Ghost Sweeper Mikami

Gokuraku Daisakusen!!

Shiina Takashi's "Ghost Sweeper Mikami" (currently running in Shonen Sunday) presents that rare combination often neglected in occult stories: humor, convincing characters, and depth. Our heroes in this case are Mikami Reiko, ghost sweeper extraordinaire, her underpaid assistant Yokoshima Tadao, and O-kinu-chan, an ex-ghost. The comic series mostly progresses in short, one-issue gag stories, but occasionally runs longer and more serious stories.

Other friends of Mikami include a handsome half-vampire lacking self-confidence (Pietro), a maverick priest (Father Karasu), a gorgeous voodoo-using ghost sweeper (Emiko) with a crush on the vampire, a crybaby demon-beast master (Meiko), a mad scientist (Doctor Chaos) and his living robot Maria, and other such wild, wacky, obnoxious people with high capacities for causing ridiculous quantities of destruction.

Shiina manages to bring energy and freshness to the characters through the art of humorous overstatement. Nearly every episode finds Yokoshima beaten to a pulp for having tried to "get fresh" with Mikami. (On one occasion, when Mikami holds her temper in check and gives him only a verbal warning, Yokoshima decides that he has truly done something to deserve death....)** Nearly every episode also finds Yokoshima nearly climbing out of his clothes for an opportunity to get friendly with some gorgeous female human(oid). And tears of rage or fear or frustration come gushing copiously from everyone's eyes: Mikami when she runs into her sensitive and dangerous friend Meiko ("Aiiigh!"), Yokoshima whenever something truly dangerous-looking tries to eat him ("Yaaaaaaaahhhhhh!"), O-kinu-chan whenever she screws up and puts the others in danger ("I'm sorryyyyy!!"), the various ghosts and monsters whenever they realize that Mikami really does have the upper hand ("Wait, we can talk it over --- Gyaaahhhhh!")....

Beneath the slapstick and overstated exterior, however, the characters' warmth manages to occasionally shine through. Mikami occasionally does smile and indicate she appreciates Yokoshima --- as much as she hates to admit it (a couple of times she even gives him a small raise). Yokoshima does occasionally rise above his lechery, as difficult as it is for him to do so, and sometimes it seems he uses his lechery to cheer up a flagging Mikami. O-kinu-chan, meanwhile, is almost always friendly and kind, despite her occasional lapses into creepy ghostliness (back when she was a ghost). Of course, the effects of the main characters' moments of goodness are usually short-lived, or negated. (Yokoshima once rants: "How could I commit sexual harassment by peeping in on O-kinu-chan when she's in the shower? That would make me a total evil villain!" Mikami's heated reply: "But it's OK when you do it to me?!") Still, it's pretty obvious as time goes on that Yokoshima's love for Mikami is more than just his standard overwhelming lust for gorgeous women, and it's pretty obvious that Mikami cares more about Yokoshima than his hourly wage might indicate. O-kinu-chan just seems to care about everyone, but more for Yokoshima than one might expect. Somehow, they know each others' good points. Between the fiery Mikami (the group's main powerhouse and the one who keeps Yokoshima in line), the over-energetic Yokoshima (whose obnoxious lechery helps Mikami keep her mind off fear), and O-kinu's gentle presence, the three manage to create a formidable, synergistic team.

Above and beyond the personalities and the teamwork, however, "Ghost Sweeper Mikami" provides a much-needed humorous and deeper look at dealings with ghosts and demons and the occult. In some manga, ghosts are dealt with by brute force power, and the ghosts are cut-and-dried evil things. In "Mikami," evil ghosts are frequently brought "off balance" by the fighting going on between Mikami and Yokoshima, and have to yell at the ghost sweepers to get serious. Humor keeps everything in perspective. And beyond that, many of the monsters and spirits are given just enough life to be seen for what they are: pathetic creatures enslaved to their own ravenous greed or unresolved desires. O-kinu-chan's kindness and sympathy has more than once saved the entire group by exposing the spirits' hearts.

(The author also has a great love of spoofing other series, too. He's spoofed Ultraman (in the Yokoshiman story); he's spoofed Black Jack (but who hasn't??); he's spoofed L. Matsumoto's style, replete with round dials and women with long hair and long eyes; he's spoofed aliens from "Alien"; he spoofed "Star Wars"; and (in the same storyline as the "Star Wars" spoof) he's even spoofed the most famous Cyborg 009 scene of all (when Maria and Yokoshima come hurtling through Earth's atmosphere: "Where would you like to land?"). All this makes for great fun for those versed in manga!)

Well, it's hard to describe the end product of all these factors beyond this summary: good art, good humor, good characters and plots, and overall a great read.

Some cool short stories:

A Valentine's Day Story:

Yakuchin, the local magical supplier, has concocted a vat of living chocolate for sale during the Valentine's Day season. In Japan, women are expected to buy chocolates for men (especially those they like), and Yakuchin wants to make cute little living fairies out of the chocolate and sell them. When Mikami points out that no one would want to eat a cute little living fairy, Yakuchin realizes his marketing error and gives Mikami and O-kinu-chan the living chocolate. O-kinu-chan fervently wishes to give some of the chocolate to Yokoshima, but Mikami simply wants to throw the vat away. Well, that night, with O-kinu's desperate words ringing through its confectionary mind, the chocolate responds to O-kinu's wishes. It slurps its way over to Yokoshima's dingy apartment and, in the shape of a gooey chocolate man, tries to force itself on Yokoshima. Yokoshima naturally flees and spends the night in a park. In the morning, he comes creeping back to his apartment and finds, of all people, Mikami waiting for him. Oddly, she says nothing as she sidles up to him and indicates she wants to be kissed. Yokoshima, always one to let his libido rule his logic, ignores the utter impossibility of the scenario and kisses her. Too late he notices the layer of paint and the flavor of chocolate. A horrible scream rips through the neighborhood.

"You were force-fed by mouth-to-mouth transfer 5 liters of chocolate!?" the real Mikami exclaims later. The chocolate statue, now in her office, has frozen in the shape of Mikami in the middle of a kiss. Yokoshima is off to the side, looking like he has a very bad case of indigestion, and Mikami is staring at the chocolate statue of herself. She has a big dilemna: "What the heck do I do with this? I don't want to leave it here, I don't want to eat it, and it's too embarassing to throw away...!!"

** (For Western readers concerned about domestic violence, it is common in today's manga for female characters to beat up over-amorous male characters in a humorous way, much like how slapstick violence occurred in American TV cartoons ("Tom and Jerry" "Woody Woodpecker" etc.)

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