The Red Hunters have long protected Yomi Island from the threat of the Yokai demons, even if the peace-loving Ainu believe the demons are in fact benevolent spirits. This dispute over how to handle the Yokai threatens to break the tenuous alliance between the two peoples when the Red Hunters slay a Yokai in the middle of an Ainu spiritual ceremony! A young girl, Kani, is only half-Ainu, and so she volunteers to join the Red Hunters and bridge the gap between the two peoples and their different outlooks before they separate forever.
It may not sound like it at first, but Akaneiro is a retelling of the tale of The Little Red Riding Hood with a Japanese flair to its mythology and setting. Fans of the Alice video games will recognize American McGee’s telltale bizarre and gritty expansion upon the ideas from the original tale. Akaneiro is no children’s story. At its heart, Akaneiro is a hero’s journey-style quest, and it sets the tale moving in excellent fashion, presenting a solid start to Kani’s quest and presenting those classic roadblocks and dangers in as bizarre and interesting a fashion as everything else in the book.
That first paragraph is a good indication of the amount of names thrown at readers in the beginning. Akaneiro‘s world has a steep learning curve largely because of how quickly it blitzes through its explanations (It is only planned as three issues after all.), so I recommend backing up and reading the intro again after completing the issue. Little details like that the Red Hunters are also known as the Akane clicked for me on the second pass. Despite the difficulty and large amount of names, the world of Akaneiro is a fascinating place to explore. There aren’t a lot of comics fashioning something so unlike the Western world and letting their imaginations run wild, such as where the horrific designs of the Yokai are concerned. Even some rather subtle elements creeped me out such as the Ainu’s practice of tattooing smiles on their women.
While the unique setting, art style, and design work are the highlights and something you have to see for yourself, Akaneiro presents some solid characters. Kani isn’t a wallflower; she’s a tough and ambitious girl determined to carve her own path through life and she’s wicked with that axe. Her interactions with her father are genuinely touching, and it’s nice to see the reverse gender dynamics from your average start to a fantasy quest. While we don’t see much of their personality this issue, the look and fighting style of the other Red Hunters is something I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the other two issues as Kani works towards taking her place among their group.
Three and a Half Bada– Fairy Tale Heroines out of Five