D.N. ANGEL, by Yukiru Sugisaki. First published in 1997, and first published in North America in 2004.
It's Daisuke's 14th birthday, and this is the day that he's finally going to confess his feelings to Risa, one of the prettiest girls in his class! Too bad that he is thoroughly DENIED. Depressed, Daisuke goes home and thinks about Risa, but then something strange starts to happen. He starts to feel funny and things suddenly start to grow. The next thing he knows, he has transformed into a tall, dark, and very confused bishonen.
His mother explains that this is simply part of growing up in his family. One male per generation has the ability to transform into the Phantom Thief Dark, whose duty it is to steal stuff for..er...um...reasons. He has also gained the ability to turn his weird rabbit-like pet into other things, such as a pair of wings for fast escapes. During his first heist, he runs into Satoshi, a classmate of Daisuke's and a detective of such renown that a museum consults him to better Dark-proof their goods. Afterwards, Dark runs into Rika, Risa's twin sister, and falls head over heels for her. Too bad that she wants nothing to do with him, and that thinking of her turns Dark back into Daisuke. Now Daisuke is stuck transforming back and forth unless he is able to convince Risa to love him (and not Dark) in return.
Good god, I should not feel like I need a diagram just to keep track of the alternate identities and relationships in this volume. It really shouldn't be that difficult, considering that the core of the story centers on three people and four identities, but it only seems to get more muddled and confusing as you go on.
Of course, it doesn't help that the story onto itself is RIDICULOUSLY complicated and requires A LOT of suspension of belief. After all, this story is asking you to buy into a kid who has a genetic condition which causes him to transform into an older, better-looking, and more talented person whenever he thinks about girls, and I'm sure this is NOT supposed to be some sort of weird puberty/boner metaphor. Said new identity also possesses magic (or maybe it's just the pet...it's never made quite clear) because....well, just because.
Worst of all, the solution to Daisuke's problem is convincing Risa to love him, which is problematic for two reasons. First of all, Risa wants nothing to do with Daisuke and everything to do with Dark. Secondly, he's seriously fighting against the odds that his first crush could actually turn into true love. What if it was to be forever reciprocated due to personality conflict? What if Risa was gay and wanted nothing to do with boys, much less Daisuke? I guess Sugisaki figured that if everything else had to be ridiculously complicated, so too must be the solution to the main conflict.
It's impossible to invest oneself in Daisuke because there's nothing there to invest in - he's a total blank. At least Dark is smarmy; it's a one-note personality, but it's better than his alter ego's total lack of one. The twins Risa and Rika are annoying, and Risa in particular lost me the moment she said that she wants a hot boyfriend only so that she can improve her social status and show off to her sister. Honestly, if Daisuke knew about this side of her, I'd think he'd realize how much better off he was alone. The only mildly interesting character was Satoshi, and I suspect modern readers would have a hard time not comparing him to similiar teen detectives from later series like L from Death Note. It doesn't help that pretty much from the moment they meet, Satoshi has a very ho-yay heavy relationship to Dark. Why else would Satoshi be pinning Dark to the floor in a highly suggestive position while breaking out handcuffs and declaring his lifelong desire to meet and capture Dark? I suspect that Satoshi likes it when guys play hard to get, in a quite literal sense. The weird subtext doesn't end there - Daisuke's mom is a liiiiitle too happy about her son turning into Dark, which gets weirder when you realize that the last person with this ability was her father-in-law.
D.N. Angel fails at so many levels where story is concerned. Most of the cast is bland or unlikeable. The plot itself is needlessly convoluted and loaded with weird subtext, and it's hard to say how much of it is intentional (well, how much outside of the ho-yay, which is as subtle as a sledgehammer). I honestly couldn't tell you about the pacing or anything like that because it seems like the whole story just lurches on in a haze of confusion and hopes that you don't think about anything too long or hard .
The character designs are distinct, if rather shonen influenced and not terribly attractive. The faces all seems a touch too large for their heads, and everybody has a matchstick-esque frame. The panels are quite busy looking and the composition is rather hodge-podge. Backgrounds are uncommon and plain, and most of the time are simple washes of black or white. It's not incredibly hideous, but it certainly doesn't do the story any favors either.
There's a side story in the back about a girl trying to summon a shikigami (a sort of magical familiar). It's Ok, even if it feels like a half-baked series idea, but compared to the main story it's straightforward and charming.
D.N. Angel is a mess of romance/phantom thief/whatever else this story was trying to be. It's messy, it's unengaging, and tacky. This is one angel that should be cast out of any sane manga reader's shelves.
This series was published by Tokyopop. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 15 volumes available. 13 of those volumes were published, and all are out of print.
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