The covers of Blood on the Tracks show a loving mother and son. They don’t look like horror covers. But Blood on the Tracks is a truly amazing psychological horror manga series that simmers and unsettles.
The main character Seiichi is 13-years-old, and he wakes from a nightmare about finding a dead cat that he had been going up to pet, thinking it was alive. When he tells his mother about it, she explains that this was actually a very early memory of his. It’s not clear what happened to the cat, but it sets the stage for things to at first look sweet and cuddly, and then when you come up close, you discover something horrible.
At first Seiichi’s mother seems very doting and loving, if too overprotective. It’s clear that the two of them have a very close relationship. But then toward the end of the first volume in the series, Seiichi watches his mother do something unspeakable. It’s hard to go into without giving away plot points, but when the police come to ask what happened, the mother lies easily. And Seiichi lies as well, because he doesn’t know what else to do.
From here he is haunted by the secret of what he witnessed, but he doesn’t want to betray his mother. His mother, though, becomes increasingly unsteady and tries to control his life more and more. When he gets a love letter from a girl, his mother demands to see it. Then she cries over it, makes him rip the letter up with her, and forbids him from dating the girl.
Blood in the Tracks is not over-the-top horror, or something that goes bump in the night. It’s much scarier, because it’s much more realistic. And the artwork is fantastic. Mostly it’s in black and white, albeit there are some color pages. But Oshimi is able to create such moods and atmosphere with the use of black and white, and the way he sets up his paneling. The opening page, for example, first shows the closeup of an adult hand clasping a small child’s hand. In the next panel, you are Seiichiro as a small child, looking up at this tall being who is the mother. It brings back the feelings of being so small and vulnerable as a child, and needing a guardian. Feelings and shadows are beautifully captured, and many panels don’t have words because the art says enough, whether it’s showing a summertime nature scene or a closeup of a face feeling an intense emotion.
What’s also amazing about Blood on the Tracks is how emotionally gripping it is. With a great story, great characterization, great art and unique perspectives, this is a terrific read for horror fans who want something more quietly visceral.