Black Bird vol. 17
Boys Over Flowers vol. 15
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 12
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 9
Dengeki Daisy vol. 8
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 7
Have y’all checked out Children of the Whales yet? Netflix is still holding the anime hostage, but the first volume of the manga is out in English. It’s good, solid fantasy that builds up a world I’m interested in exploring more, with an interesting magic system and plenty of mystery. The character writing is a little stiff, but the intrigue more than makes up for it.
It’s also the first shoujo series to be published under the Viz Signature line. For the uninitiated, Viz has a few imprints: Shojo Beat for their shoujo titles; Shonen Jump for, well, Shonen Jump; Viz Select for smaller digital releases; and Viz Signature, which they define as “Bringing classic and cutting-edge graphic novels to an audience of discerning readers hungry for sophisticated stories and superlative art.” This is great, except the line reminds me more of the tastes of old-school comic book guys that blocked shoujo out of the US manga scene for much of the 80’s and 90’s. Yes, it does have some complex, challenging series, such as the various works of Naoki Urasawa and Inio Asano. But, other than a couple of Fumi Yoshinaga works and Children of the Whales, it’s almost universally seinen.
It irks me that men’s tastes define what makes stories “sophisticated”. What makes the excessive violence of Tokyo Ghoul inherently superior to the thoughtful geopolitics of Yona of the Dawn? How is the exuberant pulp of Black Lagoon more deserving of that designation than the wartime romance of Basara? How is the tragedy porn of Bokurano an improvement over Revolutionary Girl Utena?
It’s more than just marketing. The books published under the Signature line are noticeably nicer than their other titles: heavier, whiter paper stock, better print quality, and sturdier covers. These are the titles they hope to sell to Collectors, to market outside just the usual manga community. They have prestige. And yet again, media aimed at girls and women gets shunted to its own little label where the men can ignore it. I don’t mean to trash on Shojo Beat. The people behind it, mostly women from what I can tell, work hard to get their titles out there and I have nothing but respect for them.
Maybe Children of the Whales will mark a new pattern for Viz. And besides, they’re far from the only ones putting out shoujo manga in the US. Most companies don’t really distinguish between demographics in their releases, after all, and a few do treat their top shoujo properties with respect. Yen Press did a beautiful release of Fruits Basket. Translator Rachel Thorn and Fantagraphics’ hardcover releases of Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas belong on any collector’s shelves. I just hope someday, the fact that female-oriented series can be just as sophisticated as what’s aimed at men will be accepted as a given.
Black Bird vol. 17
Despite knowing that it spells her doom, Misao is determined to bear her child. But her insistence on enjoying her last days to the fullest only fuels Kyo’s determination to save her. Kyo is so desperate for answers that he’s even willing to listen to his father’s wild ideas, although though they might put Misao as far beyond his reach as death would… (summary by Viz)
Even though it’s not on any major lists, I ended up putting, “She’s lucky to have him,” under emotional abuse. The penultimate volume of Black Bird perfectly illustrates why: under certain conditions, it’s something resembling gaslighting, both to the character and the reader. Black Bird talks out of both sides of its mouth, showing Kyo very explicitly abusing Misao, all while everyone talks about how wonderful he is. Misao’s parents talk about what a devoted, even doting husband and father Kyo will make. There are ways to use this effectively; after all, many abusive relationships look “perfect” from the outside because abusers are adept at hiding their behavior. However, we are meant to take these words at their face value because, while Kyo may occasionally go too far, Misao is still singularly devoted to him. This contributes to the idea that the way he sexually, physically, and emotionally abuses her are flaws or quirks that can be overlooked, and readers who don’t know better
I have to say, Kyo is terrible this volume. Misao, while not actively wishing for death, has more or less accepted her own mortality, while Kyo still desperately searches for a way to save her. His stopgap is to preserve her until they find a cure, so that she would wake up still 17 years old while everyone around her has aged, possibly for decades. Misao, of course, doesn’t want to be a pregnant Rumplestiltskin, but Kyo tries to force her into it. Not convince her, but force her. He shoves his pregnant wife when she refuses, and later she’s so terrified, she almost miscarries and goes into hysterics when the doctor tries to treat her. There’s no trust in their relationship. Misao knows that Kyo, if he feels like it, can and will violate her wishes and her boundaries. Tearful pleading has no place in a healthy relationship, but Misao weeps and begs him to listen to her regularly throughout the series.
