Last Level Press

Manga Review: Anya’s Ghost

Reviewer: Olen Bjorgo

Anya Borzakovskaya wants to be like the other girls at her private school: rich, beautiful, skinny, popular, good grades, fancy clothes, the works. She wants to feel like she belongs. After skipping school for a walk in the woods she falls into an abandoned well and possibly left for dead, especially upon discovering a skeleton keeping her company, until she comes face to face with the ghost of a young woman named Emily attached to those bones. It’s thanks to Emily that Anya is spared the same fate, and decides to help her become what she desires most in exchange for finding her killer. However, things aren’t always what we imagine they are.

“A girl’s still got needs, y’know.”

Anya’s Ghost is the premiere book of Russian-American cartoonist Vera Brosgol whose other works include short works in the anthology series Flight as well as storyboarding for Laika Entertainment House, an Oregon-based stop-animation studio that produced the feature films Coraline and Paranorman, so Ms. Brosgol is no stranger to drawing and creating imagery that mixes the mundane with the supernatural. And sweet mercy does that show in this book. The comic is in a beautiful greyscale where the only deviation is what looks like a light blue that has dramatically faded to grey during day scenes, giving off a sort-of aura throughout that just works to be calming yet still off. This is especially effective given that it takes place in New England at the start of a new school year, so the environment is in a transition from summer to fall. The art of the characters are soft and round with thick outlines; just about nobody is drawn to look angular or rough and, given how emotive Anya and the cast are, this works to their benefit.

On the outset the story seems pretty typical: normal girl we are to identify with feels like an awkward outsider, she meets a friend who helps her be more confident, she gains confidence she always had, la-di-da. Throw in a supernatural element, and you’ve got yourself an atypical coming-of-age story. However, there are darker forces at work, and it becomes something you wouldn’t see on the Disney Channel… well, maybe you might have seen it on the Disney Channel twenty years ago. While on the subject, the best narrative that is seen in Anya’s Ghost is when there is no dialogue, and shows the real strength of Ms. Brosgol’s talent: she can convey a powerful narrative through art alone. This is not to say that her writing is subpar, but it does show that, when in her natural element, she is sublime.

The cast is very much centered on the protagonist who is, of course, Anya. She’s an immigrant from Russia along with her dinosaur-obsessed little brother, Sasha and their doting mother, who wants Anya to eat more and go to church. Anya’s friend, Siobhan, plays the rebel with her as they smoke, skip gym, and hate on the popular girl from afar. Dima, a recent Russian immigrant who still has his accent and is picked on for being smart, serves as a sort of foil to the more Americanized, less academic-minded, and “cooler” Anya, who is the only one he can relate to since they both feel like outsiders. And then there is Emily Reilly, the titular ghost who befriends Anya, who wants Anya to have the life she never had, and would stop at nothing to ensure that she does. While the supporting cast doesn’t have many chances to shine, they all serve a role in Anya’s life as they help define not only what it is she wants but also what she is in the end.

A proxy husk for a wild-eyed poltergeist.

The book is, as described in a plethora of adjectives on the back, “spooky”, “hilarious”, and “page-turning”. In fact, the famous writer and novelist Neil Gaiman declared Anya’s Ghost to be “a masterpiece.” And, for all intents and purposes, I’m hard-pressed to disagree. But is it entertaining? No. Nah, I’m kidding! It’s actually a fun read. The best way to describe it is it’s like a ghost story you’ve read or heard before, and you know where the twists are, but you still find yourself drawn to it. In the same way that we might rewatch old horror movies for this holiday, Anya’s Ghost feels very much like that but in comic form. You might not reread it often, but when you do it’s got its fangs hooked right into your neck.

Anya’s Ghost is a quick and delightful book that leaves you relieved that everything turned out okay in the end. If you wanted to get someone into comics, or maybe just give it as a gift to someone who enjoys these types of stories, you couldn’t go wrong with Anya’s Ghost. It’s not the scariest thing you’ll read, but it’s not laughable in its darker moments either. Consider it as an appetizer before you get into the main course of the macabre, the gruesome, and the horrific. It’s a wonderful little story for anyone who has ever felt out of place or like we didn’t belong.  In the end, it’s when we feel out of our element when we best discover who and what we are. And on that note, Happy Halloween from all of us here at Last Level Press!

Rating: 7.8

Artwork: 8
Narrative: 7
Characters: 7
Entertainment Value: 9
Experience: 8

  Author: Vera Brosgol

  Publisher: First Second Books

  Illustrator: Vera Brosgol

  Release Date (U.S.): June 7,2011

  Release Date (U.K.):  June 7,2011

  Release Date (JP):  June 7, 2011

Final Verdict:


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