A Devil and Her Love Song Volume 1

A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 1 by Miyoshi Tomori

If you find yourself fatigued by ordinary shoujo manga, A Devil and Her Love Song is a great series to try read to restore your enthusiasm for the genre. It has an unconventional heroine, two quirky guys, and the promise of an examination of teen social issues with actual psychological depth. The “Devil” referred to in the title is Maria Kawai. She’s introduced to the reader as the object of derision on the subway, as she sits without getting up to offer her seat to the old lady suffering in front of her. When she gets off at her stop, she jostles the sleeping old man sitting next to her and whispers in the old woman’s ear “You must be a lousy pickpocket if you’re targeting a sleeping man, you old crook.” Maria possess incredible powers of intuition. She can instantly see the true feelings and motivations of the people around her. She also has absolutely no filter on her speech, and the habit of bluntly sharing her insights. This ensures that Maria is going to be a target wherever she goes.

Maria starts a new school and soon attracts the attention of an outgoing boy named Yasuke who offers to help her settle in. She comments “I can tell you’re not really a people person, you don’t have to force yourself to talk to me.” Yasuke comments to his friend Shin, “How did she know? I’m upbeat, I’m fun, everybody loves Yasuke!” Shin says that Maria is either being malicious or thoughtful, but in either case he wants nothing to do with her. Maria soon finds herself singled out and bullied, but Shin and Yasuke help her in different ways. With his outgoing facade, Yasuke advises that Maria needs to put “a lovely spin” on what she says so people will get along with her. This results in Maria developing a terrifyingly mannered tendency to tilt her head to the side while saying something horrible to people. Maria begins to start caring about the way she relates to people, seeing “a lovely spin” as a way to view people in the most adorable light possible, while Yasuke attempts to explain that it is a mask he takes off at the end of the day.

Despite Shin’s protests he’s drawn to Maria, intervening in a number of bullying incidents while Maria returns the favor by finding his secret hiding place and dumping water on him when he’s taking a smoke break. Maria is actually able to talk to Shin in a direct way without driving him away, and she actually shares some of her own feelings and experiences instead of commenting on his behavior as though he is the subject of a psychological experiment. Tomori’s character designs are all very attractive, and she does a good job portraying Maria’s cool outer shell when dealing with other people contrasting with the more natural expressions Maria exhibits when she thinks about her own feelings.

I put down A Devil and Her Love Song feeling incredibly intrigued to find out how Maria is going to grow and evolve as a character. She has incredible reserves of inner strength, but I think it will take a long time before she’s able to make true friends or navigate the treacherous hallways of high school without incident. Maria is a refreshing change from the peppy or passive heroines that populate many shoujo series, and I’m excited to see where she’ll wind up.

Basara Volumes 9 and 10

Basara Volume 9

As the ninth volume opens, Sarasa finds herself just where she wanted to be – with Nagi’s mentor Doctor Basho. Rescued after a shipwreck, she overheard an assassination plot as she was regaining consciousness on the beach. Unaware that Sarasa is so near, Shuri meets with Okinawa’s democratically elected president Asato. His thoughts are full of military strategy and contempt for the island which appears to be unprotected to the point of almost provoking attack. When he questions the president about his plans if Japan attacks, he replies that he doesn’t want to turn his country into a battleground and prefers to avoid fighting. Nakajin takes Sarasa around to see if she can hear the voice of the person directing the assassination. She recognizes the plotter as Nakajin’s older brother and main rival to the president Unten!

One of the most consistent things about Basara is every so often seeing the flashes of brilliant insanity that make Sarasa/Tatara such an inspiring leader. In this case the dramatic scene occurs at a bullfight ceremony where despite the fact that she’s blind she climbs the rigging above the ring and yells a warning to the president. Shuri foils the assassination attempt with a well placed coconut and yells a warning himself. Sarasa hears his voice and calls for him, ripping of her eye bandages as she stands in the middle of a herd of rampaging bulls. I’m not sure how lovers could be reunited in a more dramatic fashion. Seeing Shuri and Sarasa reunite after dodging bulls and assassins was very satisfying. What follows is a brief idyll, and Sarasa and Shuri contemplate their experiences in a way that shows how they are so far apart as people even though they love each other. Shuri has decided that he’s tired of having everything handed to him and even though he has nothing after being kicked out of his city, he’s going to achieve his ultimate goal of ruling the world with his own power. The lessons about work that Doctor Basho were trying to teach him have some unintended effects. Sarasa sees the peaceful democracy in Okinawa and vows to use it as the template for the new Japan she hopes to build as Tatara.

