Amanchu! is a relaxing series that, at its core, is all about scuba diving and finding yourself through the love of new experiences. For a series so upbeat it’s no surprise its tagline is, ‘Fun for all, all for fun!’. However, there are a couple of chapters where mangaka Kozue Amano transports our endearing cast into a world a bit more uncanny than Japan’s coastal shores…
Amanchu! Chapter 25 is titled ‘Pitch Black World’ in the translation that I have found online. The chapter begins with Pikari and Teko leaving Pikari’s grandmother’s house at night after watching a scary TV show. Because Teko drives a moped, Pikari is left to wait for the bus in the dark by herself.
There’s lots of great panels at the beginning of this chapter that emphasise Pikari’s isolation, with the lone street light above the bus stop acting as a ward against the complete darkness surrounding her. An underlying theme of this chapter is the concept of light and dark existing as different ‘worlds’, with darkness being a link to the world of the paranormal. Being black and white in the first place, if there’s one thing that manga can really excel at it’s the duality of light and darkness on the page.
In terms of classic gothic tropes, you could consider Pikari getting on the bus (and really, the bus itself) as crossing a threshold. By leaving the light of the bus stop, she is entering this transient world between light and dark that the bus seems to represent as it travels between street lights along the road.
Once she gets on the bus she sees that there are no other passengers except for a man who appears to be standing at the back of the bus, facing the rear windscreen. As Pikari momentarily looks away, the man appears to have moved closer when she looks back at him. This ghostly figure continues to advance towards Pikari whenever she looks away.
It’s Pikari’s inability to stop looking at the ghostly figure that helps build up the tension so well in this chapter. Even though she knows when she looks the man will have moved even closer, she can’t help herself. I’m sure almost everyone can relate to this feeling, peeking through your fingers as you try to shield yourself from a scary film when you could just leave the room instead. The idea is reminiscent of the weeping angels from Doctor Who, if a little less preying on the shock value of violent-looking statues.
It almost feels like human nature to be more afraid of the unknown, so you can’t help but look at something that you know is going to terrify you. From an outside perspective, it seems like a lot of horror manga relies on gratuitous violence, twisted faces and gore to deliver its scares. The fact that a slice-of-life series can use something as innocuous an advancing old man to create a legitimately unnerving atmosphere is both surprising and impressive. Maybe it’s more effective reading the chapter online, being able to instantly switch between pages as the tension builds up rather than having to physically turn the pages.
Just like a ghost, the old man completely disappears after bending down to face Pikari as she hides behind her hands (you can see a picture of this panel at the bottom of this article). The man’s positioning, the fact that his lower body isn’t bent at all as he leans down gives off this puppet-like vibe which just really, really creeps me out.
Just like a ghost, the old man completely disappears once the bus announces its stop at the ‘Town of Light’ (a complete non-location, which Pikari fails to note).
The chapter stays true to the Take a Moment To Catch Your Death horror trope for one last scare at the end. Just as the old man disappears and Pikari is getting off the bus, the ghost reappears to ask a chilling question
Of course, the font on the translation showed below does contribute a little bit to the tone of the old man’s speech. Whether this is present in the actual print of the chapter, I’m not sure, but it definitely adds another level to the creepiness of his parting words to Pikari.
Once Pikari gets off the bus, she phones Teko to tell her about the event and then it’s never mentioned again. This chapter lives in a vacuum, separated from the rest of the story. So much so, that it’s almost like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s a completely irrelevant chapter, which is why it’s so effective at completely sideswiping the reader and injecting an uneasy sense of fear into an otherwise blissful series.
You might be wondering, why is this even worth writing about? Well, it’s because this chapter is such a huge contrast to the rest of the series. Amano’s ability to take the reader to, frankly, quite a tense place for such a short journey is all the more effective thanks to its brevity. The phenomena is left completely unexplained or referenced later in the series, which only aids its twilight zone-like vibe.
Another chapter that shares a similar paranormal theme is chapter 35, where Ai is almost spirited away by the ghostly apparition of a teenage boy that Mako-sensei named Peter. However, this chapter is more unsettling in retrospect in a, ‘it was a ghost the whole time!’ sense, rather than tense.
The reason that I find these two chapters so interesting is because you could argue that they have no place in Amanchu!, but that’s exactly what makes them so intriguing. ‘Pitch Black World’ in particular comes out of nowhere and, just like Pikari, you’re scooped up into this little spooky story and then dropped off like nothing ever happened.