the two questions, “Why are these rules meant to be followed?” and “Who and why sets these rules?” being asked.


Never Open It's opening story, Urashima Taro revolves around the titular character finding his way to the Dragon Palace on the back of a turtle he saved. In this tale, Urashima Taro is given a red box that he is told to "never open."


In the comic, Ikkyu-san, Ikkyu's Master must find a way to disinterest his two star pupils from opening his huge pot while he is gone. Throughout this tale, Ikkyu's Master thinks of multiple reasons to get his pupils to not go near the pot, and to "never open it."


For the final and what may be the most well-known story, Niimura gives his version of The Crane Wife. One day on his walk home, Yohio stumbles upon an injured crane. After helping the crane, time passes and he is visited at home by a woman of great beauty named Tsuu. Wanting to help him, she starts to make bolts of cloth in his extra room, but Tsuu warns him, "...do not open the door while I'm weaving."


WHAT WORKS?

  • Never Open It's cover is enticing, grabbing your attention while showing you one of its core themes and its color schemes.

  • Although Niimura could've picked from any Folk Tales, the idea of doing three that thematically are the same was a good idea that works phenomenally.

  • Never Open It is enjoyable for newcomers, but has enough changes/surprises for fans or people with prior knowledge.

  • Each story can be enjoyed by readers of any age.

  • The three stories' plots work great for Niimura's distinct art style. Niimura's use of minimal art works wonders for these timeless tales.

  • At times, Niimura drops background details and just focuses on the characters' facial emotions or actions. When using this technique, he is able to help amplify the events transpiring.

  • Choosing to only use three colors is a bold choice, but Niimura's style greatly benefits from it. The use of red for important elements helps bring out details and focus your attention on what is happening. Plus, it's overall phenomenal-looking!

  • The translation team and rewrite duo consisting of Blanford, Tierney, and Sánchez do a great job of making the stories accessible to non-native readers. Commenting on these positions is always hard, as when they do it well, there isn't much to say, especially when you don't know the original language.

  • Blackman's lettering font melds Niimura's visual storytelling amazingly, helping give a voice to the scenes, all while making it a joy to read.

  • Behind The Scenes: Niimura details all the tools of how Never Open It in the back pages. Anyone that loves to learn how comics are made will adore this. I did.


WHAT DOESN’T WORK?

  • Although Never Open It's second story Empty is one of my favorites, it's easy to see how someone could be confused reading it. Without going into spoilers, the nature of how it's told could be confusing for some younger fans.

Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy, Page #314, Yen Press, Ken Niimura
Never Open It: The Taboo Trilogy, Page #314, Yen Press, Ken Niimura

WHY SHOULD I READ IT?

Throughout the millennia of years, Folk Tales have constantly evolved with different creators giving their iterations. It's hard to point to one and call it the best, as that's one person's opinion. Nonetheless, Niimura's Never Open It is a great version of these tales, that can be enjoyed by everyone of any age, even the younger audience with a parent.


The best part of Never Open It is that Niimura makes these tales easy to read – so much so, that even newcomers can enjoy it. It may even motivate you to read other Japanese folk tales! Not only that, but Niimura's fantastic writing and art paint some gorgeous pages.


HOW DO I BUY IT?

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