Have you read Pumpkin Night? Do you disagree with my review? Drop a comment below to let me know what you enjoyed about the manga.
I’m not going to lie, guys: this one is pretty much down there with the worst of the worst plot-wise
Pumpkin Night (パンプキンナイト)
Hokazono Masaya, Taniguchi Seima
Series, ongoing 2016-
Horror; mature; seinen; tragedy; action
Read online | Buy the manga*
Preface: I began reading (and reviewing) this after a caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived manga binge. I…was a little bit more brutally honest than I usually am. Let me know what you think; which is better, my usual impartial style or this more honest and blunt way of reviewing? Leave me a comment below.
A first for Pandora’s Shelf: I literally cannot find a single positive thing to say about this one
Remember when films like Scary Movie and Cabin in the Woods started talking about the cliches in horror? How about the numerous horror movie survival guides that have been released since the early 00s? Yeah…it’s almost like the author-artist duo Hokazono Masaya and Taniguchi Seima watched and read these, then decided ‘Hey! Let’s combine all of these awful tropes into one place, while making sure not a single character comes across as likable or redeemable!’
I rarely come across a series I feel is unfinishable. Both my day job and my side-hustle require me to be able to find something — anything — nice about everything I read. From short stories to novellas, flash fiction to articles, reviews to raw submissions, fiction and non-fiction; it’s my job to find both the positives and the needs improvement aspects of just about every kind of writing. This series broke me of that habit.
Let’s get this over with
From it’s weird start, where we open on a young woman, Asumi, chatting on twitter as her friend shows of his dog’s Halloween costume, it just…stays weird. And bad. When a random person, Pumpkin Night, follows them on social media, our soon to be first victim makes the odd comment that ‘it’s early for Halloween costumes’ when she sees the person’s profile (despite the fact she was just looking at another friend’s freaking dog’s Halloween costume seconds earlier).
Go and take a look at the first few pages of Pumpkin Night — specifically, the character Pumpkin Night’s twitter profile. Take a moment — what are your first thoughts when you look at the illustration? For some reason, the Asumi keeps calling Pumpkin Night ‘him’. I just don’t see it — it’s clearly a woman or girl, right? Sure, they look a bit creepy, but nothing screams ‘Gurl, you about to be in a horror movie’ about someone following you on Twitter!
When someone knocks at the door, her first reaction is to freak the fuck out and assume it’s Pumpkin Night at the door. Like, calm yourself. Why are you making this leap of logic? Nothing at all has happened yet for you to escalate to the point of hysteria this quickly. Also — why are you assuming someone on Twitter randomly threatening you is the most suspicious thing ever, but someone delivering an amazon package well after dark (and actually waiting for you to answer the door rather than drop and dashing) doesn’t even ping on your suspicion radar?
While we’re questioning Asumi’s logic… why would you think to call your mum or dad for help in an emergency? Why wouldn’t, oh I don’t know, the police be your first port of call? And double triple why the hell are you answering a call from your boyfriend/friend when someone just literally died on you and you are physically sobbing in fear?!
I’m not evening going to spoiler alert this one. Asumi earns her opening chapter death.
During the initial couple of chapters, the characters seem to keep making a big deal about how Pumpkin Night looks like a guy dressed as a girl. But…this goes nowhere. It doesn’t even feel fleshed out enough to be an intentional red herring. It just seems like it’s been forgotten about.
Before long, we discover a teen called Naoko Kirino, an outgoing but ‘quirky’ girl Asumi and her friends bullied before has escaped from a mental hospital after killing all of the staff. I’m going to throw this out there — the premies of a group of bullies having revenge wrought on them in a horror movie? Not original by a long shot, but I am 100% rooting for the killer Naoko from the moment we start learning her tormentor’s motivations.
Throughout the opening chapter, the author withholds and withholds Asumi’s name…then in the space of a single page, they switch to throwing name after name of the other bullies (Kazuya, the ‘meant to be likable’ guy; Saki, Arata, and Naruto) in her friendship group at us as they all congregate together at the wake. C’mon; pick a style of storytelling and stick to it.
