Yami-hara is a strange short story collection. It’s a mix of paranormal but with human behavior at its root. Here, bullies take on supernatural qualities. Yet, at its center, the most compelling aspect is the characters. Their interactions feel genuine, and the experiences are familiar. So this ups the realistic element and makes the supernatural terror believable. Yami-hara has manipulation, gaslighting, and projection wrapped in the paranormal, allowing for an otherworldly discomfort.
Written by Mizuki Tsujimura and translated by Stephen Paul, the book has five chapters and an epilogue. The short stories have similarities, showcasing the bullies in different settings. Manipulators, abusers, and bullies exist in all spaces. So, the chapters each contain a tale in a different location—school, apartment community, work, family home—with new characters. But the Yen Press novel starts with an uncomfortable high school tale.
Yami-hara Has a Recognizable First Story
It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite chapter because each story twists perceptions. So, readers recall similar people in their life. But Mio’s story, “New Student,” sets expectations high as it lulls you into mistaken assumptions. She meets a new student, Kaname Shiraishi. Mio senses there’s something off. His propensity to stare at her does nothing to assuage this feeling. As she shows him around the school at the teacher’s behest, he requests to go to her house. Thus begins Mio’s spiral into a hellscape.
Any person would think a stranger asking to visit your house is dangerous. Mio’s experience also highlights how manipulation works and how easy it is to fall into abusive patterns. Sometimes, the strange person is not the threat. The people already a part of our lives are the danger. When a person turns toxic, their partner feels responsible. It’s a key tactic. It often happens after there’s love and affection, making it harder to challenge or leave. The ending, with hints of paranormal, adds a disturbing layer to this and the other stories. The Yami-hara villains’ supernatural qualities seem plausible.
Who’s Who In “Neighbor” and Workplace Bullying
Perhaps the best story is “Neighbor.” Readers see events from the viewpoint of Ritsu. She is a mom and wife who recently moved into a snazzy apartment complex with her family. She attends school meetings to become part of the community of mothers. But tensions immediately build with cliques out of Mean Girls. It’s hard to separate who is the issue. People exude the same attitudes present in high school. As events on the periphery of the story inch toward the forefront, it strains relationships while raising questions and uncertainty.
“Neighbor” highlights how communities can create a sense of superiority and competitiveness. Everyone wants to be part of the “in” crowd. In “Coworker,” one employee bears the brunt of a once-caring boss’ ire. It starts with Toshiya Suzui, another employee who witnesses this. Yami-hara masterfully weaves the story and point of view to raise questions about who is the villain. As such, people’s implications about others seem plausible, yet sometimes they feel like the “pot meet kettle” adage. On top of that, it highlights how easy it is to become a perpetrator of abuse. Yami-hara delves into paranormal bullying from different perspectives with chilling ease in each story.
Yami-hara has little violence, so it doesn’t overwhelm in that sense. But abuse takes many forms, and the supernatural element adds a fantastical layer that works with bullies. Often, bullies feel inescapable and otherworldly in their knowledge and skill to harm their victims. Yami-hara takes this and runs with it in stunning fashion. While not scary, the stories in Yami-hara are dreadful and eerie delights worth reading.