I love Kekkaishi. It has this wonderful drama, intrigue, character development, and traditional Japanese culture that makes it absolutely foreign and familiar at the same time. To tell the truth, I actually started reading Kekkaishi years ago after the anime came out. I let me nerd out with a vengeance and marathoned the show, downloaded all I could from the internet, and discovered that the story wasn't over! There were hundreds of chapters of manga just waiting for me to devour. Alas, the manga wasn't finished in Japan and I was forced to wait years to get the complete story.
Now the manga is officially complete, it even has a complete guide for those who want all the statistics and characters in an organized form, I have been able to gloriously marathon the manga and completely forsake my other work.
The Traditional Mix of Kekkaishi
It is very common knowledge that Japan possesses a very diverse and intense history that spans thousands of years and makes America look like it is still in the womb in comparison. It should be of no surprise that the Japanese are still connected to their past in very subtle ways. Traditional festivals are still celebrated, kimono is worn on graduation days, and there is still an audience for the traditional arts of ikebana, kabiku, and calligraphy. While it is true that many of these traditional activities are enjoyed by the older generations, traditional culture and history still make it through to Japanese youth through pop-culture, manga in particular. A famous example is Hikaru no Go and how it was, and still is, a very popular manga for boys. It is even rumored that Hikaru no Go was the main reason for the popularity surge in young people a couple years ago. Tanabe Yellow follows in these footsteps with Kekkaishi, the epic story of Yoshimori and Tokine, who are in the family business of protecting a powerland that attracts ayakashi, Japanese monsters, every night, Karasumori. Tanabe's mix of fantasy, reality, traditional, and a splash of romance makes for an epic story that intrigues the reader with the unknown and grounds them in with the familiar.
Traditional themes are very popular when it comes to not only Japanese TV dramas, but also in manga and anime. There are dozens and maybe hundreds of manga and light-novels in Japan that have a traditional theme to them. Many of them are found not only in seinen manga, but also shonen and shojou manga as well. Kekkaishi is one of your typical shonen, or young boys, manga in most regards. The main hero is a teenage boy, Yoshimori Sumimura, who holds an unusual job, he is in charge of protecting a plot of land with high spiritual energy, Karasumori; which also happens to be the land where his school is located. Every night, Yoshimori and Tokine Yukimura, his childhood friend/next door neighbor/family rival/crush, have the power to create kekkai, or barriers, around ayakashi, Japanese monsters, that are attracted to karasomoris powers and destroy them. They both wear traditional clothes, in black and white respectively, carry a tenketsu, which collects the dust of the ayakashi after they have been destroyed, and so on. Historically, the two families have been entrusted with the protection of karasumori from a powerful monk and founder of the Hazama-Ryu fighting style they both use, Tokimori Hazama. As time passed, the families turned into rivals, even though they live right next door to each other, and during the manga Yoshimori and Tokine often fight each other to be the kekkaishi that destroys the ayakashi that are attracted to karasumori every night. This rivalry creats a good base of the plot as the reader gets to know the characters and learns more and more about Yoshimori and how he views and interacts with the world around him. Also involved in the traditional is all the traditional ayakashi that Tanabe uses to attack karasumori. There are hundreds of different traditional monsters in Japan and I am pretty sure that Tanabe portrays all most all of them in her manga.
Reality comes into the story with the characters and the fact that Kekkaishi takes place in modern Japan. Yoshimori and Tokine are both students, middle school and high school respectively, and they both have very modern personalties. Yoshimori is in love with Tokine and the way that he reacts to thoughts of her in danger gives the reader the modern and connectable side of Yoshimori. Any good author will tell you that if the reader cannot connect with the characters than your story will not be read. Masamori struggles with being the oldest of three brothers and being a very talented kekkaishi, but not the next family successor. His quest to get power in a new arena leads him to the arakai and ultimately into the top 12 in the organization. His continued role in the story as a protector and finally an active force in defeating the commander and his brother shows great strength, yet he learns that just because he has strength does not mean that he has to be one of the main players at the end battle. His role is one of drive. Masamori plays more of a role in the leading to the ending battle, but not as a destructive player in the final battle. The sibling relationship between Yoshimori and Masamori is believable and realistic and it also grows and matures through the manga. At the beginning Masamori takes on a more “evil big brother” look for Yoshimori who is not only jealous of how powerful and knowledgeable he is about kekkai, but also about how powerful Masamori is. There are self doubts about why Masamori isn't the legitimate successor, suspicions on what Masamori wants with him. There is also Shichirou, the powerful successor of the Ougi family. At the beginning his character is rather mysterious in that murdering genius sort of way, but the more the story unfolds, the more human and young he gets. He skips school, gets girls, and has a rather dysfunctional family. Shichirou is serious about his family and being the next head, but at the end of the traditional ceremony, he bugs out with his aid to go and have some fun. The most realistic part of the story is at the very end, after the epic final battle has been fought and won, Yoshimori and Tokine are baking in Yoshimoris kitchen together and she asks him, “What do you want to be now?” Such a normal question for a high schooler to ask, even she has had to think about what she will do with her now normal life. These dynamic relationships is what brings in the reality and a true chance for the readers to actually connect with the characters. This connection is what makes a good manga a good manga.
