Black Bird Volumes 9 and 10

I know Black Bird is wildly popular, but I have a hard time getting into it. I read the first couple volumes and couldn’t get into all the weird wound licking, although I suppose demonic wound licking is at least a twist on the whole vampire romance trope. My main problem with this manga is that I find both of the main characters unappealing. Misao is basically the ultimate trophy bride, since she is a human girl who gives extra powers to whichever demon claims her. The demonic Kyo is just generally unsympathetic.

In Volume 9 Misao and Kyo deal with the aftermath of her allowing herself to be “claimed” by Kyo. Now that she’s Kyo’s woman officially, all the demon clans are on the prowl after her. Kyo’s clan wants Misao for the healing properties of her blood and the other demon clans are fighting back because they don’t want to support the sudden imbalance of power in the demon world. As a result other humans are targeted in the demonic civil war. Innocent humans are possessed by demons and sent after Misao, and Kyo has to fight them off. Misao is filled with guilt, but her response to the situation is to have a nervous breakdown instead of doing something more productive. Kyo is as contradictory as ever, as he orders Misao to “choose humanity” and throws her at demon hunter Raikoh only to suddenly appear and put on a big show by asking Raikoh if he wants to watch him rape her. Now, I’m pretty forgiving of the horrible sexual politics in manga just because I’m willing to forgive a lot for a story that is either humorous (Ai Ore, Butterflies, Flowers) or has a certain over the top soap opera tone (Hot Gimmick). But Black Bird doesn’t have this lighter touch which is why I find myself utterly unengaged in the story after scenes like that.

Volume 10 starts off a little more promising as Kyo’s estranged father pops up to give Misao the lowdown on Kyo’s tragic family past. The wars between the demon clans start to get more serious and it turns out that Kyo’s evil brother is alive and wearing an eyepatch (so you know he is extra evil). Kyo continues to act weirdly schizophrenic as he brings Misao to tears by telling her that she can’t come with him on his mission to restore order to the demon village only to suddenly change his mind and say “Just kidding….silly.” Seriously, Ryoki “You are my slave!” from Hot Gimmick seems like Prince Charming compared to Kyo.

Sakurkoji’s art is fine, with distinct character designs and interesting yet easy to follow panel layouts. I actually liked her short two volume series Backstage Prince, so I just wish that she’s hit it big with a series featuring characters that aren’t acting like jerks or spineless wimps all the time.

Otomen Volume 11

Otomen Volume 11 by Aya Kanno

I’d collected a fair amount of Otomen when I stopped feeling the need to keep preordering it. I like it, but the episodic nature of the book means that most of the volumes revolve around the same conflict – will Asuka’s secret talents for feminine pursuits like knitting and baking be revealed and destroy his facade of manliness? The 11th volume is pretty much the same, but it wasn’t very hard for me to pick up on what was going on after skipping several volumes and Otomen is consistently funny.

Asuka is on a class trip/feudal Japan reenactment when he and his friends find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Asuka’s enigmatic and tomboyish girlfriend Ryo promptly starts foraging, while Asuka decides to lift everybody’s spirits by constructing lovely origami flowers. Ryo gets stranded in the woods and ends up cheerfully and capably rescuing Tonomine, who comments to Asuka “She may be a girl…but she’s a true samurai.” Other episodes in this volume includes Asuka attending secret baking lessons for men and a showdown at school over Valentine’s chocolate between Asuka and “Pheromone Prince” Suzaku Oji, the school nurse. Kanno’s sense of humor really comes through in her character designs, as Oji is drawn with flowing hair and a ruffled shirt worn under his white labcoat. He makes pronouncements like “come to me, my kittens,” and all the teenage girls swoon.

Asuka’s better nature begins to make inroads against the strict gender roles enforced by his school, but things are about to take a turn for the worse when his mother comes back from overseas. My major complaint with this volume was that there wasn’t enough focus on Ryo and mangaka Juta Tachibana. A bonus story of “Love Chick” the manga Juta wrote based on Asuka and Ryo with their genders swapped was included in the back of the volume. This was fun to see, since Kanno drew it in a deliberately more simple and insipid style.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 8

Butterflies, Flowers Volume 8 by Yuki Yoshihara

This is the final volume! I’ve enjoyed this series, which I tend to think of as “stealth josei” because even though it was released under the Shojo Beat imprint it skews a lot older. This series about a rich woman working in an office under the direction of a former servant to her family who she winds up dating might seem incredibly frivolous, but it ends up being enlivened by Yoshihara’s offbeat sense of humor and the caring exhibited in the relationship between Choko and Masayuki.

