A story reminiscent of xxxholic, except with more confusion.

Forbidden Scrollery Volume 1Title: Forbidden Scrollery (Touhou Suzunaan – Forbidden Scrollery)
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten (JP), Yen Press (US)
Writer: ZUN
Artist: Moe Harukawa
Serialized in: Comp Ace
Translation: ZephyrRZ
Original Release Date: November 21, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press.

I’m sure we’ve all been in a conversation or situation where we were lost. Perhaps everyone is talking about the local sports team and you don’t even know a touchdown from a home run. Or maybe you’ve wandered into a room where a bunch of yaoi fangirls are arguing over who is the seme and who is the uke, and you have no idea what either of those terms mean. Maybe you’ve shown up to class and forgotten to read the assigned pages, and now the professor’s lecture makes no sense. One way or another, it’s happened to everyone. And if you haven’t — or just want to relive that sense of confusion — then I recommend you read Forbidden Scrollery Volume 1.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Part of my disappointment with this series may lie in the fact I thought this was a book version of xxxHolic, one of those monkey paw-like stories where you have to be careful what you wish for. (Or, in the case of a library, what you borrow.) Now wherever did I get that impression?

Forbidden Scrollery Volume 1 Back

Yes, if you want information on yokai books, you should ask Kosuzu. She certainly knows a lot. However, “borrower beware”? You should be beware of Kosuzu, the one causing most of the mischief.

Yeah, totally not xxxHolic.

Forbidden Scrollery is based on a series of indie games, and the manga certainly doesn’t do a good job of slowly introducing new fans into the mix. The story is set in a town called Gensokyo, a place where everyone has special powers. Kosuzu’s ability is to read old texts about youkai who used to roam the lands. Shaman Reimu and magician Marisa suspect the aforementioned Kosuzu is behind a string of youkai-related incidents, and readers found out rather quickly it’s true. Kosuzu is mostly driven by an intense curiosity and affection for these youma books, but even when she is trying to help out, she still hides the fact that she’s involved. While this description makes her sound rather cold-hearted, Kosuzu does have a cheerful, energetic aura about her. There’s no doubt she loves books, a trait many of us can relate to. But love can lead to obsession, and it seems like Kosuzu is venturing into dangerous territory.

Meanwhile, Reimu and Marisa are the village’s (self-appointed?) youkai extinguishers, and the two of them try to solve mysteries involving smoke and wandering dishes. I don’t know why only those two seem to go around investigating, as it’s confirmed every person in the village has a power. Quite a few others are introduce briefly, and I have a feeling I am missing a lot of jokes involving these cameos. But most significant is Mamezou, a tanuki. Upon seeing Mamezou, Reimu exclaims, “Y-you’re that bake-tanuki!!” and then tries to hide the fact that she is acquainted with him. Why? I have no idea. Again, the whole time I felt like an outsider. Notes from the artist notes reveal Kosuzu is a new character, but with the vague way Gensokyo and its inhabitants are introduced, Forbidden Scrollery still felt like a spinoff for Touhou fans only.

But if it’s one thing I liked about the manga, it was the art. Harukawa draws everyone cutely, but it’s not done in a overly-forced moe style. She’s drawn for the Touhou series before, but this seems to be her first manga. Of course, it is possible she is better known under another pseudonym, because if this is how good her first work, she needs to be given a serialization. A few parts are slightly rushed (including a section where a youkai extermination mission is shown via a treasure map), but the pages are full of spirit (and spirits of course). The artist isn’t afraid to get the characters out of the frames and have large panels and spreads to add some visual spice. Of course, fighting smoke isn’t exciting, but the bonfire scene late in the manga is fantastic.

Reading Forbidden Scrollery Volume 1 made me feel like I needed a “Touhou for Dummies” guide to explain how Gensokyo and the bookshop Suzunaan works, but at least the art wasn’t nowhere as disappointing as the story. The back cover may feel like a lie, but the front cover was not.