Boys Over Flowers vol. 15
Junpei has promised to protect Tsukushi and always be there for her. His promise comes just in time, since Tsukushi has been given another of the infamous “red slips,” the mark of someone targeted for abuse. Meanwhile, Akira and Sojiro are desperately looking for Tsukasa, who has been gone for days. It turns out that Junpei harbors a terrible grudge against Tsukasa and is using Tsukushi as bait to get him! This has shockingly violent results. Later Tsukushi gets dressed up and attends Tsukasa’s birthday party. Little does she realize the implications that attendance has! (summary by Viz)
Oh noooo, Tsukushi’s friend who Domyoji didn’t like turned out to be a creep, oh noooo. Who could have seen this coming? When will she learn that even if Domyoji is a violent dimwit, he knows what’s best for her and she should just give in to him? Because if she doesn’t, SOMEONE will make her pay! Since Domyoji got to be the big strong hero and rescue Tsukushi from the bad bad other men, the balance has shifted back in his favor. While he’s happy and confident in his love for her, she’s off-balance and struggling with her feelings.
“I can’t help my feelings” as a trope earned this volume, and several previously, a point. In fact, six of the points this time are for “tropes” rather than actual signs of abuse. In this case, I use tropes as common narrative conventions that are used to excuse or minimize the main character’s behavior. While they are not out and out signs of abuse, they are still insidious. When the other boys attack Tsukushi, they earned points for “The other guy is worse,” even though their assault isn’t much worse than anything Domyouji has done. They all have grudges against him – Junpei in particular hates him because he almost killed a friend of his years ago. Domyouji beat him up so badly his organs ruptured. Tsukushi doesn’t spend a minute thinking about the implications; she just yells brashly at them about how they’re trash compared to her boyfriend.
In the chat, Kamio responds to the question about whether she would date Domyouji, and responds, “No, that would be scary!” It reminds me of how he really only became the main love interest because of editorial interference. He was popular with readers, so Kamio’s editors had her change the plot so that Tsukushi would date with him, resulting in this torturous, abusive, but horribly readable romance. With a few tweaks, Kamio could have written it in a way that didn’t seem so supportive of girls staying with abusive boyfriends because they just can’t help their feelings; it could have been a story about the power dynamics of extreme wealth and social standing.
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 12
Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, yet the two develop feelings for each other while political forces threaten to tear their world apart. With Caesar’s departure to Belquat, the couple separates. Meanwhile, Nakaba manages to take control of Senan as ruler! But once Caesar’s father, King Guran, decides to break the peace treaty and invade Senan, what will Caesar do when he’s caught between his father and the woman he loves? (summary by Viz)
Caesar and Nakaba are finally reunited! Hooray! And now they’re both rulers of their respective countries! Yay…?
Okay, I’ll be real: this was all way too easy. Much like Caesar’s shift from spoiled, abusive brat to sweet, loving husband, nothing that happened in this volume felt truly earned. Nakaba ascends the throne at the start of the volume, immediately after threatening Adel’s life; by the end, she and Caesar are both the uncontested rulers of their countries. The volume description treats Caesar’s decision about whether or not to ally with Nakaba as a major cliffhanger, but he doesn’t spend a single moment struggling with the choice. His father says he wants to move in on Senan and Caesar immediately leaves to rebel. No succession battles, no court intrigue, nothing.
Fully half of the volume is spent on a flashback about the king and his first love Sara, a blonde commoner who would go on to become the queen and mother of Prince Cain. It’s overall quite sweet, and could serve as an okay one-shot in and of itself. It’s the sort of relationship that could turn troubling because of the power dynamic, but the king treats Sara with kindness and respect throughout. It’s still something of an overly rosy depiction, considering her blonde hair marks her as lower class. There’s grumbling, but Sara never seems to suffer for it because she gets all the emotional support she needs from her royal husband. It’s fine, but a bit tepid.
Next volume is the last! Can Rei Toma bring this to a heart-stopping conclusion? Or maybe… just a conclusion.
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 9
Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate which exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. Thanks to Himari’s journey in the spiritual realm, Aoi is able to remember his past. While preparing a party to celebrate, Yukari tells Himari that Aoi shares a special connection with her parents… (summary by Viz)
Sorry about that. When you’re in a relationship for a long time, sometimes it’s nice to get invested in a fictional couple and live vicariously through their budding romance. True facts: I actually audibly squealed at the end of the volume, and my partner, without looking away from his computer, asked me who kissed.
