The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady by Kazuhiro Fujita
Kodansha Comics (October 2016)
304 pages; $19.99 hardcover, $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Danica Davidson
The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady is a peculiar story that mixes real history with very much made-up fantasy and horror. It opens with a woman in a long, black dress, holding candles and standing at the base of the stairwell, seemingly looking at the reader and asking if there’s interest in a tour of the black museum. After this atmosphere-setting image, the woman begins to give a tour, but things are thrown off when a ghost appears.
The ghost then takes over the story, telling about his past. He worked as a professional duelist during his life, and during his death he liked to hang out at the Druary Theater. He watched play after play, many of them Shakespeare, and while he and other characters can (and do) quote the Bard often, he’s found himself bored with his afterlife. Things get more interesting when he meets a living woman who can see eidolon.
Eidolon, in this manga, are portrayed as vicious and detailed monsters that pop out of people’s heads and attack one another when the people are vicious and brutal. Most people can’t see the eidolons, but this woman can. She can also see the ghost. She’s miserable and wants to die, and begs him to kill her. She doesn’t want to kill herself because she thinks suicide is a sin. The ghost morbidly likes the idea of killing her, but wants to wait until she reaches her deepest despair, and then do it.
The problem (for the ghost) is that she gets better from there. So many people have scoffed at her dream to become a nurse, and they treat her in a sexist way, expecting her to live up to society’s narrow expectations of what’s expected of a woman. She finds her inner strength and becomes a nurse. Her name is Florence Nightingale.
Yes, she’s that Florence Nightingale. But she’s also a manga version of her, and not completely historically accurate. That said, the manga does pop in now and then and tell little historical tidbits on the side, and a number of details do match up. But I’m not sure how much the real Florence Nightingale would have thought of his portrayal, especially because it casually shows her nude multiple times. The nudity doesn’t feel licentious or gratuitous though — it’s actually usually shown in a symbolic way, like when she feels attacked by other people’s words.
That said, the manga clearly respects her strength and intelligence, and so does the ghost eventually. It shows her standing up to sexism and other people’s ideologies. Some panels draw her with such an impassioned look on her face it’s hard not to feel impassioned as well.
The artwork is sumptuous and detailed. Sometimes it feels a little dense, mainly in fight scenes, where there are many lines drawn in and it can look cluttered. But the artwork is also very good at showing the look and styles of the time period and people’s expressions. This is certainly an offbeat and unusual take for a ghost story.