>> Friday, August 5, 2011
Normally I describe my favorite character in the original review (and I have one: Ryuuji just edges out Tsukasa, though it's a close-run thing). However, in Tokyo Crazy Paradise, the characters are too good to wedge into a single post review. That's how good they are.
Nakamura-Sensei tends toward large casts and there's quite a sizable one here, but unlike Skip Beat! with an endless parade of charming characters, the list of truly notable characters here is much shorter, the villains less charming (with one exception). BUT, the notable characters they have are fantastic.
We have to start with Kozeki Tsukasa, who would definitely have been my favorite character her if Ryuuji had been just a little less perfect. Ostensibly one of four brothers, she's gregarious, volatile, straight-forward and prone to whimsy. Raised as a boy by her cop parents, she fights like a pro (better, actually) and thinks of herself as a boy, which is a challenge as she's at the age where she's attracting men (which confuse them if they don't know her true gender). When she "cross-dresses," however, she's all girl. Still a butt-kicker, but quick to play feminine tricks to get whatever she wants. Since she's curvy and beautiful, both methods are effective.
She is naive and dense, depending on the topic, but she's got a sharp mind, an nose for trouble, and is quite observant and skilled with sniffing out bad guys and workable strategies. She's incredibly swift and exact and has this really cool chain with a weighted end she pulls out that is both offensive and defensive weapon. Really, it is so neat. She dodges bullets, beats small-time and big time hoodlums up with similar ease and is almost always able to leap between Ryuuji and his many assailants.
She's devoted to doing the right thing, helping the innocent (in a world where most walk by trying not to see. Despite her disdain for the yakuza, she has always been intrigued by Ryuuji (who is everything she's not) and quickly (and almost against her will) becomes devoted to protecting him. He frustrates her. She doesn't understand him. She doesn't trust him, but she's first trapped by her do-gooder nature and then by a genuine regard for Ryuuji.
As she starts out fighting her attraction to Ryuuji (and confounded by his overt interest in her) but quickly wants to be a friend. Over time, however, other concerns (including Ryuuji's unscrupulous and dangerous fiance) force her to try to deny her romantic feelings and his to protect herself and her family. Ah, if it were only so easy. What she does learn, however, is that she can't turn her back on Ryuuji, who she respects more and more, and devotes herself to his protection, whether she's ever more than his defender or not. And that's despite the growing contingent of other males sniffing around her. And the revelations about who she really is that challenge what she wants, what's important in the future.
Shirogami Ryuuji is the youthful leader of a powerful yakuza syndicate, a syndicate with unusual scruples and standards, including a prohibition in dealing with drugs or getting involved in human slavery or dealing in particularly nasty weapons (that they once manufactured for the military). Born prematurely to a mother that didn't survive his birth, Ryuuji is in the care of Kamojima (his bodyguard) from almost the first moment, groomed to be unemotional and completely devoted to the preservation of his yakuza group and their ideals. Brilliant, capable, skillful, Ryuuji masters everything and never lets his guard down around anyone, learning to hide his emotions and set aside his own needs in deference to those of his group. He's also close to Tsukasa's level in hand-to-hand as well as being a crack shot (which she is not).
He's a very powerful young man and well aware of his power and skills. He's serious and stoic and counts on those protecting him and supporting him to do their jobs without his intervention. When it comes to his honor, the standards of the Kuryugami (his syndicate), and his duty, he is uncompromising and demands the best, especially from himself. When his group choose a bride for him, he doesn't even consider questioning it (as far as can be seen).
And into this dispassionate perfection stumbles...Tsukasa, his heedless frivolous katagi (non-yakuza) classmate. Although ostensibly unfriendly when Tsukasa first comes asking for help (and ruthless about forcing her to become his bodyguard and help him find his father's killer), we eventually realize that he's always been intrigued by Tsukasa, that he was the one who saved her from drowning three years previously, and that, as a result, he knows Tsukasa's a girl. He is also well aware that Tsukasa is very capable combatant.
More than that, however, we soon learn that, around Tsukasa, he can be himself, that he can smile and lose his temper and be a teenager. His attraction for her sneaks up on him and he begins by manipulating the situation so she is stuck by his side (using any means necessary). Used to women throwing themselves to him, Ryuuji finds Tsukasa a reluctant (and unaware) object of his affection who both intrigues and frustrates. He pursues her aggressively, while accepting the poundings he takes as a result philosophically (note that Ryuuji does not nominally allow people to beat him up). She comes to his rescue; he does the same for her when her heedless meddling gets her into trouble (as it frequently does). As Kamojima is quick to realize, Tsukasa is the spot of light in a dark unforgiving life. He wants her, even though he doesn't really expect to have her the way he wants, though he is quickly jealous if she interacts with anyone else. (And it's Tsukasa, not just a girl that looks like her. She has a temporary personality snafu due to poisoning and what he wants is his own Tsukasa back). And, yeah, that appeals to me.
And I really can't tell you more about him without giving away great gobs of the story. Pity.
Instead of talking about the villains (though there is one notable one), I want to focus on the other pivotal character here, Kamojima Toshiyuki, Ryuuji's bodyguard and the man who effectively raised him. Kamo-san is cool for several reasons, not the least of which is that he seems so harmless in general, when he's really a pretty decent badass (though not a good shot). But, though he taught Ryuuji growing up, where Ryuuji's focus is the good of the syndicate, Kamo-san is focused on Ryuuji's happiness. Period.
That means, while Ryuuji's pulling back from Tsukasa and cozying up to his fiance for the good of his group (since the fiance has the blessing of all the factions and can prevent internal strife), Kamo-san is trying to make sure Tsukasa is not driven away in the mean time. He makes no bones about working against the fiance. Even as Tsukasa's strongest supporter, the one he's focused on is Ryuuji, willing to put Tsukasa in any role that will make Ryuuji happy. Will he push Tsukasa to become a second wife for Ryuuji? You bet. Will he spread secrets about Tsukasa to make her more appealing to the yakuza (given she's a civilian?)? Hell yes.
The story about about Kamojima adoption of this pivotal role of Ryuuji's caretaker then bodyguard is heart-wrenching. His unselfish and unflinching focus on Ryuuji's happiness - not just survival, actual happiness - in this world where happiness seems hard to find, well, I can't see how you can't love Kamojima, even if he's pretty ruthless when it comes to everything else. Especially when you realize that, though he does the kindly appearing things really for Ryuuji's sake alone, they're still good things. In the end, he's working in Tsukasa's interests too because, well, she belongs with Ryuuji.
I can't do any of them justice here, actually.The best way to find out how truly amazing and satisfying these characters are is to read the books. Now if someone would just publish them in English.