Japanese ghosts are the subject of the latest "Attack!" book from Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. Like Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!, the book plays on the Survival Guide genre, offering up serious history and folklore in a fun and tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Japanese ghosts are somewhat my area of expertise--I wrote my MA thesis on yurei and run the Japanese ghost and monster hyakumonogatari blog. But even though most of the stories in "Yurei Attack!" aren't new to me (I did find a few things I hadn't heard of, which was cool) I enjoy Yoda and Alt's style. Unlike the dry, academic work you usually find on the subject, "Yurei Attack!" is a fun, quick read, with an irreverent writing style and sharp illustrations that make even familiar stories entertaining. I am constantly impressed by their level of research. I found a few inaccuracies here and there, and plenty of simplifications of complex subjects, but on the whole "Yurei Attack!" is a great introduction to the world of Japanese ghosts.
Like the other "Attack!" books, "Yurei Attack!" is wide but not deep. Yoda and Alt do an impressive job fitting centuries of tradition into 190 heavily illustrated pages. All of the famous ghosts are here; Oiwa, Okiku, and Otsuyu, of course, along with Lady Rokujo from The Tale of Genji and Miyagi from Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Several of Lafcadio Hearn's Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan are present, like the Furisode Kaji and the Futton of Tottori. Modern ghosts stories like the infamous Sunshine 60 building, the Sea of Trees suicide forest of Mt. Fuji, and Spirit Photography are represented; along with the most obscure, like the hangon incense used to summon the dead
Of course, that is also a weakness of the book -- with so much information in so few pages you don't get more than a glance at any particular subject. They tell you much of the "what" and little of the "why." There is little of Buddhist and Shinto religion, about why strong emotions create yurei, or the need for ritual and ceremony, or even the reasons behind the yurei's famous white costume. The story variations are mostly glossed over. Like all folktales, there are numerous versions of many of these stories. Because this is a "Survival Guide," you get a short profile of each of the ghosts, with some fun information on how to battle them should the need arise.
"Yurei Attack!" has a new artist, Shinkichi, replacing Tatsuya Morino from "Yokai Attack!." I loved Shinkichi's illustrations, far more than Morino's. She has a real flair for the gruesome, and can draw blood and guts with the rest of them. I don't know if she did the coloring as well, but it is a huge leap forward from Yoda and Alt's previous books. Really great.
I do have a few nits to pick. Particularly with their explanation of the difference between yokai and yurei. That seems to have been put in more as a marketing tool to promote "Yokai Attacks!" than anything else--most would consider yurei to be a type of yokai. In fact, eminent folklorist and comic artist Mizuki Shigeru divides yokai into four types; kaiju (monsters), henge (shape changers), choshizen (natural phenomenon), and yurei (spirits of the dead). Almost all yokai databases and encyclopedias will include yurei as a type of yokai. So, I have to disagree with their explanation.
There were handful of other "errors" and over-simplifications. I was also surprised they didn't define what the word yurei actually means, or explain that it is only one of many words used for Japanese ghosts. They did give a glossary in the back, although I take issue with some of their definitions. A borei isn't a ghost whose identity is unknown, but just a more archaic, Gothic-sounding version of yurei. (As an example, in "Hamlet" the ghost of Hamlet's father is called a borei in Japanese).
Honestly, most readers aren't going to care about that level of detail--the "Attack!" series are mainly for the "Pokemon" and "Naruto" crowd who aren't looking for 1,000 page textbooks. They just want a quick and easy tour through haunted Japan that they can flip through. And for that, it's a great book. Lots of fun, even if you are only brushing the surface of ghostly Japan.