The Demon Prince of Momochi House has the first couple for the series I’ve reviewed for this column that has earned that reaction from me. It’s the first series that really earned that level of investment. Himari and Aoi treat each other sweetly, supporting each other through their own struggles. Each does what the other cannot – as the Omamori, Aoi can more effectively manage the ayakashi of Momochi House, while Himari devotes herself to offering emotional support and unraveling the mystery that keeps him trapped there. Their roles are complementary, but each one retains their own dynamic personality. Himari goes to great lengths to help him and invests herself thoroughly, without ever asking him to love her back, that it’s beautiful when he returns her feelings.
There’s a lot of elements that make Himari and Aoi appealing to me as a couple. I have a weakness for the active heroine/passive hero matchup, so I always find it gratifying to see a heroine who works as hard to protect the hero as Himari does. Aoi himself is a sweetheart without being totally milquetoast, and that sweetness is exactly what makes me able to root for him. He doesn’t intentionally violate Himari’s boundaries, although he occasionally does out of sheer lack of awareness. When they do touch in the lead-up to their actually getting together, it’s sort of gently intimate: things like hugging, leaning on each other, and holding hands. It’s a lovely way to build up to the confession + first kiss.
Ahhhh, I love them so much.
Dengeki Daisy vol. 8
When Teru mistakenly tells Kurosaki to disappear from her life, she gets consumed by guilt because he actually vanishes. In order to get him back, she’ll have to uncover his past relationship with her brother along with the exact details of his crime… (summary by Viz)
Kurosaki runs off with his tail between his legs, separating himself from Teru for the majority of the volume, hence the lack of points. Most of the volume is spent on Kurosaki’s background – his history as a hacker, and how it led to Teru’s brother’s death and Kurosaki’s resulting survivor’s guilt. I was going to get down on the series for Kurosaki self-flagellating over “killing” Soichiro when it really wasn’t his fault, but you know what? Survivor’s guilt is a hell of a thing. It actually somewhat makes sense.
However, there is the matter of his complete withdrawal from Teru. He disappears because of that same survivor’s guilt, even knowing that she would forgive him wholeheartedly. I don’t want to get too deep into this. Kurosaki appears to suffer from PTSD, set off by Akira’s plot with the ferris wheel from the last volume. I’m not a trained psychologist, so I don’t want to settle too deep into my armchair to discuss whether or not he should be held responsible for up and disappearing on her. However, it’s framed as Teru needs to find him and rescue him with her forgiveness, to the extent that her male friend punches her in the stomach because she’s feeling depressed over it.
Once again, it’s up to the girl to swoop in and rescue the damaged love interest through her empathy and compassion, regardless of her own feelings. What Kurosaki did – admitting responsibility for Soichiro’s death and then up and disappearing – is really shitty. Berating and physically beating her for feeling down about it is even shittier. Let her process her damn feelings before she follows him down.
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 7
As Maria begins to recall bits and pieces of her tragic past, Yusuke tells her that he’ll stay by her side and support her, no matter what. Meanwhile, Maria still hopes to reconcile with Anna, so she enrolls in the same music school that Anna attends. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Anna wants Maria’s help or friendship… (summary by Viz)
The issue of communication rears its head again as volume 7 asks what you can do to save a traumatized person from themselves? Should you even try? Anna reveals that Maria has blocked out memories of her mother committing suicide in front of her, and touching her runs the risk of triggering those memories to return. The psychology behind it seems… specious, but reality has little to do with the situation here. Rather, the main issue is how the characters handle this knowledge. Shin withdraws from her without explanation, growing emotionally distant and refusing to connect with her, while Yusuke remains sweet and supportive, talking to her on the phone late into the night like a normal person. He encourages her to get out into the world, while Shin gets angry at the idea.
Honestly? It doesn’t take much to see that Yusuke’s approach is better. Their music teacher remarks, “Technique is necessary to reach people’s hearts.” His comment irritates Maria, but it applies pretty well to the situation with Shin and Yusuke. Shin lacks social graces – a “technique”, if you will. Even if he’s a good person at heart, his grumpiness makes it hard for him to reach people or handle delicate situations like Maria’s. Anna manipulates him easily into distancing himself. Meanwhile, Yusuke absolutely has technique. He handles tough situations deftly and understands what people will and won’t respond to. His late-night phone conversations with Maria, while they’re about small, silly things, comfort her and helps them connect. He wears a mask at times, unlike the unpolished Maria and Shin, but in the end, that’s what technique comes down to: a learned skill. Social technique is no different, and it’s helping him succeed in reaching Maria’s heart.
Black Bird vol. 18 (conclusion!)
Boys Over Flowers vol. 16
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 13 (conclusion!)
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 10
Dengeki Daisy vol. 9
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 8