Basara Volume 10

The reunion between the lovers is brief, as they are separated quickly. Shuri shows flashes of his usual military brilliance as he defends Okinawa from Japan’s fleet. Sarasa has her Byakko sword back, and she calls upon Tatara as she goes to defend President Asano. Things are more complex then they appear to be on the island nation, as the true nature between the breach between Unten and Asano is revealed. Sarasa is worried that Unten and Nakajin will end up killing each other. Shuri fights a piratical battle on the sea, with some surprise allies from the Japanese army and a fireworks display from the nearby foreign fleet.

Shuri’s quick thinking and tactical brilliance show that he’s just as inspiring a leader as Tatara. While Sarasa takes action based on her emotions, Shuri makes the educated bets of a high stakes gambler. The fate of Unten and Nakajin might foreshadow an ending for Sarasa and Shuri. Sarasa shares some heartfelt conversations with Unten, who challenges her about trusting her followers with her secret. A new chapter begins for Sarasa and Shuri. She leaves to go back to Japan, leaving Shuri to fume that he has no way to get in touch with her. The end of this volume concludes with new trust between Sarasa and her followers, and new dangers as she has to find out what happened to Hayato.

Thinking back about the series so far, it is really amazing how much Tamura has been able to pack into ten volumes. Shuri’s suffered what would be an enormous setback and is in the process of starting to put his empire back again. Despite Sarasa’s meandering journey, she’s put together a group of devoted followers and is beginning to grasp what becoming the leader of a rebellion really means beyond just following along with other people’s expectations of the “Boy of Destiny.” Sarasa and Shuri are apart but they both now have the support of new friends, and it is easy to understand and sympathize with the motivations from each side as they slowly move forwards to a place where they’ll have no choice but to confront each other as King and Rebel.

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 6

Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 6 by Arina Tanemura

I’ve missed a bunch of volumes of this series (must go back and get them) and an extensive supporting cast now surrounds the protagonist moon princess Sakura and her fiancenemy Aoba. The lines are now drawn between the humans and the moon people led by Sakura’s older brother Enju. Sakura is trapped in the middle, faced with the fact that she’s going to cause the destruction of the side she chooses not to ally herself with. While I’ve missed a bunch of backstory, it wasn’t hard for me to pick up and enjoy this volume, because Tanemura excels at creating pretty manga. The main story here focused on the relationship of Asagiri and Ukyo and their distant history in a matriarchal village filled with snow spirit maidens.

Asagiri’s village has plenty of women and very few men. While Ukyo goes out of his way to be nice to her, she doesn’t have much use for him. All the other women keep trying to pursue him. The snow village has a legend which demands that a maiden sacrifice herself to ensure the safety of all the inhabitants. There are creepy snow hags in the mountains, and they seem to be increasing in number! I have to take a moment to note that the snow hags look like demons out of a horror manga, with wrinkly faces, empty eye sockets, and mouths of broken teeth. The snow hag images are quite disconcerting and effective when compared with Tanemura’s usual ornately pretty style. Asagiri and Ukyo end up developing a tentative romance, and this ensures Asagiri’s doom as jealous females in the village manipulate the sacrifice selection process to ensure that Asagiri is going to be the one chosen for this year. Asagiri and Ukyo’s story had a folktale feel to it, and Tanemura is always great at portraying the scorn and anger that result in love gone horribly wrong. Asagiri has a revelation about the true nature of the legend behind her village, and the effects of her new knowledge and subsequent loss of faith are profound.

There was an almost shocking shift of tone between Asagiri’s fate and the back-up stories that concluded this volume. The Angelic Gold Coin of Maple Rose is an entirely too sweet story about an angel who becomes human for a day. I was more amused by Mascot Sports Festival, which features all the sidekick characters from Tanemura’s other series fighting it out to see who is the cutest. Most of my amusement was centered around seeing all the characters line up with Finn, the angel from Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne drawn as so infinitesimally small that she needs her own arrow and name label. There’s an additional bonus story from Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross, which fans of that series should also find amusing.

Overall this manga reminded me of what Tanemura does best, and the character designs for the snow hags were a real surprise. I need to fill in the gaps in my manga collection!

