Dengeki Daisy : Gotta Have 'Em All

>> Monday, July 4, 2011

Dengeki Daisy
by Kyousuke Motomi is another of my Christmas sampling finds. Again, the blurb appealed to me, the premise, though the characters on the cover looked hideous (and still do). It was different than others I'd read and piqued my curiosity, particularly since Kurosaki wasn't another high school student but the janitor.

When I read it, I disovered that the manga was different than others I'd read, far more dramatic (without forgoing the humor) and generally smarter. As a tech savvy individual, I appreciated story lines and concepts I was familiar with. And the characters are wonderful.

Actually, I found the characters addicting and the humor wickedly appealing even rereading. The style of drawing may not be for everyone and didn't appeal to me much in the beginning, but she can make the characters quite beautiful if she wants to.

Anime? No Volumes of manga: 10 (5 Eng) Status: Ongoing

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range: I wouldn't have a problem letting any teenager read this, but we all know I'm progressive.

Taboos and "warnings": Some sexual innuendo, some minor violence. What will likely be most disturbing for many is the adult (24) and his romantic interest in the Teru (16) or vice versa despite the fact, to date, he has not acted on it.

Premise: Teru's left alone in the world and penniless with the death of her (apparently much older) brother. Her brother leaves her nothing but a cell phone which will provide contact to "Daisy" who will look out for her in her brother's stead. The contacts are all via text messaging and Daisy becomes the primary support for Teru, providing guidance and encouragement. When she is bullied and threatened at school, she is both oppressed and defended by the irascible and disreputable janitor. And, yes, he's Daisy.

What works: This could easily have degenerated into a maudlin whinefest or the kind of soulless "romance" I often see in America where the protector is really just a thinly veiled rapist looking for an excuse. That isn't happening here for several reasons. Primarily the characters are fantastic, but also, though there is a good deal of action, drama and even tragedy, there is a healthy dose of humor. The plot is strong with some of the least absurd plots I've seen. Some of them are even quite clever. Each chapter is balanced, lessons without being preachy, realism balanced against farce. Through them all are a collection of atypical (at least to my limited manga experience) characters who are vibrant and complex and frequently moving.

The lack of preachiness in a manga that has a great deal of focus on making pretty big mistakes needing forgiveness is, in and of itself, pretty impressive. Of course, since we haven't quite reached the denouement (at least in English), there may still be surprises.

First, I have to give kudos to the heroine, Kurebayashi Teru. Manga heroines frequently are a disappointment to me, but Teru is brilliant. Poor and obviously touched by tragedy, going toe to toe with bullies and industrial spies, with a few side bad guys, she is no one's doormat. She is highly honorable, demonstrably smart (rather than we are just told she is), and highly sympathetic to others. She is loyal, trusting (but not stupidly so), with a decent temper and a spine of steel. Although her judgement isn't perfect (and what sixteen year old has excellent judgement?), she is resourceful and clever in addressing adversity, working well under pressure. Her attitudes are very mature for someone so young, but the exigencies of her situation make it believable, yet she has enough of her youthful attitudes and mentality that she still feels like a teenager in many ways.

She has a huge love for Daisy, her brother, and her protector/oppressor, Kurosaki, without being at all blind to their failings and without judging. She demonstrates repeatedly a willingness to sacrifice herself (like her precious messages from Daisy) to protect those she loves. She isn't perfect, however, and is capable of manipulating the circumstances to her own benefit and bouts of insecurity.

Kurosake/Daisy, the janitor, is one of the most interesting and compelling characters I've seen in any form. Once a cracker/hacker, then programmer working on Teru's brother's team, his past (presumably illegal) activities and poor judgement while working on the team put the whole team at risk. Teru's brother shielded him, "losing everything" in the process. Although Teru's brother died of stomach cancer, Daisy believes he's responsible for Teru's brother's death. There are some, as yet unexplained circumstances, that make it seem others agree with him.

Ostensibly, Daisy's atonement is looking out for Teru in her brother's stead, consumed with the belief that his sins can never be forgiven and that he's the last one on earth entitled to Teru's love. Daisy centers his life on looking out for Teru, not only by being the ever supportive Daisy via text, but also working as a janitor at her high school. Whereas Daisy via text always says the right thing, Kurosake the janitor is short-tempered, thoughtless, disreputable, crude, rude and insulting. Part of that is to preserve Daisy's anonymity (as much for Teru's benefit as his own, since she'd lose Daisy if she rejected him). Still, his careless kindness and his overt support make her suspect him and, even if they're different, fall in love with him. As someone married to a man more than a decade younger, I'm also familiar with the notion of fighting a romantic love that seems somehow unsavory.

