Black Sun Silver Moon
by Tomo Maeda
Review by Tom Good
I never expected I’d have a good reason to use the phrase “cute zombie story,” but it fits Black Sun Silver Moon. Teenage boy Taki works as an assistant to Shikimi, a silver-eyed priest who also has silver hair, though he is only 28 years old. They have a typical comedic master/apprentice relationship, except for the fact that the work also involves late night zombie-slaying sessions in local cemeteries. The tone is more silly than scary, more like Chibi Vampire than Resident Evil.
A cute animal of some sort is almost required in a story like this, and the two young men soon adopt a sweet little dog named Agi, though it turns out to be an undead dog who drinks blood. Agi is drawn in a stylized and not entirely canine way that sometimes looks more like a seal. In some supplemental material, Maeda admits to only playing with cats, never dogs, so this may come from a lack of first hand experience. In a manga, realistic drawing is not really the goal anyway, and so Agi succeeds in being an appealing creature.
Black Sun Silver Moon has a fairly slow pace, with relatively few action scenes. Some of it feels like the characters are just making “small talk” with each other. One page reads like this:
“We’ve covered all the basic necessities. Last is the books… and a little business at the public office. By the way, I’m pretty hungry. Let’s get something to eat, Sensei.” “Oh… I’m all right. While you’re eating, I’ll finish up these last errands.” “You sure?” “Well then, I’ll be in that shop. When you’re done, come and get me.” “See you later.”
A little of that dialogue goes a long way, but luckily, not all the conversations are so generic. A lot of the other writing has a nice, naturalistic feel. Characters speak in incomplete thoughts, reacting to the situation. In one scene, Taki and Shikimi stand above an open grave:
Shikimi: “The more time passes, the more trouble he’ll be.”
Taki: “Can’t you usually tell when they’re about to . . . ?”
Shikimi: “I always could but . . .”
Shikimi: “Agitated . . . “
I like this a lot better, because when accompanied by the pictures it is clear without being too wordy, and it sounds like real people talking.
A few months ago I saw the excellent play Doubt, which is about a priest accused (perhaps unjustly) of improper conduct with a young boy. I kept thinking back to that work while reading Black Sun Silver Moon, because the manga is about a priest who spends his time with a teenage boy; the locals fear and distrust the priest, and warn the boy to stay away from him. Though there is nothing in the manga to suggest anything sexual about the relationship, there is definitely a suggestion that the priest could be more dangerous than he seems (at least in a supernatural way). I don’t think any parallel to Doubt was intended here, but it will almost certainly come to mind for any reader who has seen the play.
Black Sun Silver Moon is cute and offbeat. Its major characters, including the dog, are all a little different from those around them, looking for acceptance, a purpose, and a place in the world. It’s a common theme in manga, handled here in a lighthearted way.