I didn’t really like 火葬場のない街に鐘がなる時

I don’t usually write in-depth about manga series but I just had to process through this one I guess. I gave this series a try a little while ago after getting volumes 1-3 for free and there was something about it that made me want to keep going. This inexplicable feeling of “it’s not that good but I want to read more” continued through the entire series, and here we are. This isn’t really a proper review, just a bunch of thoughts I had upon reaching the end of volume 14.

So the main premise of this series is that there’s this town which is built directly on the border between this world and the underworld (though we don’t find this out until the end). The local legends say that anyone who dies while in town will become a kind of 守り神 called 冥奴様, which is supposed to “protect the good children and eat up the bad children”. As such, there’s an ancient ban on cremation which is still observed in modern times; everyone who dies is supposed to be buried in this sacred mountain on the outskirts of town. So far it’s a decent “fairytale-come-true” setting.

The thing is, nobody has ever seen a 冥奴様 because they aren’t real. If they’ve ever been real, it’s so far off in the distant past that there’s no chance of anyone having living memory of them. Nonetheless, the town maintains this tradition that everyone must be indoors when the bell rings at 6pm. There’s a total ban on leaving town (despite the fact that it has a train station in regular service). You’re not allowed to marry anyone from out of town, which partially explains why 90% of the townspeople are old men — who, by the way, will straight up murder you if you’re from out of town and haven’t gotten yourself indoors as curfew approaches. Nobody seems to see these customs as weird.

At some point before the beginning of the story, 冥奴様 have suddenly made an appearance. Fortunately, this puts the townspeople in the perfect position to just…keep doing exactly what they’ve always been doing. The myths are real now, and everyone apparently just takes it in stride. This is where it starts to break down for me. 冥奴様 are obviously just shambling corpses who attack anyone and everyone without provocation. The crazy old men who apparently run the town are happy to offer their friends and children as living sacrifices if it means saving their own lives (undeterred by the fact that it never has any apparent impact aside from growing their number).

The story follows a character who left the city with his parents years before and has recently returned. Why has he returned? Well, you find out in volume 12 so it’s not a plot hole per se, but honestly that’s not really good enough. As soon as we find out that this godforsaken town is largely populated by the living dead and seems completely abandoned even in broad daylight, I need at least some mention of why his father would think it was a good idea to move his family back home.

My main complaint about this series is that the main character (優人) is just such a dunce. From the very beginning he seems to completely ignore the advice of anyone with a better grasp of the situation (which is EVERYBODY, at all times). His childhood friend is in sincere panic telling him “we need to get inside or we’ll be attacked by monsters” and when he sees someone looking bedraggled down the road his immediate instinct is to run after them to ask if they got in an accident or something, completely ignoring his friend as she screams “you idiot, that’s one of the monsters”. He keeps up this behavior through literally the entire series.

Due to his tendency to be a moron, the first 2/3 of the story have this very unpleasant rhythm:

  • Everyone agrees on a plan
  • 優人 does something stupid
  • Somebody takes a hit for him and is put out of commission
  • Time to come up with a new plan

This constant stop-and-go results an absolutely glacial pace and it’s made all the worse because it’s like the adversity is coming from within. Hilariously, he first sign of 優人 smartening up and being somewhat reliable is when another character (a precocious child) shows up and takes over the role of team idiot.

Eventually we find out that the current wave of 冥奴様 is the work of a crazy doctor who blundered into the underworld and found these horrible little larvae things which he’s been experimenting with to cure diseases and eventually grant eternal life. There’s a lot I like about this aspect of the story. Making folklore into reality is a great premise and I was excited when we finally moved beyond the “real world” of the town and into the straightup supernatural. The artwork across the series is often pretty rough but the larvae (and the infestations they cause in the people treated with them) are something I would expect to see in a 伊藤潤二 story. Of course, his motivations are also totally inscrutable. He talks a lot about saving the people of the town, but he’s the direct cause of all their suffering and the entire final act takes place as they die in droves to the monsters he’s created.

There’s a point towards the end with some genuinely good character growth, about letting go of the past and doing what’s required of you even if you don’t want to, which pays off with some pretty badass paradigm-shifting moments against the final-boss type character. None of that involves 優人 though, whoops! At some point the role of protagonist is taken over by another childhood friend who is practically the only character in the story who feels like an actual person.

The end of the story was going so strong until literally the last chapter, which raises a bunch of new unnecessary questions out of nowhere and then tries to pull of a happy ending that feels entirely unearned.

Yeah, I don’t know. I somehow always wanted to read more while also always being extremely irritated. I guess I’m glad I read it because I learned some new words and whatnot, and at the end of the day, it’s over 2,800 pages of manga to add to the pile.