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Mizu no Yakata
Synopsis | Review

I've come to realize that manga readers would inevitably encounter the same character prototypes again and again if they read several different titles from one mangaka. I first noticed it with Watase Yu. Then I found that Shinjo Mayu and Tanemura Arina are like that too. So it's no surprise when I looked at Obana Miho's titles and saw a bunch of Sana lookalikes.

Mizu no Yakata's a special case, however. The characters do not only look like Sana and Naozumi (and Asako), they really are Sana and Naozumi (and Asako). Kodocha fans know very well what I mean. In Kodocha's third arc (approximately), Sana and Naozumi went off to the mountains to film a movie. The separation drove Hayama up the wall. Well, Sana and Naozumi actually filmed Mizu no Yakata. And it looks like after Kodocha, Obana Miho actually wrote the story in one tankoubon. It consisted of two chapters. There's also a side story called Pochi, although it's not related to Mizu no Yakata or Kodocha.

Synopsis
When Suzuhara Hiroto's parents unexpectedly passed away in a car accident, he started looking for his long-lost older brother, Masato. Hiroto only had fuzzy memories of Masato. All he could remember was that his brother left home at 14, around six years ago, and never returned.

Hiroto strove to locate his missing older brother because he's the only family he had left. Armed with his parents' inheritance, Hiroto went to Genta, a private detective. After digging around, they learned that Masato left home to go to a villa with two other people. One of them is his girlfriend, Mako. The other one is Mako's best friend, Miwa. They went to one of the villas that Miwa's family owned. The three of them haven't been found since. Miwa's parents searched their various estates to no avail.

When Hiroto saw a picture of the three missing people, he found himself drawn to Mako. This only strengthened his resolve to locate his brother (and his brother's friends). Together with Genta, he went to Miwa's place and met her grandfather, a renowned scientist who's been hospitalized for five years. The grandfather revealed that they have a villa in the northeastern region, by a lake, where he used to conduct his experiments. Miwa was there once, and she was the only person the grandfather took with him. Then the grandfather confessed that he tried to go back to the villa, but for some reason, he always got lost in the forest and never found it.

The following day, the grandfather hung himself. He left a suicide note talking about how he had created a frightening thing. Hiroto was not around to learn about it, however. He set out on his own to search for the villa. He actually had a hell of a time finding the place. After trekking through the forest for a long time, he collapsed from exhaustion and passed out. When he came to, he found himself beside a lake. Then a girl emerged from the trees. She looked about his age and wore a white kimono. She eerily resembled Mako in the pictures. But he figured that was not possible, since Mako would have to be 20 years old by this time. When the girl remarked that Hiroto looked like Masato when he was young, he knew that he came to the right place. The girl led him to the villa.

When they walked through the door, they met a woman who looked surprised to see Hiroto. The girl called her Miwa. When Hiroto demanded why they've been away for so long, Miwa appeared like she couldn't care less. Then the girl led Hiroto to a room, where he found Masato. But Masato seemed out of it; he barely acknowledged Hiroto and seemed irritable about something. He started talking about herbs, and soon enough, the girl came to him with some leaves. Over dinner, Hiroto asked the girl for her name. She told him it's Mako. When he teased her about being Little Mako (because he didn't believe she would really be the same Mako that he heard of), the girl threw hot tea in his face, coldly informed him that she's 20 years old, and imperiously ordered him to call her Miss Mako.

From then on, things got curiouser and curiouser for Hiroto. Miwa knuckles under Mako's orders. Then Masato tried to warn him about avoiding the herbs. What herbs? Before Masato could say more, Mako walked in and he clammed up. And then, after a really weird dinner, Masato told Hiroto that Mako's already dead, drowned in the lake six years ago. He also mentioned that if Hiroto stays at the villa every night, he would dream of water. As much as Hiroto refused to believe it, he soon learned that it was true. Mako is a ghost who had Masato and Miwa under her control. But the more he learned about her, the more he became drawn to her. Soon he was split between his feelings to hate her and to comfort her. But one day, when Mako went too far in terrorizing Masato and Miwa, Hiroto lost it and tried to straggle her. Then she eerily asked, "Will you, like your brother, kill me too?"

Hiroto learned that the grandfather invented the herb that Masato's so addicted to. Six years ago, Masato, Mako, and Miwa arrived at the villa and decided to cook with the herbs. Soon, they fell under its influence and became violent. In one rough scuffle, Masato and Miwa accidentally knocked Mako unconscious. Thinking she was dead, they hastily weighed her down with rocks and sank her body in the lake. But just as they were trying to leave the villa, Mako's ghost appeared and told them that the three of them would be staying there forever. And six years later, her plans never changed...

Review
I probably wouldn't have taken an interest in this manga if it's not related to Kodocha. But you have to admit, it has a cool title. Mizu no Yakata translates to "Water Mansion." I think it can also be "Palace of Water." I like thinking of it as Water Mansion ^_^

Actually, Mizu no Yakata has a cool storyline as well. It's definitely a lot darker compared to Kodocha...and notably, Obana created an equally dark director to film it :D But after reading another one of Obana's works, Partner, I realized that yeah, she's capable of writing dark stories. It just so happened that Kodocha outshines her other work and that it's incredibly cheerful and frenetic (for the most part).

Mizu no Yakata is definitely fast-paced. It covers the entire story in two chapters ;) and takes the reader through the scenes that Naozumi and Sana filmed. It's really cool because the characters look exactly like Naozumi and Sana, you know they're Naozumi and Sana, and you also know that they're entirely different people. Pretty neat effect. And when I was reading it, I found myself thinking, "Oh, this is the part when Naozumi messed up his lines" and "This is the part where Sana was hiding her fractured leg from the camera." I don't know if that makes me a devoted fan or a disturbingly rabid otaku :D And the whole thing about how the story ended is just great, but then again, it should be noted that it's supposedly a movie. An explosive ending is to be expected :D

I guess if Mizu no Yakata's not related to Kodocha, I would find it really creepy. Especially in the scene where Masato and Miwa just sank Mako's body, and they were starting to leave the villa. Mako's ghost materialized for the first time behind them, placed her hands on their shoulders, and asked, "Going home?" If I was watching that on TV, I would've screamed. Yeah, it's one of those horror movie moments.

Obana actually gives a special treat at the end, with seven pages of Mizu no Yakata Outtakes. Whee, I got to see Sana again! The first five were basically bloopers in the movie, like Naozumi being told he must swim more sexily and Sana flying in the air on a crane (?) and knocking out everybody. The last two pages, though, showed Hayama watching the video of Mizu no Yakata years later (I wonder if they're in high school already by then?). He was spooked by how Mako emerged from the trees and spookily greeted Hiroto. And actually, he liked the feeling of being spooked and getting goosebumps, so he asked Sana to repeat her lines (he also thought it's cool to get a live Mako) ^_^ Again. And again. And again. When Sana started getting exasperated, Hayama pleaded with her by calling her Miss Mako and Sana would have to repeat her lines one more time :PAnd they lived happily ever after :D It was probably just comic relief after such a creepy story, but I was thrilled just to see Hayama and Sana together again.

I'm not sure if Mizu no Yakata could stand by itself. It seems readers must be familiar with Kodocha in order to appreciate it. But it's definitely much better than most of the one-shots and short manga out there because it has a surprisingly intricate storyline. It's worth checking out. Turn the lights off, light a candle, snuggle into your favorite chair, and read. You might want to do this while there's a storm howling outside and you're all alone in the house :D

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