By most accounts, this should be the manga's conclusion. Instead, we get an ending that's somehow not an ending.

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi Volume 9Title: Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi (Aka ya Akashi ya Ayakashi no)
Genre: Supernatural
Publisher: Media Factory (JP), Yen Press (US)
Artist: Nanao
Writer: HaccaWorks*
Translation: Jocelyne Allen
Release Date: December 19, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press.

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi has always been about the bizarre, the supernatural creatures that most humans cannot see. But this volume isn’t just about the bizarre; it IS bizarre.

Now, I try to downplay spoilers, but the fact that this series is 10 volumes long is hardly any more of a spoiler than finding out a movie is 97 minutes long. But perhaps I shouldn’t have known that Volume 9 was the penultimate volume, as I spent the entire time thinking, “How in the world is this going to last another volume?” I’ve read manga where the last numbered volume is really a side-story collection. I’ve read series where authors try to wrap up things too fast and others where they take what should be a chapter or two to end and drag it out for two whole volumes.

This, however, is one of the strangest, an ending that’s somehow not an ending.

By most accounts, this should be the manga’s conclusion. Yue’s identity is finally revealed to readers and himself. The Tsubaki family history is explained in more detail, and Yue makes his decision about the meal. The latter is perhaps the least surprising decision ever considering he considers Tougo and Akiyoshi his precious friends. Other revelations will be true twists, and I’m sure readers will have a lot to say about Akane, Tougo’s mother.

Not only is everything revealed, but the result of Yue’s choice to not eat the meal is shown. What happens next is about what I (and most readers) suspected would happen, and if the story had wrapped up here, I think this would be a very different conversation. Then we could all discuss whether it’s a good ending or not and how it goes from bittersweet to hopeful to huh in only a matter of pages.

But even with the “huh” part, it’s not like the story needed another volume. nanao could have easily changed one or two things and had a solid conclusion. Yen Press even included a “but wait, there’s more!” style note in its next-volume preview. Because honestly, if you didn’t know there was another book coming, you would just assume Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi has finished. Maybe the final volume is mostly side-stories, but if so, then I wish it would just market itself as a bonus volume. It’s like checking your watch during a movie after the bad guy has been defeated and the main couple has gotten together and still realizing there’s 15-20 minutes left. You might have enjoyed the movie until then — even if the ending isn’t the greatest — but does the audience really need to hang around for even longer?

The art also was a step down from its usual quality. In part of the faux conclusion, one character disappears… except right on the facing page, they’re there. Only then we find out it’s not real, and it was pretty confusing since the ones MIA appear at the end anyway. It all blended together. Even a lot of the normal beauty is interrupted by flat character shots and difficulty telling all the light-haired men apart (Yue, Tougo, Shin, etc).

The one aspect I really adored was the relationship between Yue and Kurogitsune. We finally understand why the little fox has taken the clueless Yue under his wing (paw? fur?), as he was the youngest in his family and finally had an opportunity to be a big brother. It’s even more amazing the strength of their bond considering Kurogitsune has been fighting his own appetite. I wish I could just blow up the cover and paste it one my wall since it’s so incredibly adorable. True love in a non-romantic way.

For a lot of series, readers can skip a few volumes ahead to the ending and not miss much. There’s no doubt that either this volume or the next is a must-read… but which one? Even if the final volume recaps all what readers learned about Yue and company, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi Volume 9 has the natural build towards tying all the loose ends together. I can’t imagine the final volume will replicate this feeling.

But with the way the manga leaves the door open just a crack to get collectors to invest in an additional book when the story didn’t need one, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll look back and realize I’ve judged this volume too harshly… or not harshly enough.