Hiromi Goto’s 2021 Shadow Life is a stand-alone modern fantasy graphic novella. Illustrations are by Ann Xu.
Consigned to a retirement home by her well-meaning children, Komiko waits for a suitable moment, then slips away into the night, taking with her only a few reminders of her previous life. Komiko carefully conceals her new home — a bachelor apartment — from her alarmed children. They do not see her as a functioning adult and would only try to place her in another facility.
As it happens, none of her children are the entity about whom she should be the most worried.
No sooner does she acquire a suitable bachelor apartment but she begins filling it with necessities, some salvaged, others acquired used. This provides her not merely with items to use or repurpose. Her ramblings familiarize the old woman with her new neighborhood. It’s a good life.
However, Death’s shadow has its eye on Kumiko. The hunter has over the years collected others dear to Kumiko. Now, it wants to collect Kumiko. Old, frailer than she used to be, and unaware of her stalker, Kumiko lacks the conventional strengths one might use to fend off an avatar of death.
She does, however, have a perfectly functional vacuum cleaner. Once an astonished shadow is trapped, Komiko has sufficient occult knowledge to keep Death’s shadow contained. This will suffice… but only for the moment. Death’s shadow is relentless and cunning.
If Kumiko is to defeat the shadow, she will need to call on allies she has ignored for decades.
Readers are strongly advised to acquire this in paper, which version will take up a few centimeters of shelf space, rather than as an ebook, which will consume something like a third of a gigabyte. It’s a graphic novel and those illustrations take up a lot of room.
The artist is comfortable revealing that old people are naked under their clothes. Kumiko spends a certain amount of time wandering around her apartment in the buff, and why shouldn’t she? Younger readers may also be astonished to discover that bisexuals existed in the 20thcentury and that that fact is relevant to the plot.
I suspect this project began before Covid-19 appeared. Komiko escapes the retirement complex simply because she does not like living there. Had this been set in 2020 or later, surely “Canadian for-profit retirement homes are pandemic death traps” would have featured prominently as a reason for escape.
Canada is surprisingly comfortable consigning people to needless death provided there’s a profit to be made.
I can’t help but notice that Kumiko’s independence ends up demanding a lot of work from other people: the store clerk who binds Kumiko’s arm when she falls, the ex who has to deal with Kumiko’s death shadow issues despite being terminally ill herself. Still, if the kids had been a little more willing to see Kumiko as a functional adult, Kumiko wouldn’t have cut herself off from her old life, which is (as she acknowledges at one point) an error.
More upbeat than the same author’s Half Life, this was a diverting little tale of a stubborn woman pitting herself against death itself. Readers will enjoy the experience. Just remember to acquire it in hard copy.