>> Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I tell you what. I'm happy so many of my "Gotta Have 'Em All" mangas are Viz media or finished. I'm completely bummed about Maid-Sama and Shinobi Life. Fortunately, this little beauty is going strong as a Shojo Beat manga. I'm proud to say, it's one I found "independently."
Having exhausted my available "loved" manga (and unimpressed with manga I picked up at random in the book store), I took advantage of Amazon.com's "recommendations," read the blurbs and chose to try the first volume of Black Bird by Kanoko Sakurakoji. Completely different story than others I'd seen, considerably more adult in many ways, but not in others. Different style of drawing.
I didn't warm up right away. Neither of the leads (and it's really focused on the leads) appealed immediately. Here was real "sexual harassment" as opposed to the joked about but never happened come-ons in my other mangas, however, I found the story's concept intriguing. Eventually, I recalibrated my thinking as more information came through that first volume to remind myself that the hero (Kyo) wasn't human. Rules, as I've mentioned before, are not the same, as demonstrated as more of his demon kind showed up. Suddenly, Kyo began to look less like sex-crazed stalker and more like a patient love-sick swain with superhuman restraint. Nothing like a little perspective.
By the end of the book, Kyo'd won me over and even the main character was starting to appeal as I realized she wasn't as passive or as helpless as I'd originally thought.
Anime? No Volumes of manga: 12 (8 Eng) Status: Ongoing
My rating: Gotta have 'em all
Age range: Older teen, one who's had the sex talk, because there's quite a bit more of that kind of talk here, extensive "petting" and eventual sex. And quite a bit of violence.
Taboos and "warnings": Quite a bit of sex talk and considerable contact, largely because our heroine is healed of wounds by being licked by a demon. Violence is common and bloody. Rape and death are frequently threatened. Adult/teenager romance (~4 years difference).
Premise: Misao is the "Senka Maid" born once every century who can see demons that most people can't see. She is also inherently powerful in that a demon (a) eating her flesh will have eternal youth, (b) drinking her blood will bring long life and (c) mating/marrying her will bring a demon clan prosperity (which can only be done by the "head" of a demon clan). She doesn't know this, but her ability to see demons has kept other humans at bay. When she turns sixteen, however, it becomes open season and a demon she befriended as a boy, Kyo, shows up to make her his bride and protect her from all the other demons coveting her in one way or the other.
What works: Admittedly, I found the concept intriguing. I tend to like premises that skew reality as we know it and stories that work within that framework. In this case, and it isn't immediately obvious, the world of demons is like a plane between true gods and humans, with humans being about as important to most demons as domesticated animals. Most humans are completely oblivious to this whole other world, with those demons who bother to walk among them all but indistinguishable from other humans. Misao has always been able to see the spirits and such from the beginning. That interaction (where spirits and ghosts can bother and touch her) has isolated her from other humans (who either instinctively avoid her or think she's a liar pointing out ghosts), leaving her really between these diverse worlds.
Demons are as ruthless with people as people are with animals, seeing them as lower beings that could be used (possessed) or destroyed out of hand. It's important to understand this to understand what makes Kyo special. The demons see Misao as property to be consumed or used without the slightest qualm and, in the beginning, the only thing that holds any back ("good" or "bad" demons) is fear of Kyo. Demons are also quite ruthless amongst themselves with fear of clan retaliation the only thing that keeps them civil among themselves (though they still have some familial loyalties and the like).
The overt sexual advances in this manga (as I've seen in other manga where this sort of thing happen) are balanced by violence by the recipient that the lech accepts stoically and philosophically without retaliation. There's a certain weird charm in that for me.
The other big draw is Kyo. At first, he comes across much like a "simple" lech, saving Misao for his own interests. What we learn is that healing, with the enticement of the Senka Maid's blood, is enough to put nearly any demon in a frenzy to consume her one way or the other. Kyo manages this near impossible feat matter-of-factly and never takes advantage of these provocative healing methods to make a move on her (until she's willing later in the series). He does protect her with or without her permission. He will heal her with or without her permission. He makes no bones about wanting her as a sexual partner/bride (and, based on childhood promises, actually considers them engaged), but she decides what they do and when. In that, he is different from all of his demon competitors.
