Tsurebito is about the people who escort you from purgatory into the world of the dead. After you die you must go through your personal gate into the world of the dead, and companions are the ones who lead you there.
I’ve been waiting for a group to pick this manga up again for many years, and I am so happy now! I can say again what I said the first time I saw it: “Dem backgrounds!” The plot and the characters are good too, yet it remains to be seen what they arrive to, but the surreal, detailed, imaginative backgrounds get 20/10 right now, I can’t stress enough how beautiful they are.
The “Interstice”, the place besides the world of the living, where the protagonist ends, is one of the more imaginative surreal spaces of the manga medium. It looks its role of being the dumping
place for human emotions. Cities float in the air, curled like a ball, in the Inception-like manner, electric lines form giant nets, surfaces ripple with paper. Time, space and gravity do not matter, souls and wills form the landscape. The Interstice is connected with the living world via the people that inhabit it, and opens to the grand unknown of death, or maybe the personal of death, since it manifests in personal gates. The amount of detail that goes into picturing the Interstice is mind-boggling, I feel bad about turning pages, because you can spend hours studying most of them.
I don’t want to spoil you the pleasure of exploring this new world with the MC, as it’s what this manga is built around, I want only to point out what it is not. Looking at the suave white-haired guy on the covers or even reading through the first chapters, it’s easy to think that the Interstice is sort of an educational space for the heroine, that they have it all figured out there and only face problems with new or passing souls – but it’s not, it’s troubled by itself. The Interstice is a world of its own, and one inhabited by people, albeit dead, so it has its issues, and cruelty, and place to make mistakes.
And the MC will do them, as it seems. The protagonist, Mako, is a schoolgirl, who didn’t have the chance to experience her blossoming love to its fullest, and she is inexperienced, and humanly selfish, and, probably, too fixated on her crush yet, though also good-hearted. I like that she is complex. The author had been working on yuri previously, and, perhaps, it shows in a good way – his protagonist has her agency and is the main actor in the events of her life. Though I can’t say that she always makes me feel sympathetic, and I, personally, find that her one trait of being in love starts to feel like it defines her too much.
Yet, unfortunately, an unsettling sexualization is present (maybe also as a yuri artefact): there's an unhealthy amount of naked feet and the mangaka insists on making most of the attacks on the girls from the main cast look extremely sexual. If anything wears away my goodwill towards this manga, it is this.
(By the way, I looked into Eat-Man, done by the same author, and the first two things I’ve stumbled upon were a damsel in distress rape scene and a bizarre scene of a person forming from muck, so there’re certain similarities between the two works. However Tsurebito feels much more refined.)
There’re a number of other characters, who, I guess, will get flashbacks in due time. For now they act as Mako’s mentors, and this dynamic, as well as the rank and personality dynamic between them, is working fine for me.
The art for the characters is considerably weaker than the backgrounds: they are lacking in detail, the faces are somewhat schematic, but the designs are at least distinctive enough to make recognizing the cast not a problem.
The author writes that the story took 3 years in making, and I can believe it. I don’t know if the manga will drop its episodic nature and shift to the overarching plot completely or partially, but some things are certain: the main character development will be the main focus, there’re mysteries in their world, and that world is, how to say, as unfair as our life is. The author mentions that the story is built around the word “companion”, and a companion is someone close, but not necessary a friend, it’s someone who is with another person for their own reasons or gain. But there’s a lot of difference in how he or she goes about it and whether it’s better than being alone for their charge. That’s what this manga seems to be about and the way it sees life as – people learn how to compromise and deal.
I may not always like the storytelling of Tsurebito, but I enjoy the suspenseful atmosphere and the visual storytelling it excels at immensely, I've teared up at the cathartic moments it offers more than once, its general direction keeps me interested and then there’re dem backgrounds to compensate for the failings.
I hope this series won’t be dropped this time and will receive more attention from manga readers. It’s different, atmospheric and complex, a lot of soul and effort evidently go into it. Tsurebito has its weaker points and questionable bits, but I think it can and should be recommended to most manga readers, especially those, who enjoy seinen.