Enma is a multi-faceted novel about a young samurai named Amane Ichinose. Amane is a troubled youth that finds himself in over his head when he gets caught in the middle of a gang war in Kyoto. He is mortally wounded with nowhere to go and no one to help him. However, on the verge of death, an old man saves his life by giving him an immortality tattoo, a demon oni-gome. Amane is going to be the old man’s greatest accomplishment and follow in his footsteps as an apprentice tattoo artist. Amane must make a new life for himself as an outcast and walk the earth undetected, but for how long can he manage alone and go unnoticed?
Enma is a very unique book combining not only genres but cultures and philosophies as well. This book breaks all barriers of writing that I’ve seen before. Most critiques would consider Enma a historical fantasy, because it takes Japanese history and culture and brings its mysticism to life. However, I believe Enma to be much more than this. Nakamura creates such a detailed story that we feel we are right there next to the characters experiencing the same environment: “The twilight deepened and her surroundings grew more desolate, the wind rustling the tall pampas grass into undulating waves.” (pg 5-6)
The beautiful prose draws us into the lives of the characters and weaves a creative web through time showing us how all of these individuals are evolving and interacting with one another. The novel allows us to see and understand the perspective of the other characters without breaking the flow of the tale. This makes it become an action packed mystery when villains begin roaming the streets of Yokohama killing women and a love tragedy when lonely characters are left to deal with heartbreak.
Enma’s main theme and philosophy is about death in all its forms. From the conflicts of war, the many different ways to be murdered, the reasons to commit suicide, to sheer old age, death makes it clear that even if you are immortal, you can’t escape it. You must live, while those you love die. Death follows you, waiting for you to embrace it. Enma shows the karmic balance in life through good and evil and the lesson we must all learn. The question is: What will Amane do in the end?