Let's kick off the 12 Reviews of Christmas with a new series from Viz's Shoujo Beat line.
A DEVIL AND HER LOVE SONG (Akuma to Love Song), by Miyoshi Tomori. First published in 2007, first published in North America in 2012.
PLOT: Maria Kawai is a beautiful young woman who was recently expelled from her Catholic high school (a rarity in Japan), and is now transferring to public school. Unfortunately, Maria is extremely observant, pessimistic, blunt in her speech, and honest to a fault, so she soon antagonzies her new classmates by pointing out their foibles. It gets to the point where her fellow schoolgirls begin to actively act against her through rumors, pranks, physical assault, and attempts to incriminate Maria in the eyes of the teachers. There are two students who don't immediately hate Maria, though. The first is Yusuke Kanda, a cheerful blond boy who tries to put a positive spin on all things in life, including Maria. The second is Shin Meguro, the class rebel who tends to go all tsundere around Maria. Through it all, Maria tries to focus on what she learned from the nuns and to try and find the positive qualities in people. Will Maria ever find the social equivalent of her saving grace?
STORY: It's rather interesting to see a modern shoujo series where the heroine is such a pessimist. Most shoujo stories star vulnerable ingenues, cheerful ditzes, or tempestuous tsunderes, but Maria fits none of these molds. She does want to believe in the best of people, as she's been taught, but she also believes in being honest about herself and others, and by doing so she tends to point out all the flaws and faults in others. Unfortunately for Maria, her classmates are a vicious little bunch of insecure sociopaths, so they lash out at her for disrupting their social status quo. She can't even charm them with her looks, as she tends to wear a neutral sort of scowl, and her attempts to smile are...well, best not lingered upon.
Yusuke's also a rather fascinating character, as the manga clearly doesn't want you to believe that his brand of optimism is a good thing. In fact, it all but states that Yusuke is deluding himself by repressing his negative qualities and blindly overlooking those in others. Shin's perspective in comparison is more grounded, but he also fits closer to your typical brooding, Byronic love interest, always annoyed at how Maria will not defend herself against the slings and arrows of others. The rest of the cast is not notable, as it seems to be mostly composed of Mean Girls who take every opportunity to lash out at Maria, regardless of circumstance, and as the volume progresses their actions escalate from mere passive-agressiveness to flat-out bullying (and thus escalate from relatively believable to something approaching ridiculousness).
Still, A Devil and Her Love Song manages to stand out from the crowd by focusing less on romance and more on its unique heroine and the constant conflict between her desire to find the best in people and finding only the worst.
ART: The overall art style isn't terribly original, but Maria does stand out as a striking beauty with her dark bob, full pouting lips, and dark, limpid eyes. The page layouts are a bit jumbled at times, with panels split up and stacked over one another. The panels are very tightly focused, so expect a lot of talking heads and a lot of screen effects and tones instead of backgrounds. Really, aside from Maria herself, the artwork is very typical of most modern shoujo stories. As a whole it's effective, but it lacks any sort of distinct style and the quality over all is simply average.
PRESENTATION: As true for most Viz works, there are few extras to be found. Here all we have are a few character sketches and profiles. I do want to note the cover art - I like that Viz stepped away from its usual solid-color framing for the Shoujo Beat line here. Instead, they frame a lovely portrait of Maria through the use of roses, a cross, and the title itself, and the whole thing is nicely colored in shades of red and black. It's a look that fits well with Maria's darker outlook on things and is very eye-catching.
A Devil and Her Love Song may look a bit average, but its strange, pessimistic tone and unconventional heroine help to make up for any artistic faults it may possess.
This series is published in the USA by Viz. The series is ongoing in Japan, with 13 volumes currently available. 6 volumes have been published in the USA, and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!
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