In this month's issue of The X-Files from Topps, Mulder and Scully travel to Hawaii to investigate the deaths of several university students. Read after the jump for our recap of "The Kanashibari."
At the University of Hawaii, a student awakens in the middle of the night thanks to a nightmare that his bed is filled with ants. Switching the light on, he realises it was all in his head but the second he switches it back off, he is slammed to the bed by an unseen force. Turning around, he comes face to face with a haggard old woman, all green skin, and white, pupil-less eyes. The creature laughs as it wraps its hands around the terrified young man’s throat.
The next morning, Mulder, Scully, and local Detective Inoue investigate the crime scene where the young man’s body is still in place. His eyes are open, frozen in a look of terror which also happens to make the image of Scully examining his body unintentionally hilarious. Detective Inoue explains that this is the third death in the same building within recent weeks, which makes me wonder how the university is still running seemingly as normal. After finding small bruises on the victim's neck which suggest the placement of fingers, Scully, quite reasonably, begins to suspect the roommate who apparently slept through the whole event thanks to “too much partying.”
The detective is doubtful that the roommate could be responsible given his condition but becomes defensive when Scully asks if he has any alternative suggestions. Instead, he warns her that if she and Mulder start asking around, they’re going to hear rumours. This gives Mulder the opportunity he’s doubtless been chomping at the bit for, and he leaps into the conversation with a long exposition on the kanashibari - choking ghosts. The stories - or myths as Detective Inoue insists - are perhaps more familiar to us as depicted in Henry Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare. The victim awakens to the sensation of something sitting on their chest causing them to struggle to breathe. These days, the phenomenon is closely associated with both alien abduction lore and sleep paralysis. Interestingly, none of the lore either from the Japanese version of the story (where the term kanashibari originates) or Western variants, involve the ghost actually laying its hand on the victim’s throat and choking them. Naturally, Detective Inoue is unwilling to believe he could be hunting for such a creature. He admits that perhaps his “flesh and blood killer” is mimicking the behaviours from the stories, but that’s as much as he’s willing to accept.
The agents interview Phil - the roommate - who claims to have taken allergy tablets that knocked him out cold so he didn't see or hear a thing. I need to find out this guy's prescription for when my cat's sinuses start playing up again... Getting nowhere, Scully heads off to perform an autopsy which reveals their victim didn’t die as a result of strangulation at all. Instead, he died from fear that triggered a heart attack. Mulder reveals that this was the cause of death for the other two victims as well.
Back on campus, Phil meets up with three other students and insists that he didn’t tell the FBI anything. He does, however, wonder whether he should have said something because they don’t know which one of them “will be next.” Later that night, and now blind drunk, Phil is taken to his friend Kenji’s room to sleep the night thanks to his room still being a crime scene. It doesn’t take long before the same haggard ghost appears, causing Kenji to fall backwards out of his window.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully are at the new crime scene and point out that this new death doesn’t appear to be the work of either a choking ghost nor does it fit as a suicide. They re-interview Phil, who has now been present at the scenes of two deaths, but he seems more concerned at losing some money and needing his father’s assistance, than in helping the agents out. Giving up once again, Scully performs yet another autopsy and discovers that this victim also died from “fear.” Mulder begins to suspect that Phil might be the centre of “unconscious psychokinesis” but, of course, Scully remains unconvinced.
Back at the campus, Phil’s friends are attempting, and failing, to study. Eventually, they give up and head to their separate rooms to attempt sleep. While cleaning his teeth, one of them - Andy - sees the same ghostly vision creeping up behind him that has killed his friends. He attempts to call another friend - Jordan - with a warning but collapses, choking before he can dial.
Mulder once again questions Phil, his patience having now worn thin. Jordan is brought in by Scully and Detective Inoue and, together, they share their story. A group of students, including the victims and themselves, had discovered a copy of an upcoming important exam at the library and had planned to use the copy to cheat. However, Kenji’s “totally straight-laced roommate” Ronald had overheard them and threatened to report them all. The students had shoved him into a closet while attempting to reason with him, but Ronald suffered an convenient asthma attack and died. The group had covered up their parts in his death for fear of the repercussions they might face from the school, and had found themselves “haunted by Ronald’s ghost” ever since. Jordan feels relieved after revealing the truth, but Phil is more practical and points out that even having explained the truth, who will protect them now?
That night, Phil awakens in his cell to a gurgling noise which he soon discovers was the sound of Jordan choking to death. Now the only one of the group left alive, he fashions a noose from his bedsheet and takes his own life, knowing it is the only way to escape from Ronald. This is an interesting conclusion because it makes Mulder and Scully essentially superfluous to the plot. By the end of the story, all the students Ronald was seeking vengeance against are dead just as they would have been if the agents never showed up, and, as usual, they collect no evidence. Personally, that's not a story-telling style I particularly enjoy, and this comic is no exception. I feel like it adds very little to the X-Files universe, or to Mulder and Scully's personal growth, and, as such, this is one of The X-Files comics I find most dissappointing.