Missing, vol. 1: Spirited Away
By Gakuto Coda, Translated by Andrew Cunningham
Tokyopop, 208 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)
Nearly a decade ago, young Kyoichi Utsume and his brother went missing. Days later, Utsume returned, but his brother never did. The experience left an indelible imprint on Kyoichi which marked his development over the intervening years. Now years later and a high school student with more than a passing interest in occult studies, Utsume goes missing once again leaving his friends in the Literature Club to unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
While reading this I couldn’t help but think back to The Summer of the Ubume. Both are eyeball deep in real world theories on magic and the occult, demonstrating the nice amount of research done by their individual authors. The story follows the missing person formula fairly well, but with a supernatural twist. Instead of going to the police or looking into crime in the area, the cast of teens immediately turn their eyes towards the paranormal and dive into a world of psychics, witches, fairies and more. Gakuto Coda seems to sow the seeds for a much longer series throughout the volume, introducing us to groups, characters and organizations that one can’t help but figure will turn up repeatedly throughout the thirteen novels that comprise this saga.
While the story and the ideas it plays around with are engaging and entertaining, the main characters feel a bit flat. Each of the five main characters could have been drawn from a collection of stock character types. Kyoichi Utsume is the brilliant, quiet, pretty boy. Toshiya Murakami is the loyal and physically strong friend. Ryoko Kusakabe is the young, good hearted but overly emotional young girl, and so forth and so on. It’s very, very noticeable and a bit puzzling given the rest of the story. I almost have to wonder if there’s something more to it; if perhaps Gakuto Coda was setting up some kind of metaphysical balance with each character representing an element, or trait or some such.
At first I thought there simply were no illustrations for this novel, kind of like Goth, but apparently that’s not the case. There are no illustration in the Tokyopop release of it but in the Afterward, Gakuto Coda does thank his illustrator. The decision to remove the illustrations is a bit baffling and a little irritating, but I have to be honest when I say that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything major. Light Novel artwork is always a bit hit and miss, and most of the time just feels like a bonus and doesn’t really bring or add anything to the overall reading experience. Admittedly in some cases they can help give you a better grasp on individual characters appearances, and in the case of sci-fi or fantasy novels that’s definitely a good thing, but for a contemporary novel set in a high school I just can’t imagine the artwork bringing that much to the table.
The ending hints of things to come, but sadly we’ll probably never get to see how everything will ultimately play out as Tokyopop’s only released the first two novels in this thirteen volume series. Despite this, and the flat characters, I found myself pretty engaged and entertained by the book. I think of a lot it has to do with the amount of research Gakuto Coda put into the theories that fill it, and I am a sucker for books on the occult and folklore.
Missing, vol.1: Spirited Away is available now.