Created by: Mokumokuren
Publisher: Yen Press (@YenPress)
Translation: Ajani Oloye
Lettering: Abigail Blackman
WHAT IS IT?
A high schooler goes missing in the nearby forest, only to return a changed boy with an otherworldly sense about him in this haunting coming-of-age manga.
Think The Changeling if it were a Japanese horror film.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Yoshiki and Hikaru have always been inseparable. That all changes when Hikaru vanished one summer day without a trace, only to return weeks later as if nothing happened.
Yoshiki knows, though. He knows that the Hikaru before him isn’t his Hikaru, even though it wears Hikaru’s face, has Hikaru’s voice, and shares Hikaru’s memories. Deep down Yoshiki is sure that his friend Hikaru is dead, and whatever is walking beside him is something merely wearing his skin.
Still, he looks enough like Hikaru, and acts enough like Hikaru, and Yoshiki would rather have the copy than not have Hikaru at all… even if it ends up destroying everything in the process…
Mokumokuren has nailed every aspect of this haunting, horrific manga. It is highly unique in its storytelling, starting out with a powerful opening scene that drops you into the middle of the chaos without warning. The unraveling of the mystery of what happened to Hikaru is done with tension and blink and you’ll miss it moments that are executed flawlessly.
The sketchy, heavily veiled art style leans itself to both the horror and the remote setting of the manga. Everything feels distant and hazy, like a childhood memory, and it adds to the tension that builds over each chapter. Mokumokuren’s use of forced perspective and harsh shadows to make the ordinary seem otherworldly is brilliant and will leave your skin crawling.
The Summer Hikaru Died is a stylistically unique story that leans into that aforementioned sketchy, almost unfinished art style to deliver on its scares, and the Yen Press team’s selection of SFX and fonts for the localization are a perfect match.
The choice to fully lean into the southern dialect for the characters is something I wish more manga did and I applaud Yen Press for committing to it, since it adds a fresh dimension to manga we don’t often see, especially not this prominently.
The character designs are outstanding, but Yoshiki is a stand out among the small cast. He looks haunted and terrified in every panel, even when he's smiling. You can feel the anxiety and conflict swelling within him that only grows more and more harsh with each passing panel.
Yoshiki's almost obsessive nature over having Hikaru in his life despite the obvious red flags that this Hikaru isn't the one he's known forever is chilling. It leaves readers uncomfortable, and his inability to step away from the growing danger showcases a growing spiral of anxiety that's waiting to devour him more and more with each passing page.
The dark comedy of the series lends itself to the aesthetic and mood of the manga. It adds to that lazy summer days vibe that most school-age stories have, but it feels twisted and uncertain, which only enhances the feeling that something is terribly wrong in their little town.
An aspect I truly loved about this title is how Stephen King it almost feels with the inability to trust any adult in the story. They're either obscured by shadows or shown with twisted, haunting features, making the terrible things that are unfolding around the teens impossible for them to speak aloud. I adds a certain something that's hard to place but oh-so necessary for the growing unease.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Strong horror themes, frightening images including body and cosmic horror elements, language, some subtle situations with sexual tension between high school boys. Though this title is only rated T for Teen, it is quite intense.
It’s hard to tell whether or not the series is attempting to be a BL manga in its own weird, twisted way, but the tension between the two boys can be a bit off-putting when you’re expecting a horror (especially when Yoshiki sticks his hand into a gaping slit in Hikaru’s body and Hikaru reacts a bit… explicitly).
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
When this image is shown on page SIX of the manga, you know you’re in for an absolutely insane ride. The Summer Hikaru Died is an absolute masterclass of storytelling that must be experienced for yourself (and with as blind of an experience as you can manage so please, just go grab a copy and enjoy the experience). It would be a disservice on my part to go into too much depth about this phenomenal new series, since I do believe that knowing as little as possible when it comes to Hikaru and Yoshiki’s story is key to fully engaging with the slow building, heart thumping narrative. It’s impossible to put into words the surge of emotions one can experience with this unsuspecting horror series, so don’t miss out on this title.
That being said, I have hardly recommended a manga as highly or as often as this so soon after release, and it currently sits in my top 5 most recommended titles next to icons like Phantom Tales of the Night and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. I’ve read and re-read it several times and I've been kept up at night by some of the images I've seen in the pages of this manga. The mixture of classic Japanese folklore, supernatural elements, and the almost Lovecraftian cosmic horror designs make The Summer Hikaru Died a strange and satisfying manga to read, while the air of mystery and strange circumstances surrounding our titular dead boy truly makes for a captivating rollercoaster that stands leagues above other highly anticipated 2023 releases. Do. Not. Sleep. On. This!
HOW DO I READ IT?
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