Review copy provided by the publisher

Kamisama Kiss Volume 7 by Julietta Suzuki

Kamisama Kiss Volume 7 by Julietta Suzuki

One volume of Kamisama Kiss is pretty similar to the rest, but that doesn’t really matter because Suzuki’s series is so cute and well-executed. One thing that I was excited to see is a bit of a trend to longer storylines, with a chapter that will be continued in the next volume! This doesn’t happen all too often in Suzuki’s manga as many of the chapters in her books are remarkably self-contained.

This volume starts out with a cute story about new Snake Shinsei Mizuki, who is feeling left out because he has to stay back at the shrine while Nanami and Tomoe go to school in the human world. Mizuki is spectacularly unsuited to the modern world, managing to get conned into buying a goofy looking protection sticker that he wears on his head as soon as he steps foot in the outside world. The next story shows Nanami and Tomoe visiting an amusement park together. Nanami is feeling suspicious and jealous when she finds out that Tomoe has been keeping a woman’s hairpin in his room. Tomoe is still loudly proclaiming that he’ll never fall in love with a human woman, while basically going on a date with Nanami. Nanami’s jealously almost ends up derailing their day, but they end up having a relatively peaceful ride on the ferris wheel.

The larger issue everybody has to deal with is Nanami’s attendance at a gathering called the Kamu-Hakari in Izumo. Mizuki informs Nanami that taking a fox shinshi along will result in Tomoe being harassed. Nanami ends up attending the gathering with Mizuki, but her naivete and expectations that other Kami are going to be nice are about to be tested horribly. One of the most enjoyable parts of Kamisama Kiss is seeing the unique character designs Suzuki develops for the otherworldly beings who Nanami meets, and the Kamu-Hakari gathering is full of new, slightly menacing gods who are not amused at the idea of welcoming a human in their group. Nanami finds herself cut off from any support and encounters Kirihito, a mysterious human with something extra going on. Nanami is promptly sent on a dangerous mission to the land of the dead, while Tomoe tries to live it up since his mistress has left him behind.

While there were a couple of fun stories that focused on individual characters, I was happy to see the turn towards more narrative complexity. It will be interesting to see if Nanami comes away from the Kamu-Hakari with more godlike abilities, or if her human perceptions and emotions will continue to be her best weapons in dealing with other kamisama. Tomoe continues to protest far to much about his emotions and Nanami continues to pine, but after seven volumes I’m still not tired of reading their story.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 2 by Rei Toma

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 2 by Rei Toma

I enjoyed the first volume of Dawn of the Arcana, so I was happy to see that the second volume continues to be an entertaining fantasy story with the added bonus of the development of a tortured love triangle that was hinted at in the earlier volume. Caesar and Nakaba continue to have a rough time as newlyweds in a political marriage. Toma is pretty good at portraying Caesar as a poor little rich boy who is deserving of sympathy. He makes some clumsy attempts to give Nakaba expensive presents, when really all she cares about is being able to rescue an injured bird. While Caesar is quick to get angry when he sees Nakaba rejecting his advances, the puppy dog look on his face when he accidentally does something to cause Nakaba to be happy is pretty endearing.

Nakaba finds herself falling for her enemy prince husband despite her best intentions, and as I was expecting her servant Loki isn’t all that happy to see Nakaba and her new husband getting along. Nakaba also gets a welcome dose of levity when a little boy from her home named Rito shows up to be another one of her attendants. Rito is an Ajin like Loki, but he exhibits tiny ram horns in contrast to Loki’s canine characteristics. But things aren’t going to go smoothly for Nakaba, as a series of poisonous attacks on Caesar results in her being placed under suspicion by the court. Loki explains the source of Nakaba’s visions and says that her power may be growing. Loki’s quiet patience finally wears out and he confesses his feelings to Nakaba. She’s left feeling torn between her loyalty to Loki and the guilt that she feels when she enjoys spending time with Caesar.

One of my quibbles with this volume is that Nakaba didn’t have any clear ass-kicking moments that were so nicely exhibited in the first volume. While being caught in the throes of young love may throw her for a loop momentarily, I’m hoping that she has a few more take charge moments in later volumes. As she begins to be more comfortable with her visions, it will be interesting to see if she’s able to untangle the complicated web of plots that surround her in a new and unfamiliar kingdom. While the plot elements in Dawn of the Arcana still aren’t all that original, I’m very interested to see what happens next with Nakaba, Loki, and Caesar. I just hope Nakaba has a chance to punch someone in the next volume.

Review copy provided by the publisher.