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Readers wanting to get in on the ground floor of the next great fantasy series don't have to look any further than M. Alice LeGrow's new manga from Tokyopop, Bizenghast

The series follows young Dinah Wherever, orphaned by an automobile accident and sent to live with her aunt in an old school outside of Bizenghast, MA.  The school has a dark and mysterious past, owing to a mysterious fire that claimed some of the student's lives and the grounds' past history as an asylum in the late 1800's.  Dinah has become withdrawn, having what her aunt and doctor call "fits" but Dinah knows the truth; ghosts are roaming the grounds and only she can see them.

Dinah has a friend in a local boy, Vincent, who believes everything she says and is the only one who can make the ghosts leave. At least, until the two find a mysterious cemetery and are tricked into becoming agents for the spirits that control the mausoleum, helping the souls trapped there to pass on by solving riddles carved into their tombs.

M. Alice LeGrow's world in Bizenghast is a winning blend of gothic fantasy mixed with just enough of the real world to give readers a point of reference.  The story moves along at a good, if somewhat episodic, pace which makes it very easy to read in small chunks or in one sitting.  If there's any low point to the writing then it would have to be the extended exposition piece in the final chapter, which LeGrow points out as such by having a one of the mausoleum caretakers, the wise-cracking Edaniel, call it just that.  Edaniel shows up after Dinah and Vincent help a number of souls cross to the other side with a promise that more helpers will show up later.  Bizenghast is a world that could very easily become larger than its origins, firing the imaginations of the same audiences that have followed the Buffy and Charmed franchises but offering many more possibilities.

LeGrow's artwork is nothing short of stunning for the most part, her only problem coming when she draws the adults in the piece but that's a small complaint as the rest of the art is just so good.  Vincent and Dinah tend to wear around very fantasy-style clothing that adds to the fantasy feel.  Nobody ever mentions that the two look like refugees from an early Hollywood production of Wuthering Heights and it fits in with the rest of the art so well, you hardly notice it.  Dinah's character design is especially striking, looking as though she could have come straight from Tim Burton's sketchpad and ready for fantasy cosplay fans to imitate at conventions.  Speaking of cosplay, LeGrow and Tokyopop are wanting to let readers know that the creator bio inside the back cover is incorrect and the real bio is available here.  Readers can check out LeGrow's website at www.bizenghast.com.

Bizenghast Vol. 1

Written & Drawn by:
M. Alice LeGrow
Publisher: Tokyopop
Genre: Manga
Price: $9.99
Suggested Age: 13 +
Release Date: Available Now

Rating: Must Have

Bizenghast is by far one of the most interesting manga to come alone in some time and one of the few for which I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.  This shouldn't be missed by anyone that's a fan younger-skewing dark fantasy / horror fiction.  The worst part of the first volume are the words, "to be continued" on page 173 with no mention of when to expect Volume 2!

Learn more about IGN Comics' rating system.

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