The Horror of Horror
Well-executed horror stories are rare gems. I’ll admit that I’m no authority on the subject (ergo a quick departure from anime and manga as the centerpiece of discussion), but these days it’s just so damned hard to find a good horror movie that I practically trip over myself on the way to the video store when one is actually released. Nowadays, horror flick screenwriters and directors rely almost entirely on shock value to produce a film. The modern rendition of a good thriller is little more than a visual rollercoaster ride that keeps you physically gripping the armrests rather than mentally gripping your sanity. Armed with multi-channel bass stabs and macabre imagery, producers struggle to conquer the horror genre’s unassailable canon — psychology; intoxicated by their newfound digital capabilities, they easily forget that terror is not just high-definition buckets of gore and cheap scares, but that it’s also engendered by the grotesque thoughts that creep into your brain and remain festering there hours after the screen has gone blank or the last page has been turned — psychology. This is why I am obsessed with Doubt. It’s an excellent reminder that a comic with a minimum of visual effects can be just as creepy as a movie. Many thanks to Manga King Extrange for recommending this one, as I’ll be taking a short break from Natsume Yuujin-chou to decide whether or not I want to continue blogging it.
Doubt reminds me of a few successful contemporary iterations of the horror genre for two reasons. The first and more obvious of the two is that the story is constructed around a twisted game of wits called ‘Rabbit Doubt’. At first impression it appears to be another incarnation of the Saw franchise, but takes little time to distinguish itself as strong concept in its own right. The second is that Yoshiki Tonogai forgoes most of the token background story in order to focus exclusively on this heinous mindfuck of a game. The manga dumps you right into the action after only a chapter of preparation, and the remaining chapters are spent creeping around dark corners in search of the Wolf. Thrillers are often best served without the trimmings, with no time wasted harping on and on a boring sidestory. This is especially accurate if you are the type to not require highly plausible circumstances to put you in the mood. Remember, it’s horror; it’s not supposed to make tons of sense. Doubt is just that—a lean, mean rabbit-crunching machine, and thankfully not much else.
The game is almost insultingly simple: a Wolf infiltrates a group of Rabbits by pretending to be one of their own and slowly picks them off one-by-one while keeping the Rabbits confused about its identity. The Wolf’s goal is to trick the Rabbits into suspecting and sacrificing the wrong Rabbit, while it continues its conquest unfettered. As stated, it is a game of wits to see whether the Wolf or the Rabbits will survive in the end. According to the story, Rabbit Doubt has become insanely popular in Japan, and students identify each other as potential players by carrying rabbit-shaped cell phone straps or other conspicuous insignia. Yuu Aikawa meets up with his usual crew at a karaoke bar to start another game of Rabbit Doubt when [SPOILER] happens and they all awaken to find themselves in a darkened, abandoned building, partitioned by a maze of magnetically locked doors. What was only supposed to be a game has suddenly become reality.
Six people may seem too few to craft an impenetrable whodunit, but it is not. In reality, it is an ideal number of participants—too few to keep you confused, but one too many for you to easily deduce the identity of the Wolf. Tonogal gets genius points for meticulously weaving each of the characters into an actual game of survival. They are not marionettes dancing insipidly toward certain doom, but real people who, due to minor slip-ups or inconvenient lapses of mental stamina, make poor choices that gradually hammer the game into place as each chapter passes. Instead of depending on elaborate traps created by a mythical super-sicko with too much time on his hands (the building notwithstanding), Rabbit Doubt relies mostly on the characters’ fear-crazed imaginations to set itself into motion. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that comes true simply because the rules of Rabbit Doubt are still fresh in their heads, requiring only a few well-placed rabbit masks, cryptic text messages and bloody murders to keep itself going.
What is truly interesting about Doubt, besides trying to guess the Wolf’s identity before everyone is murdered, is observing the psychological and emotional changes in Yuu and his friends, as well as the way their interactions change; for instance, the way Hajime consistently relies on coolheaded observations even in the face of mortal danger, or Haruka’s abrupt descent into batshit so deep that she ties up her childhood friend and tries to beat a confession out of him after she discovers that he lied about his barcode. Each of the characters ultimately arrives at the gruesome realization that their alliances rest on shifting ground, as just enough clues are available to label each person a legitimate suspect, but not enough to tip the scales in anyone’s favor. The dialogue is sagging with subtext and subtle hints, making for immense replay (reread) value.
But enough said. Just read it (alone and in the dark, like I did). It flows smoothly and will go by quickly. Only two volumes of Doubt have been completed so far, and the manga is still being serialized. Shocking revelations can be expected in Chapter 14, which is scheduled for release on August 12th. I’m interested to hear speculations on the identity of the wolf from those who have already read up to Chapter 13. Please use spoiler warnings!