Their relationship is wonderfully balanced, normal young people insulting/conflict/power struggle with quite believable mature mutual kindness and support. I had no trouble envisioning a very healthy interaction where they genuinely liked each others company, aside from any romantic interest. But I also appreciated how important the contact was, how much they both needed to have it. The other side characters, people who once worked with Teru's brother, but now equally devoted to Teru's (and Daisy's) interests, are charming, appealing, though drawn with quick bold strokes.

I thought I wouldn't like the artwork based on the cover, but I quickly changed my mind. Kurosaki is frequently portrayed unflatteringly, but his face is amazingly expressive with some of the best representations of horror and wistful sadness ever. Teru is quite beautiful. The stylized panels with, again, the sight gags and the expression of attitude are frequently hilarious.

Favorite character:
This was a hard one. When I first wrote this review, I gave the edge to Teru, a very strong and balanced character despite my fondness for Kurosaki. But, since then, I've read this manga probably a dozen times. And, when all is said and done, I love Kurosaki. He's not as balanced, admittedly, but I identify strongly his darker sides: wistful sadness and his sense of never being good enough. But his protectiveness, sarcasm and overt intelligence appeal strongly, too. He's compelling, complex and, in many ways, more vulnerable than Teru. How could I not love him?

Quotes (there are so many more than usual since the text is so compelling - I'm barely scratching the surface):

Teru: What do you think, Kurosaki? Is he a bad person? What if he became a hacker because of me . . .?
Kurosaki: What's the big deal? So he's a jerk. Quit worrying so much. It's not worth it. Besides he wanted to protect you even if he had to resort a crime. He's happy doing it. Don't beat yourself up over it. Just use him all you can.

Kurosaki: I mean just that. What if I'm Daisy? What if your precious precious Daisy turns out to be a total jerk like me?
Teru: That's goes without saying. I'll love everything about you. (When he's completely floored by that answer, she yanks out a handful of his hair for picking on "Daisy")

Takeda: I just expected you to beat me up.
Kurosaki: Haha, I wouldn't beat you up. If I did, I'd feel sorry for whoever had to clean up your brain splattered on the ground. One punch is all it would take.
Takeda: Oh, I see . . . So, you're really mad, huh?

The following are from volunteer translations, rather than the book.

Daisy: So many times when I wanted to run away, it was you who protected me. When I reveal my identity to you in person, the impression you have of the "kind Daisy" in the text will crumble. When that time comes, don't be sad. When I confess my crimes to you, please don't look away from me so that I wouldn't find ways to escape. Then I won't say, "Please forgive me."

Kurosaki: You haven't thought about all these at all, have you? Just simply waiting to ask for forgiveness, only thinking about how to comfort yourself a little. But, in the end, it only makes your sins heavier. Then you'll be in even greater agony than you're in right now. You're only betraying yourself, betraying those that believed in you. This is a very, very stupid sin.

Kurosaki: I'll give you a piece of advice. Just take it as a gift of congratulations. You're not an idiot like what everyone's been saying. You should know damn well why I was pissed, right? If you hurt my princess, this faithful servant will not know what he'll do next (putting out his cigarette in his fist).

Kurosaki: Dogs are nice though. It's like they're so genuine. You'll become happy just by touching them...
Teru: I know, right! Really, I know the feeling.
Kurosaki: (whispered) On the other hand, touching you is difficult. Holding back that is.
Teru: Huh? What do you mean?
Kurosaki: Nothing really. It means you should go home now.

What I didn't like: Again, not much. True, so far in what I've written four of our early villains are already completely redeemed (which usually irksome for me), but they were almost all manipulated, providing a parallel to Daisy's own situation that makes his forgiveness seem plausible. Since it's not over, I don't know if there are some that won't get redeemed.

There are some chapters that aren't moving forward very quickly. There are times, when you want them to just move somewhere. On the other hand, every manga spun out beyond the original intention is probably prone to that.

And, I admit, I had a problem with the ubiquitous smoking for every adult protagonist. I know being a smoker doesn't have anything to do with the merit of a person and know that smoking is a very pervasive habit among programmers. It fits the characters. But I don't know any responsible adult smokers who would wish this unhealthy and expensive habit on young impressionable minds, the target audience, so there's a part of me that wishes every adult protagonist wasn't constantly smoking, especially since they're so easy to identify with. Do I love the characters anyway? Hell yes.

Note: Dengeki Daisy has five books out in English (the fifth one on its way to me now) and chapters available out to at least Volume 7 as volunteer scans on-line. The translation is frequently different, but it just gets better and better as it moves on.


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