The reason is simple. He loves her. He decided she was precious as a child and, in the ten years between then and now, he fought his way to be head of the clan not only so he could wed her, but also to protect her from his sadistic older brother who would otherwise have been the clan leader. It's important to understand that he did so for her and not himself and suffered accordingly (given his brother's unwillingness to roll over and his rather poisonous power). However, in doing so, Kyo found himself and gained followers, giving him everything he holds precious in his life. He credits the child Misao with giving him (via a goal) the future he fought for and won.
His followers cherish her because his own devotion to her is unmistakable. When there are hints that indulging his ardor with Misao puts her at risk ("If you want to spend the rest of your life with her, you can never have sex with her," say those that have read the Senka Maiden mating manual), he puts the skids on himself, in defiance of his clan's wants, his own wants, and eventually hers. Self-restraint, in my opinion, is very romantic. It's a common theme, too. And his patience with Misao, given his decade-long devotion, is impressive aside from that.
Better, though, in my opinion, is that he is far from perfect. Although honest with Misao, he is also manipulative and sly, sarcastic and sneaky, prone to temper and possessive. He has moments where he's definitely an asshole, even mean. These flaws don't make him a better person, but it makes him a better character, more interesting, leaving him some room to grow.
Misao is slower on the uptake than I like, but she is honest, she learns, and she strives to use her power (she can heal demons by letting demons drink her blood or by kissing them) as best she can, given that she can't (generally) go head to head with a demon and expect to win. She wants to be a partner, to protect Kyo in whatever way she can, even if she needs a different method. Some of what she worries about seems trivial and insignificant, so that I have to remind myself she's still a teenager.
If you read mangas for the romance element (yes, I do), this is one of the best in that aspect, even if it doesn't look like that at first. It's also frequently humorous, though rarely laugh out loud. I love humor.
Villains are good and villainous, too, even complex in some cases, and many have the redeeming quality, in my opinion, that they aren't suddenly and painlessly redeemed, which happens far too often in manga. These baddies, quite often, stay nasty and suffer the ultimate price as a result.
The artwork is less refined in many ways than some of the mangas I've read before. Perspectives are skewed here and there and the wings are not quite right (Kyo is a tengu, which have wings that come and go), but I found it began to work for me, largely because it was effective in conveying many subtleties that weren't otherwise expressed. However, reading faces was not as easy as it was on some other mangas.
Favorite character: Kyo. By now, you might have realized I tend to favor the heroes. Part of it is likely because I'm heterosexual, but part of it is also the female characters in shojo manga tend to be a bit more passive than I am (or have other failings that bother me). I'm not a particularly girly girl.
Kyo: Any human that approached you would either have to be possessed or really stupid. Can you tell the difference?
Kyo: Come on. Taro's fixed some not-very-appetizing breakfast. Have some.
Misao: Don't want any!
Misao: I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Taro. Oh my... that looks good...
Taro: My lady!
Misao: He seemed gentle. I guess that's the word. He had your face but acted like a gentleman. There was nothing erotic about him.
Kyo: What's wrong with being erotic?
Taro: Lord Kyo. I'm sorry to bother you, Lord Kyo.
Kyo: What is it?
Taro: I can't clean the floor.
Kyo: Just wipe around me.
Taro: I have. If I don't wipe under you, we will be left with a figure like you see at the scene of a murder.
Kyo: (rolls away) Taro, hasn't your hair grown a little long?
Taro: Has it?
Kyo: Shall I cut it for you?
Taro: Oh? Thank you very much! It would be an honor to have it cut by you!
Kyo: Which style would you like? (1) Sean Connery, (2) Yul Brynner or (3) Chishu Ryu?
What I didn't like: Plotwise, I'd call the story stronger than average, so I won't complain about it. Some of the logic on conflicts (antagonists backing off for no good reason or crises resolving themselves) is weak and makes the danger and excitement we just went through seem silly. Some of the sexual come-ons are overdone.
Side characters are largely undeveloped. The record of the previous bride-taking (Renka Seku) is used as a plot point through first few volumes and, as a plot device, seems weak. A tremendous amount of significance is given to the (unseen but hinted at) conclusions of the document, ridiculous amounts, really given that Kyo seems almost willing to toss his life away rather than take a chance that taking Misao as his bride will have ill consequences.