Sunday, September 29, 2013


So, last time we looked at a reverse harem that pretended at a strong lead and subversive humor but failed at both.  This time, we look at a reverse harem that works partially because of its strong lead and partially because it only looks like a reverse harem.

THE STORY OF SAIUNKOKU (Saiunkoku Monogatari), adapted from the light novel by Sai Yukino & art by Kairi Yuki.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2010.

Saiunkoku is a far-off land, ruled by an emperor and guided by eight noble families.  Shurei Hong is the only daughter of one of these noble families, but you wouldn't know it to look at her.  Her father works as the court librarian at a mere pittance.  Her estate is broken down and barren, staffed by their only servant Seiran.  Shurei has to work various part time jobs just to support her family, but she can't hold the job she truly wants: civil servant.  So, when a royal advisor offers her 500 pieces of gold to serve as an imperial consort to turn the emperor into a proper leader, Shurei can't resist.

Once installed at court, Shurei discovers that the emperor, Ryuki, is not what he seems.  He has a reputation for shirking his duties and sleeping with men, but he is in truth smarter and craftier than he lets on, as well as haunted by past.  Can Shurei turn Ryuki into a worthy emperor, and can Ryuki resist Shurei's charms?

Saiunkoku looks like yet another reverse harem on the surface, but it doesn't take much effort to discover that those trappings conceal a genuinely good story supported by a strong, independent lead. 

Shurei is by and large the best thing about this series.  She is clever, hardworking, and focused on her goals.  While she knows there is no possibility of a woman becoming a civil servant, she studies nonetheless and sees the consort position as not only a good way to make some money, but to get as close as possible to her dream.  Unlike the vast majority of shoujo heroines, she has no interest in romance.  Ryuki falls for her quickly, but while she does become fond of him she rejects all his advances. 

Of course, it's pretty easy to like Ryuki as well, as the reader learns along with Shurei that Ryuki isn't some dissolute bum, but instead an earnest puppy-dog of a young man, albeit one who has been scarred by the powermongering and abuse of his family along with the disappearance of his only sympathetic brother.  Most of all, you get a very palpable sense of his growing admiration of Shurei, as he grows under guidance and comes to respect both her intelligence and good heart.

This in turn leads into yet another subplot, where another well-bred bishonen and his follower observe the changes under Shurei.  For most of the volume, they serve mostly as a Greek chorus, but they too chose to align themselves to the emperor, setting into motion the ascent of Ryuki from a childish man to a respectable emperor.  Best of all, while they too respect and admire Shurei, their interest isn't romantic either.

This is what I meant when I said that Saiunkoku only appeared to look like a reverse harem.  There may be a bunch of pretty guys around, but they and the prospect of romance with them is not the main attraction here.  Instead, the attraction is Shurei, her story, and the subtle but important changes she instills in her land, one person at a time.

Saiunkoku's artwork is solid, if not remarkable.  The character designs are pretty average, and sadly this is yet another case where the artist can only draw one kind of bishonen face and has to keep dressing it up in different costumes and hair to fill out the cast.  Also, this series is adapted from a light novel series and it shows - this is a very talkative manga, and as such the pages tend to be full of a lot of' talking heads.  Panels tend to be small and the backgrounds are rather plain.  There's not much to say about the art otherwise, but I can only wish that it was as remarkable as the story.

There are a few color pages in the front, along with a 4-koma omake from the artist in the back.

The Story of Saiunkoku is an underrated gem.  Its average looking artwork and pandering premise conceal a solid story supported by a clever, interesting lead.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in 9 volumes, and all are currently in print. 

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


So to finish out the month, we take another look at reverse harems.  Today's review is a shining example of how NOT to make a reverse harem manga.

GAKUEN PRINCE (Gakuen Oji), by Jun Yuzuki.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2009.

Jyo-Shioka High School is a prestigious all-girls school that has recently gone co-ed.  In spite of this, the male student population remains low.  What this means for said male students is that they are surrounded by severely horny young women, all of whom would happily and literally gang rape them unless they choose one of three things:

     1.  Set oneself up as an innocent idol to be coddled.
     2.  Become a giant man-whore, so he can at least deal with the girls one at a time
     3.  Pledge his devotion to a single girl and become her boyfriend.

Such is the social structure for the S class (made up of most of the boys and the academically superior students) and the A class (everyone else).  Azuza Mizutani is the latest addition to the school's male harem, and he soon finds himself adrift in a raging sea of estrogen.  In a panic, he grabs the nearest girl to him and declares her to be his girlfriend.  Too bad that the girl he chose, Risa Okitsu, wants nothing to do with him.  She's a nerdy girl from the A class who already has enough trouble with bullying, and all she wants to do is get through each day unnoticed.  Now all eyes are on her and Azuza, and she even gets bumped up to the S class through student council machinations.  Will Risa be able to get along in her new class?  Will she at least learn to get along with her new boyfriend?

