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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/28/2005 Archived Entry: "Manga Review: Bizenghast, vol. 1"

Bizenghast, vol. 1
By M. Alice LeGrow
Published by TOKYOPOP

Review by Kathryn Ramage

This gothic-horror fairytale in manga form tells the tales of a teenaged girl named Dinah, who has been orphaned and sent to live with her aunt in the small town of Bizenghast, Massachusetts -- a ghost town in more ways than one. Not only is Bizenghast abandoned and falling into decay, but it is haunted to the rafters with ghosts that only Dinah can see. Her aunt thinks the girl is seriously disturbed.

With the help of her friend Vincent, Dinah escapes her auntís house one evening, and the two young people stumble upon a lost graveyard and towering mausoleum in the woods. (Newspaper clippings between the story chapters helpfully inform readers that "a large number of death certificates officiated in the town between 1701 and 1950 do not match up to any of the plots in the residential graveyard.") While exploring the mausoleum, Dinah discovers a key and a plaque, which opens to reveal a contract that reads:

"The undersigned does hereby agree to be owned body and soul until such time as this mausoleumís vaults are emptied of captive spirits or by the undersignedís sudden death, whichever comes first."

Her name is already at the bottom.

And then a giant half-spider woman appears and says, "Hello, Dinah. Weíve been waiting for you..."

What follows is a series of vignettes of Dinahís service to the spider-woman, whose name is Bali-Lali: Dinah must free all the spirits in the tombs beneath the graveyard. Clues on each grave-marker lead Dinah and Vincent to travel back into the past, to the time of that personís death, so that they can solve the riddle and lay that spirit to rest. Dinah must sneak out every night to go to the graveyard and free one spirit, and all the while, Dinahís aunt grows more concerned about her behavior and is making plans to have the girl committed to a sanitarium.

Oh, and if Dinah fails, she will become a "cleaner," a sort of living corpse under Bali-Laliís command at the mausoleum, as all of her predecessors have become.

The chapters concerning the freeing of spirits in this first volume are short; each puzzle is introduced and solved within a few pages, but the story as a whole is involving and features some haunting (if youíll pardon the pun) imagery, sometimes rather lovely -- like the prince waltzing in a ballroom full of life-size, mechanical wind-up dolls -- and sometimes extremely creepy or even grisly. And this first set of tales is only the beginning Dinahís and Vincentís adventures.

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