Image source: 妖怪アパートの幽雅な日常 公式アカウント on Twitter

A fantastical apartment that opens up a whole new world of adventure you never knew existed. After returning to the world of the mundane, who wouldn’t want to return? Yet the initial journey of Yokai Apartment stirs up memories of a similar but much less jovial story.

[Note: This article contains major spoilers for Elegant Yokai Apartment Life.]

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life is the story of Yushi Inaba, a young boy who, after the untimely death of his parents, is forced to live with his uncle’s family. Frustrated with being a burden, at the first chance he gets, Yushi enrolls in a high school with a dormitory. But a wrench is thrown in his plans when an untimely fire burns the school dorm to the ground. Stuck between a family where he feels unwelcome and the charred remains of the place he hoped would serve as his new home, Yushi seeks out some place where he can stay while the dorm is rebuilt. His search takes him to a cheap old apartment inhabited by spirits and ghosts.

Image source: 妖怪アパートの幽雅な日常 公式アカウント on Twitter

On its surface, Yokai Apartment is a slice-of-life story with fantastical elements. You have a young boy who, though an unexpected disaster, is swept up into a strange world filled with supernatural creatures and individuals. Then, after spending time in this magical world, he returns to the “real world” and finds that he felt more at home in that mystical otherworld than he does in reality and thus returns. It’s not a story that hasn’t been done before. However, it was in the interim, where Yushi longed for the life he had living in the spirit-infested apartment that I noticed parallels with another similar sort of story.

The 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz was a childhood favorite of mine. A family friend had a VHS copy that I watched repeatedly whenever we’d visit. It featured the story of the protagonist, Dorothy, who travels to a fantastical land of magic and adventure. After meeting various friends and having a miraculous journey, Dorothy manages to return to the “real” world.

In 1985, a live-action sequel—there had been animated sequels prior to that—titled Return to Oz was released. I watched it in theaters, and in retrospect, I don’t think I was old enough for it because that was some nightmare-inducing craziness. What sticks with me to this day—aside from the room full of living disembodied heads and the crazy people with wheels for hands and feet—is the fact that, after the amazing and wonderful adventures that Dorothy went through in the first movie, she has been rendered incapable of fitting in with regular society. So much so that she ends up committed to a psychiatric hospital at the beginning of the movie.

Looking at Yushi in Yokai Apartment, I had flashbacks to that crazy sequel. After having returned from that enchanted world of spirits and starting life at the newly rebuilt school dorm, Yushi finds the present world dark and unwelcoming. People are cold and distant. Every strange shadow he sees in the corner of his eye reminds him of that other world and he even comes to question whether it was real or if he dreamed it all.

Image source: 妖怪アパートの幽雅な日常 公式アカウント on Twitter

It’s not just in Yushi’s reaction to being taken out of Oz. Throughout the series, there have been moments where things have gotten extraordinarily dark. There’s the young child ghost who we learn died because of an abusive mother, a mother whose ghost periodically attempts to come to the apartment to claim the spirit of her son. Then there’s the apartment cook who only exists as a pair of disembodied hands because, when she died, she was dismembered at the hands of a crazed stalker. For a light-hearted slice-of-life series, there are moments when Yokai Apartment can get uncomfortably real, making me feel the sort of icky feeling I got watching an evil sorceress switch her head with one in a glass case.

Image source: 妖怪アパートの幽雅な日常 公式アカウント on Twitter

In the end, Yushi manages to run into one of the inhabitants of the yokai apartment and, after a pep talk, manages to come to terms with the problems he’s been feeling. After making peace with the things and people that have been dragging him down, Yushi returns to the yokai apartment and the life where he feels truly alive. It seems happy and light-hearted on its surface, and yet, the series has an underlying darkness to it in some of its stories that constantly has me wondering if there’s another shoe that’s going to drop. Let’s just hope it’s not a sofa with a reindeer’s head attached to it.

Image source: 妖怪アパートの幽雅な日常 公式アカウント on Twitter

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

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