Welcome… you are dead…
2 Volumes – Completed
Meet Izuko, the guardian of the Gate of Grudges and a guide to the souls of the unfortunate departed who must pass through it. Her duty is to explain to them that they have three choices: to ascend to Heaven to await reincarnation; to deny their death and wander the world as a ghost, or to curse a human, typically their murderer or someone who just happened to annoy the deceased, and be condemned to an eternity of agony in Hell.
I’m not sure why it is that whenever I chose a manga at random I seem to end up with something creepy and/or gory. Suffice to say Skyhigh, despite its somewhat misleading name, is probably the most gothic of gothic horrors I’ve come across since… er… Goth. Then again, seeing as it comes from the pen of the same mangaka who gave us “Alive”, “Blue Heaven” and “Jiraishin” maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
The ten stand-alone stories that make up the two volumes essentially focus on the particular character’s death, events leading up to it and the choice they make upon meeting Izuko. Seeing as they’re arriving at the Gate of Grudges, it’s hardly likely their passing was a happy one, even though they are at first unaware of what is going on and rely on Izuko to fill them in.
Right: Izuko tells it like it is…
Unfortunately, even though Izuko is the only constant in the stories, we’re told nothing of her background or why she’s the Gate Keeper. She just is, deal with it. It’s a shame really, because that could have provided an interesting side-story and fleshed it out into a few more chapters. (I see there is a sequel, “Skyhigh Karma,” so maybe that goes into more depth. It’s on my list, so watch this space.) This doesn’t mean that the overall story is lacking – anything but. You’re mired knee-deep in just about every negative human emotion and action imaginable right from the start. Envy, Hatred, Depression, Murder, Greed are all mixed together and served up with a liberal dose of vengeance.
Given it’s gothic roots, Skyhigh’s artwork is dark and stark and yet finely detailed at the same time. The mangaka fills each panel with effective imagery, especially when it comes to conveying emotion. However, and maybe it’s because I’m getting old, I did find it a bit heavy-going on the eyes after a bit.
Is there a downside? Well, it’s a gothic horror, so brace yourself for copious amounts of blood, nudity and sex (tastefully done, of course), wrapped up in some fairly interesting plots. In that regard, it doesn’t really pull any punches, nor does it apologise for not doing so. If dark and gory isn’t your thing, I’d say avoid this. If you liked works such as “Goth” or “Alive”, you’ll probably enjoy this too. It’s certainly not one to read if you’re looking for something that’s feel-good or uplifting.
However, you could easily argue that without those elements present, it would lose its gothic and slightly surreal edge and become another “Jigoku Shoujo” spin-off (or precursor), which it very much isn’t. The individual stories also make the flow of the overall tale a bit stop-start, which could have been overcome by expanding on Izuko’s character and thus providing a bit more continuity to the stories, but that’s just me.
Overall? It’s grim, graphic, gory, gothic… and pretty darn good too.
[Reviewer: Gerwyn Petty]