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There is a strong style of horror that uses whatever we take for granted as safe in life, and turns it into a nightmare. However, once I started to read Blood in the Tracks (2017) by Shuzo Oshimi, I got maybe a little more than what I asked for.

After catching up with this manga, which is still ongoing at the time of this review, I couldn’t shake off a growing feeling of disgust. As no stranger to the “bad mom” trope in fiction- God knows I saw a lot of real examples when I worked as a teacher- but the Osabe matriarch depicted in Blood in the Tracks takes the prize. Manipulative, eerily cold, and yet warm at convenience, she little by little breaks her son’s sanity and soul, and she does not seem to care one bit.

Oshimi makes us forget about the horrors of monsters and make us ponder what would happen if our biggest nightmare was the one who gave us life. How do you escape from a bond forged in blood and nature? The answer is more complicated than you would expect.

The Plot

Blood in the Tracks tells the story of Seichii Osabe, a rather shy but well-adjusted teen who lives with his father and picture-perfect mother, Seiko. Initially, his only worry is his mother’s overprotectiveness and his annoying cousin Shigeru, who likes to tease him about it.

During a hiking trip with his father’s side of the family, Shigeru jokingly pushes Seiichi off a cliff. While there are no significant injuries, Seiko freaks out. Everyone else just jokes about it and makes fun of her protectiveness. However, things take a turn for the worse when Shigeru and Seichii separate from the group. His cousin, playful as always, is the one to lose his balance this time. Seiko is luckily there to catch him, but inexplicably, ends up pushing Shigeru with a smile on her face. Only Seichii witnesses the act that leaves his cousin comatose.

seiko

What comes next is the fallout of the Osabe family. Being the one knowing his mother’s true nature, Seichii starts to unlock some disturbing memories; realizing that her apparent overprotectiveness was more a desire to possess him and control every aspect of his life, including his death. However, he still loves her, and for better or worse, his loyalty remains to her, even when Shigeru’s parents suspect that something else happened on that trip, and they won’t rest until they discover the truth.

What Worked

I absolutely love how Oshimi plays with the concept of what a mother is: ideal vs. reality. At first, Seiko is presented as the epitome of the nurturing woman. Her attachment issues seem like a natural progression to a deep kind of love. However, when we realize how skewed her morals were all this time, all her previous actions take on a different perspective.

scarymom

She is a shell of a woman who feels the right to control and manipulate Seichii simply because she gave birth to him. There are hints of a deep trauma that cause her to want to dominate at least one aspect of her life. Oshimi wants us to see the hard truth: sometimes we are not safe, not even from the person that by nature should protect us. 

Seeing Seichii’s spirit and morals break to cover for his mother is sad, but also terrifying. The way the author visually represents his psychological state is often subtle. However, when he decides to go all the way, you get one of the most mentally taxing jump scares ever.

scary seichii

What Didn’t Work

I’d say that there are almost no negative aspects to this manga. Some might feel uncomfortable with Seiko and Seichii’s closeness, which sometimes teasingly borders on incest to creep us even more. If that’s not your thing, or you don’t feel in the mood of an emotionally draining story in general, you’d better stay away.

Conversely, my primary complaint is the pace of the most recent arc. By reading voraciously with no chapters left to consume, each new update does not move the plot enough. It continues to be both devastating and exciting, but you may be left just wanting to get to the point after all this emotional investment in the story.

Final Thoughts

Blood in the Tracks might not be for everyone. As previously mentioned, you have to be in the right state of mind to read it and not feel sick or put off. The only other manga series that made me feel this was the final arc of Oyasumi Punpun, so you get the idea. Still, as a gem of psychological horror, you need to put this manga on your TBR list. It is uncomfortable and disturbing, but it is a hell of a ride that every horror fan should explore at least once.

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