Manga: The Great Yokai War: Guardians 1


The Great Yokai War: Guardians 1

Japanese Comic Title

妖怪大戦争 ガーディアンズ 1
[Yokai Daisenso Gadianzu 1]


Yusuke Watanabe


Sanami Suzuki
Sanami Suzuki
Kadokawa Comics A


Sanami Suzuki



By: Nicholas Driscoll

Back in 2021, it was exciting stuff when The Great Yokai War: Guardians was released in movie theaters—at least for old-school Daiei fantasy flick fans. For those in the know, TGYW:G was a pseudo-sequel to 2005’s The Great Yokai War, which was itself a remake/reimagining of the old Yokai Monsters films from the 1960s. But what made Guardians even more exciting was that it brought in Daimajin as well. When it comes to monster films, Daiei was known for Gamera first, but after that it was the amazing Daimajin trilogy—a cross between fantasy-style giant monsters and chanbara, with a mega-sized statue that goes on a rampage. Guardians was bringing back Daimajin, and introducing a new kaiju sized yokai (about the size of Godzilla Earth), and tons of regular-sized spooks, all directed by monster-movie-maestro Takashi Miike. Now, the movie came, it made barely a blip in the box office department, and it was kind of mediocre as a story with some dodgy CGI but lots of cool costumes and a bit of heart. I thought it was pretty alright, but kind of a missed opportunity.

But you know, sometimes the manga adaptation of a movie can make up for where the movie missed, and surprisingly, Guardians got a hefty adaptation from Sanami Suzuki (Moriawase Girls, a Lilo & Stitch one shot manga, Gregory Horror Show: Another World). Even wilder, the manga is being released in English as of this writing! But I am reviewing the Japanese book. And, yeah, I like it. I like it more than the movie.

The basic gist of the story goes that elementary schooler Kei Watanabe and his little brother Dai lost their dad, and Kei blames the death on Dai. Of course, the dad had some big secrets that come out eventually, and a crisis is beginning to rise in the world of the yokai with an ocean spirit (called a yokaiju) appearing and threatening to tear Japan apart. The yokai determine that if they can trick Kei (who has a notable bloodline) into helping them out, they may be able to subdue the yokaiju... while sacrificing himself. The invitation letter to Kei, however, accidentally gets passed to Dai, and the yokai take Dai as their key to fighting the yokaiju. When Kei realizes what has happened, he must chase Kei into the monster world of yokai, meeting many wild characters, and possibly befriending an eerie fox woman in a mask who takes a keen interest in him, and a horned Amanojaku that constantly speaks the opposite of what he means…

The first volume of The Great Yokai War: Guardians is 164 pages long and is only one third of the movie—far longer than the average Toho monster movie adaptation I have reviewed for TK. The manga version manages to set up Kei and Dai’s rivalry with more rancor than the movie ever does, but Kei still loves his kid brother, and the manga takes its time planting seeds that come to fruition later. One of my biggest frustrations with the movie version had to do with a musical number towards the end that played a big part in the story, but which had almost no forewarning. Here, Suzuki sets up Kei and Dai’s musical background very early on—and the taiko-drum bellies of the tanuki as well. I love how the fox has a giant three-headed fox monster with her, and that we get a really wild ghost train that shows up towards the end of the volume (best I recall, that thing never makes an appearance in the film). I like the clearer grappling with family issues. I like that the yokaiju doesn’t have a giant ghostly bald head that floats in front of it like in the movie. And the art is dang cool.

Suzuki’s art reminds me of Soul Eater with less sleaziness—the creepy critters and snazzy style, the fast-paced and dynamic stylization, the big splash panels, big grins, dizzied eyeballs—a lot of it screamed Soul Eater to me, but felt grittier, less polished, and better for it.

Some aspects of the manga might not work as well as the comic. I liked that Kei uses a leaf to cover one eye and glimpse the yokai world in the movie, while in the manga he has a paper inscribed with a spell. The movie has a longer interlude with international monsters, where we can see Frankenstein’s monster and a Pennywise rip-off—while the manga mostly focuses on a zombie and a flyman for its international guest stars. I like the fox a lot here, but she isn’t as cute or cool as she was in the film. I am not sure I like how the evil teacher goes over the top in the manga, either.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy in the first volume. I can’t speak for the quality of the English translated version, but if it gives a serviceable translation, and you like the movie (which recently got a release on SRS DVD and Blu-Ray with a fantastic Bob Eggleton cover image), the manga serves as a great companion piece. I have read the other two volumes as well, and I think the overall tale is quite a bit more satisfying than the movie turns out—but let’s save the rest for later.