Yamagami is a small hamlet in Kyuushuu, the mountainous region in the south of Japan. Today, this village is inhabited only by old people still living in the rhythm of tradition and communion with nature. The return of one of the village youths, pursued by yakuza, will overturn life in this little world, spared until now from modernization. These sinister gangsters intend to seize this enchanted spot and trash it. Will Yamagami come to experience the harshness of the modern world?
When I picked this manga for rereading, I wondered why I didn’t remember anything about the plot, now I see – my expectations for the premise are bigger and more interesting than what the work actually delivers. It’s not a bad manga, but the lost potential and the occasional moments of greatness make its many flaws so much more disappointing.
Also I need to warn, that Tajikarao is unpublished and is stuck in the fan translation hell –the translation stopped at the beginning of the last, 4th, volume, the groups are inactive.
I looked at the cover and, again, I thought, that it’d be good to read
a story about a strange cult, lost in a distant village, told from the perspective of the cult people, with the main character from the city willingly donning the mask of the ancient deity – scary, obscene, chaotic and fiercely territorial. I mean, isn’t it cool? Soil flowing within blood, channeling the wish of the ancestors (including the kindly late aunt), nature turning hostile to the non-locals, lots of killing done in the name of living the same, doing the same, burying in the same place, marrying cousins as usually. …and then maybe some weird ritualistic sex… “Imma sold, the cover is great, gotta reread” – thought I. So is it like this? Well, yes and no.
Yes: The story offers a couple of truly powerful moments. The twist with following the unusual side doesn’t go anywhere, the unfamiliar rituals and beliefs are interesting, the design of the god Tajikarao is great. Sexual symbolism is present, after all the god stone that governs the village and so many scenes in manga is shaped as a giant phallus (and also there’s a young pretty priestess taking part in sexually charged rituals).
No: First of all, it’s, of course, not about a strange cult, it’s about Kyushu Shinto. And, unlike me, the author wasn’t focusing on a mad deified manbeast teaching people the old ways *si-i-gh*, but rather thought about “what it means to be Japanese”, and thus the manga is preachy. The opposition of the village and the city becomes black and white, and there’re occasional saccharine moments, when, for example, heartfelt dancing and singing of grannies turns hearts. No, the immediate writing isn’t bad, and I don’t have any qualms with the ideas that traditions and sacred places should be preserved, that modern life can be damaging for people’s spirits or that old people should be respected, but… I dunno, does a place make people moral? Or are Shinto kamis moral? Isn’t the special commune spirit of rural areas more or less proven make-believe?
This results in other flaws. The characters aren’t complex (the villagers often are shown as a hive mind), and the need to bend the main character into accepting their ways makes his development forced. I can’t say that all the motives are used to their potential too – there’s this clever idea that the main character is tied to the deity through the hunger he once experienced, but it doesn’t become a coherent commentary on rural life, history or, frankly, the protagonist's psyche.
Dancing grannies take too much time away from the amazing trance imagery or transformation scenes. There’re also some hiccups in logic and a couple of odd tropes.
Do you learn more about Shinto? Well, if you've read plenty of manga, most likely not that much, but you may catch a couple of new details and references.
The art also has its downsides, but it develops. At the beginning it’s a bit old-fashioned and cartoonish, but lately it becomes better, fits the mood more, though the regular characters' designs remain more simplistic than we're accustomed to now and sometimes facial features of the characters look off. The nature is drawn beautifully, the main character in the later stages look imposing, there’s an amazing gallery of the old and the ugly (no irony here, they’re very realistic and charismatic, also hard to draw). Several scenes easily reach the top seinen quality, so it’s hard to say why the rest doesn’t follow. The character that is drawn the worst is the local beauty, it looks like the artist isn’t experienced in drawing girls.
Now, it seems like I beat this manga into mud… But it’s not that bad, it’s just that I am angry with it and expect many to feel the same. It could've easily been much better, it even stepped in the higher grounds of storytelling and art sometimes, why didn’t it stay there?
In the end Tajikarao is a fine seinen, readable, unique, worth knowing and recommending with a thematic occasion, but for a number of reasons I don’t advice going out of your way to read it, unless you're particularly interested in its topics.