Yoshimori as a heroic character makes perfect sense. He is young, 14 at the start of the manga, and he already has conviction and drive to protect Tokine and follow in the family business of keeping ayakashi away from karasumori. As the plot continues, Yoshimori is able grow in his power and also able to grow as a person. He understands that it's not just karasumori that he has to protect, he has to protect the entire city that he lives in. He is a the position to not only make kekkai of massive proportions, he is in the position to keep balance between the real world and the shadow world. The epic battle that awaits him, as well as the personal and finally necessary mission of sealing karasumori mounts, it becomes obvious that Yoshimori is the first kekkaishi in 400 years that not only karasumori can connect to, but also Hazuma Tokimori. He is the only person that can do what needs to be done. Yoshimori must take this destiny on his shoulders and make sure that it works. Yoshimori is also the character that connects all the other characters in the story. Through Yoshimori we are connected to the Urakai and Masamori, which leads to the Ougi family and the meeting of Rokurou and the battle of rivals between Masamori and Ichirou. The connections continue with the tragic connection that Yoshimori makes with Gen and later Sen, whose names similar sounding names are not an accident in my opinion. Gens death gives Yoshimori conviction and a determination that he had not possessed at the beginning of the manga. Yoshimoris growth as a character leads to not only more depth to his actions and words, it also leads to his growth as a heroic character. Like the Greek myths that we all grew up on, destiny, hardship, and love all play a major apart in this story.
The most interesting plot-line in this manga is the missing parent. Both Tokine and Yoshimori are both, while living with family, have only one biological parent. Yokines father died and Yoshimoris mother is just never there. At the beginning of the manga is only implied that Yoshimoris mother is not actually dead, just traveling; which is a little unsual for this type of manga. Usually it is another family member, or even the father, that is missing and goes out to search for something. Yoshimoris ever missing mother comes into the story only in letters and rumor during the first half of the manga. Her characters is shrouded in mystery with only letters that she uses to communicate with her family or the mystery of the night that Tokine's father dead while at karasumori. It is not till the later part of the plot that we learn that she is a actually a very strong kekkaishi and that she is further involved with the sealing of karasumori. During the manga the reader can see how Yoshimori feels about the fact that his mother isn't around. When she leads a dragon to karasumori, Yoshimori is able to understand who was behind this plot and as he chances her she starts shouting for her. It is later in the chapter that while he is grumbling about her coming all the way to karasumori and bring something so dangerous there that Tokine is able to realize that he is actually more upset about not being able to see his mother than what she had done. In the end, she sacrifices herself to be inside sealer when Yoshimori moves and reseals karasumori and proves to be completely different from what the reader expects. She is a walking body of duty and determination which gives her character depth when she becomes something of a martyr in the end. Both Yoshimoris mother and Tokines father are the symbols of the duty and sacrifice that Yukimuras and the Sumimuras have made for karasumori. They fought, protected and, in the end, sacrificed everything for it.
Yoshimori's landlord, Shiguma, is another very interesting personification of not only Yoshimori's subconscious, but also his characters. Shiguma has the ability to shift and change form as Yoshimori gets stronger through the end of the story. His final shape is of a bird; which can repersent Yoshimoris powers are they soar and develop into a powerful force flows freely within him. Yoshimoris development as a powerful kekkaishi is reflected by Shiguma throughout his shifts. First he is a box, just like the training tool that Yoshimoris grandfather gave him at the start of his focus training. Shiguma also very clearly repersents a lot of Yoshimoris personality, subconsciously and consciously. His coloring is no surprise as Yoshimori sees the world in black and white; right and wrong. Starting from when Yoshimori first starts working as a kekkaishi up till the end, he is always focused on how others act. He is very accepting of others and is usually blindsided when they betray him or it comes to light that they are not the people he thought they were. For example the demon user Yomi. At her introduction to the story, she shows herself as slightly weak, but also is rather friendly with Yoshimori, who returns the favor only to the given a sleep drug and imprisoned by her. His views on others and also the problems that he faces during the plot can all be viewed in black and white.
Kekkaishi, spanning almost 8 years, 345 chapters, and an anime adaption, is a well written and well developed story. While Tokines development is on a more personal scale and Yoshimoris is on an ability and emotional scale, they and other characters develop into dynamic characters that the reader is able to connect with. The mix of the traditional, reality, and the splash of romance makes Kekkaishi into a very enjoyable read. The ending, while being a little bit of a “happily ever after”, broadens the characters and the understanding that as dramatic of a story as Kekkaishi is, the characters now have more choices and normality waiting for them.