After dating for some time, Choko and Masayuki face the ultimate test when Choko goes on an arranged marriage meeting and Masayuki appears to be doing nothing to stop it. Of course he reveals his objections in a dramatic and hilariously crude manner, but will this odd couple be able to take the next step in their relationship? Choko resorts to hiding marriage registration papers around the office, trying to get Masayuki to sign the documents in a moment of distraction. When Masayuki finally comes around and asks her to marry him, he’s unable to call her by her first name because he’s so fully internalized their master/servant relationship. Choko wants a relationship of equals, and wants to move forward but Masayuki seems pathologically unable to see her as his equal. There isn’t really any doubt that the couple will get together, but despite all the weird master servant jokes, otaku Gundam references, and random crossdressers, there’s a certain level of sweetness present when Choko and Masayuki are able to move on from their roles as lady and servant.

I wish more series like Butterflies, Flowers would be published over here. I don’t mind plenty of high school romance shojo, but it is nice to have a little bit of variety in the settings of romance manga. I hope Viz licenses more Yoshihara manga because her quirky sensibility makes this series unique and weirdly endearing.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Dengeki Daisy Volume 6

Dengeki Daisy Volume 6 by Kyousuke Motomi

I have to admit after six volumes, the storylines in Dengeki Daisy are getting a bit predictable. Fortunately Motomi is such a skilled author that I don’t really care! The slowly developing relationship between plucky orphan high school student Teru and grumpy janitor/hacker Kurosaki is still moving forward at a glacial pace. Teru and Kurosaki are both pretending that she hasn’t discovered that he’s her mysterious guardian known as Daisy. I think one of the reasons why I tolerate the slower plot developments in Dengeki Daisy is that Teru and Kurosaki’s inaction about their relationship is tied in to their emotional states. In more predicatable shoujo manga, there would be plenty of outside forces popping up to prevent a couple getting together such as the sudden appearance of a long-lost fiance or an evil male model. Teru and Kurosaki both aren’t in an emotional place to deal with being honest with their feelings, so everything goes unsaid even as they face danger yet again.

I have learned now through this manga that school nurses are even more dangerous than male models. Teru investigates the possible guilt of Arai in a stabbing incident centered around the ex-school nurse Ms. Mori. It turns out that while Arai is guilty of some things, he’s really being set up as a patsy. Teru places herself in danger yet again, but she trusts that Daisy will be able to save her. While this scenario might make it seem like Teru’s a typical captive heroine, she does actually fight back and continues to use her cell phone strategically in summoning help. When I was reading this I was struck again by how well Motomi conveys the vastly different moods of the characters. There’s cynicism, playfulness, repressed emotion, and gloom. Teru and Kurosaki seem to go through so much in this volume, but their relationship is summed up in a scene where she’s perched on the monkey bars at school and he coaxes her to jump down in to his arms. Kurosaki thinks about the guilt he bears over her brother’s death and how much better off his life is with Teru in it. She thinks he’s acting strangely and wonders if he’s drunk, and he makes a crude joke about her youthfulness. So in just a few panels we go from reflection and intimacy to reinforcement of the teasing that keeps a safe distance between the couple. Scenes like this, with so much packed into a few panels are why I continue to enjoy reading Dengeki Daisy.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Ooku Volume 6

Fumi Yoshinaga is the topic of the Manga Moveable Feast for August. Ooku is by far her most artistically ambitious work, and while I enjoy and appreciate it very much, it doesn’t conjure up in me the same feelings of fondness as some of her other series like Antique Bakery and Flower of Life. Ooku’s more complex alternate history framework ensures that the series moves around telling different stories, without the leisurely time devoted to the slice of life character-based interaction that Yoshinaga excels at.

The sixth volume of Ooku focuses on the Shogun Tsunayoshi. Her unrealistic edicts of compassion for animals make her unpopular with her subjects, and she struggles with naming a successor. Even though she’s caught up in the machinery of government, it is the small human considerations that drive her decisions. Though her father is senile, she doesn’t want to name an heir who he opposes. After an assassination attempt, Tsunayoshi is strangely unmoved, not wanting to make an effort to live anymore. She finds brief comfort in the arms of Senior Chamberlin Emonnosuke. The tension between the official history of the shogunate and the events that actually happened is always present, as the third person narration hints at rumors the reader is shown to be true.

The second story in this volume introduces Sayko, a man so desperate to get away from his abusive mother that he clutches at the possibility of entering the service of the next Shogun Ienobu. He regards the Valet of the Chamber Akifusa as his savior, falling in love with her. One of the underlying themes of Ooku is the way power twists and changes normal human relationships. Akifusa has Sayko trained in all the gentlemanly arts of the samurai, and then tells him that she’s been grooming him for the role of the Shogun’s concubine. When Sakyo sees Ienobu sitting with her official consort, he thinks “These two people should have grown older in happy harmony, with nothing to come between them. Instead, because as Shogun she must produce an heir, her highness must lie with the likes of me…’Tis a wretched thing…”

The constraints posed on the characters by the structure of society and the office of the Shogun ensure that the best anyone can hope for is a moment of fleeting happiness. I put this volume down wondering if the most recent shogun Yoshimune will be able to enact some reforms after spending so much time learning about her predecessors.

Review copy provided by the publisher