Longtime readers have probably picked up on the fact that I’ve got a kind of weakness for manga that tackle foreign places and time periods. So it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I picked up the first volume of mangaka Kazuhiro Fujita’s “The Black Museum.” This is actually the second arc in the series, but it’s completely self-contained so far as the title place and its curator serve as a framing device for the stories that Fujita wants to tell. In this case, it’s about a ghost known as The Man in Gray and his association with none other than Florence Nightingale. Before she rose to fame as a nurse who pioneered many lifesaving medical standards and practices, Florence was tormented by her own eidolon. You see, in the world of “The Black Museum” all humans have these supernatural parasites of the soul which are in constant conflict with each other. Except in the case of Florence as her own eidolon is bent on attacking its host. Unable to bear the pain of these attacks, she seeks out Gray in the hope that this ghost will be able to take her life and end her suffering.
Of course, that doesn’t happen and the narrative then goes on to chart Florence’s history with Gray at her side. While the ghost, who has a love of the theater and all things theatric, has promised to take the woman’s life when she finally succumbs to despair circumstances just keep conspiring to prevent that from happening. Though there’s plenty of fun repartee between the two, Gray’s fixation on this subject quickly becomes tiresome because it’s obvious it’ll never come to be. So that leaves the story of Florence’s life — now with extra supernatural battles — to pick up the slack. As someone who had only heard of the nurse’s reputation prior to reading this, Fujita’s interpretation is engaging enough. I know not to take it as gospel, but there are plenty of handy footnotes on hand to keep things grounded in fact.
Fujita’s stylized art is also generally nice to look at. He possesses a thin, wiry style that works best when illustrating Gray and the eidolon battles. It’s less effective in portraying human drama as Fujita’s style is keyed up to a high energy level which sends most dramatic scenes straight into histrionics. While I can appreciate the mangaka’s ambition here in telling a story that is decidedly out of the manga mainstream, the overall quality of this first book leads me to diagnose it with a case of “reach exceeding grasp.”