“They say her voice was as beautiful as that of a goddess.” That’s one of the few things Amano learns about Rika, the woman who supposedly tied her own stepmother to the clock’s face. What would lead a person to do that, and what her own thoughts might have been… all of this can only be inferred, refracted through secondary sources with their own ambiguous motives. All pictures of her were burned, and now she exists only as a distant wraith in the background of a single photo, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of feminine hysteria.
We don’t get to hear Rika’s voice. Instead, we hear the stories other tell of her – we see her as redefined through the whims of people like Marabe, whose megalomania neatly aligns with his society’s perspective on women at large. The stories told of Rika say she might have been possessed by an evil spirit, and Marabe says she herself was a wicked ghost. Outside of that one unclear photo, the only evidence of her existence lies with another man – her fiance, the one who apparently holds the only picture left.
Rika is far from the only one who is silenced and redefined in this volume. As the chapters unfold, it’s clear that this is the central conflict of Yuureitou – those who are disenfranchised by society or personal circumstance, constantly striving to speak with their own voice. We’ve seen this before; Hanazono sought to become a reporter, after all, and she was struck down and made a symbol for that wish. And even as Marabe sketches a viciously unflattering portrait of Rika, he casually silences his daughter with the other hand.
This volume’s central narrative puts this conflict in the starkest of terms, as Amano and Tetsuo seek out Rika’s fiance at his island home. They don’t find their target Shirou Honjou, but they do discover his sister, Shino. And as their investigations turn deadly, they discover the entire Honjou family is wrapped up in their own violent cultural legacy.
Upon finding a body at the peak of the Honjou estate, Amano is imprisoned by the family, and learns the truth of their system of succession. When the male head of the family dies, his wife follows him in death – her voice is not even allowed to exist without her husband’s, and so she is forced to commit suicide. As the current head says, “Shino’s mother died of her own free will” – and she is considered “beautiful” for this act. Beauty is not correlated with personal strength, but with obedience. To be beautiful is to be what society wants you to be.
Of course, the story turns out to be far less simple than that. It turns out that Shino’s mother was considered even less valuable – that when Shino’s father died, his pregnant lover was brought to the island, in order to bear the next heir and continue the family line. Faced with having her entire identity erased, Shino’s mother could only act in a “monstrous” way, and kill the woman taking her place. “She was a mother to me. But to you, she’s just a murderer” says Shino. Women are beautiful so long as they stay in place, like a pinned doll – given no real options, their only hopes for control come through acting monstrously, and becoming dark spirits like Rika.
Shino ultimately follows in her mother’s legacy. She wants no part of her family’s affairs, but she is hamstrung by circumstance. Her cousin knows the truth, and wants to marry her and claim the estate; lashing back against this turn of fate, she kills him, and is ultimately arrested for it. Shino is never given a chance to be free on her own terms – even when Amano offers her escape, she knows it’s not a meaningful gesture. Amano has the privilege of believing everyone can choose their own path. His various acquaintances are far less lucky.
On the brighter side, Tetsuo’s voice comes through loud and clear in this volume. Part of this comes down to the manga’s focus on eyes – brimming with claustrophobic closeups, Yuureitou’s characters express themselves through their eyes as much as with their words. Perhaps the single most striking expression of Tetsuo’s feelings comes late in the volume, when he responds to Amano praising his “good fortune” with an expression of such fatigue and disdain you can almost feel his exhaustion. Every moment this manga spends on the desire to be free ties directly back to Tetsuo, and his own impossible road towards honest self-expression.
But most of Tetsuo’s voice here is expressed through his, well, actual voice. This volume marks a clear shift in Tetsuo’s narrative position, as he moves from an object of mystery and suspicion to a legitimate protagonist in his own right. Outside of driving more of the narrative, this also means we see consistent glimpses of Tetsuo as a complex, flawed, very human individual. We see Tetsuo getting annoyed with Amano’s childishness, or drunk, or briefly frank with his friend. Tetsuo may exist in a world that consistently denies him his freedom of action, but his humanity is absolutely clear.
Of course, this is still Yuureitou we’re talking about, so there are plenty of moments of pulp horror or just plain pulp. The Honjou family make a great “classic Japanese cult” impression, and the volume’s last couple chapters are dedicated to a subplot that seems campy enough to be legitimately misguided. But the balance has clearly shifted overall. We are no longer simply staring at ominous figures pressed against the window pane; we are there with those “evil spirits,” watching them struggle, hoping they can one day reclaim their voice.
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