“She was a disgusting person. I don’t get why she went to school with such a ridiculous appearance…a person like that is naturally going to be bullied”. I get that the ideal of individualism and standing out can be seen in different lights in different parts of the world, but at this point? I am 200% rooting for these teens to get their eyes scooped out and tongues ripped out like their good friend Asumi. How can anyone justify bullying with ‘they were asking for it’? Oh, and if you were wondering what horrendous ways this girl had been standing out, being weird and disgusting? She seemed to have a bit of a lisp, wore a bow in her hair, and had earrings. That’s it.
Our scummy cast of delinquents decide, despite having yet to have confirmed Naoko’s involvement, that they will kill her before she can kill them. Seriously. Why is everyone making these huge leaps in logic? I’m not even sure why I’m bothering to bring up the casual sexism that comes into play as, when the only surviving female in the group is hesitant to join the ‘let’s become murderers!’ brigade, the others literally say ‘If you can’t handle this, then just let us men handle things.’
How was this more than a one-shot manga? How? How did THIS get the go-ahead as a series?!
A strong horror narrative doesn’t necessarily have to follow a formula, but without having a likable protagonist, it makes it hard for readers to become invested in the fate of the cast. At the halfway point for volume one of Pumpkin Night, the only likable character? Is the killer.
Sure, Kazuya has emo-esq regrets as he ‘Couldn’t stop them that time’ but there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander in bullying. If you see it, and you don’t either say something or do something, you are giving the bully and the victim the idea that this behaviour is ok. That this is normal. That? That’s just as bad as doing it yourself. By refusing to take a stand, you validate the bully’s behaviour and reinforce the idea that the victim deserves this.
Before long, Saki, the surviving female bully of the group, succumbs to the ‘hysterical, unreasonable girl’ trope, becoming completely useless and panicked before thing even get serious.
Not to mention — why do teens never trust the adults in any horror genre medium? Like, in some narratives it makes sense and fits well, but here? It just feels lazy and unexplored. It’s like they assume anyone who has come out the other side of puberty can’t possibly be trusted or would never understand supernatural or psychotic killers. Where is the logic?
While this is a manga firmly under the seinen umbrella, I’d still like to call out the panty shots. Why do we need a panty shot while watching someone’s face being smashed in? Like, how do these two things combine?
Let’s not forget that this seems like a fairly iffy bunch of kids. Like, not necessarily full on delinquent, but certainly not b+, I would trust these teens alone in the house for the night either. Why, why, why are all of their parents away in these things? First Asumi’s, then Saki’s. How many parents really go away on exotic holidays or to extended conferences, leaving their teens alone for days or weeks at a time? It seems like such a lazy and convenient device.
The author does a fairly passable job of building tension as we follow the race to save Saki from being cremated alive.
To be fair, the artwork is pretty detailed and well done, particularly around the death scenes; however, without the connection or emotional investment with any of the lead characters, it’s hard to really…well, care if they like or die.
I honestly highly recommend you avoid this series. It’s just plain bad. The artwork is good, but not worth the characters, the plot, or the cliches. It’s like watching a bad teen drama crossed with a sub-par goreno/ torture porn horror film. It’s high school drama meets Saw, only without the creative deaths of Saw, or the character development you see in a genuinely good horror-drama like Battle Royale where at least Koushen Tamaki and Masayuki Taguchi help us get to know and care about a whole host of characters — including bullies — despite their flaws. This? This just feels so heavy-handed.
You know what you should do instead? Go and pick up a copy of Battle Royale. Or Berserk. Or Attack on Titan. Or any other number of the many, manga better manga that offer revenge and gore in abundance whilst managing to maintain a half-decent plot. Or if you’re in the mood for a movie, go and catch Carrie — this manga’s clearly borrowed more than enough from it. The outcast — school party — bad prank — revenge cycle has nothing new or original to offer in this instance.
Let’s not forget, they never do explain her supernatural strength. How exactly is a girl who has spent an unspecified amount of time recovering from horrific injuries managed to have the strength, agility and know-how to kill dozens of people in very physical ways?
I’m going to stop myself there. I could go on (and on…and on) about what Pumpkin Night gets wrong, but I’ll leave it at this: it’s just a bad series.