Oh man.  Someone clearly still has lingering issues with high school, and that person's name is Jun Yuzuki.  I had initially picked this up because I had heard it was a subversive take on reverse harems, but not only does it fail as a reverse harem, but it fails in subversion and even just as a decent story.

To be subversive means that work needs to twist clichés in a way that is not only unexpected or ironic, but mocks the cliché as well.  Well, there's certainly no humor to be found here, and the only unexpected thing is just how misogynistic it is.  Every girl who is not Risa is a man-hungry, bullying rapist - it's a whole school full of Mean Girls.  Honestly, if the sexes had been reversed on this situation, it would have been condemned and protested instead of licensed.

Mind you, the guys don't look much better in comparison.  We get a group shot of the boys, and we see there's a short, cute one, a dark-haired devious one with glasses, a pretty blond...wait a minute, is anyone else getting Ouran High School Host Club flashbacks?  Don't worry about it too hard, because we spend pretty much no time getting to know them, or getting to know Azuza for that matter.

The only character who gets anything resembling development is Risa.  She looks nerdy, but she doesn't act the part.  Instead she is mostly defined by her massive amounts of pent-up rage at her tormentors.  This is a perfectly understandable reaction, and it might even be a bit disturbing if she ever expressed it outside of her daydreams. Instead she ends up getting cornered so that she can be saved by Azuza,  There's a lot more to be said about this, but it's more appropriate for the Art section.

Gakuen Prince wants to be a dark and subversive take on reverse harems, but instead it's shallow, misogynistic, and loathable from cover to cover.

The artstyle is pretty typical for shoujo, with the characters' dark doll-like eyes and thickly drawn hair.  The panels tend to be large, the backgrounds vague, and the composition average.  It's far from perfect, though, and the cover is a sterling example.  Look at Azuza up there on the left, his torso specifically.  He either has a freakishly long, Michael Phelps-esque abdomen or he's rocking those pants spectacularly low and simply has no penis.  You can pick whichever explanation amuses you most. 

As you can imagine, after that my expectations for the art were pretty low.  I admit that I did like the weird, exaggerated grimaces Risa makes in her daydreams, complete with dramatic lighting, simply because it's so rare that a shoujo lead is allowed to be portrayed in such an ugly manner.  Too bad that whenever she needs to be rescued, her pigtails magically undo themselves, her thick glasses fall off, and a few buttons on her shirt pop open to reveal some cleavage.  Oh yes, we have ourselves a classic case of Hollywood Nerd, where an unflattering hairstyle and glasses are all it takes to define a girl as unpopular, and removing them are all it takes to make her beautiful.  To add to the terrible subtext, she only becomes this way when she's in peril, implying that she's at her most beautiful when she is at her weakest.  This was the final straw for me in regards to this manga.  At this point, I was DONE with this manga, and was ready to launch it towards the wall at Mach speed. 

As typical for a Del Ray work, there's an honorifics guide in the front, translation notes and an untranslated preview of Volume 2 in the back.  There are also some author's notes.

This is yet another of the worst manga I've read since starting this site.  There may be stranger, more offensive, and more sexist pieces of crap out there, but they're often more honest in their intention to titillate and offend.  Gakuen Prince instead tries to play off its sick ideals as humor, but those attempts only highlight their awfulness.

This series was published by Del Ray.  This series is complete in 12 volumes.  3 volumes were published, and all are out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


So, last time we looked at a thoroughly unpleasant romance.  So do we have any better examples of a classic shoujo romance?  Well, Love*Com is a good start.

LOVELY COMPLEX (LOVE*COM) (Rabu*Con), by Aya Nakahara.  First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.

Risa Koizumi is a taller-than-average 15 year old girl, one who is blunt in speech and more fond of video games than schoolwork.  Atsushi Otani is a shorter-than-average boy from her class with a short temper and a talent for basketball.  Together, the two tend to piss one another off, and their banter has earned them the nickname of the "All Hanshin-Kyojin" duo (it's a manzai reference, just roll with it).  That summer the two of them are stuck in summer classes, and during that time they both develop crushes on fellow classmates.  Risa loves the cool, silent Suzuki, while Atsushi adores the shy, timid and adorable Chiharu.  Unfortunately, their efforts to get with them end up with Suzuki and Chiharu falling for one another instead.  Will Risa and Atsushi manage to save their love lives, or will they discover that they're better suited for one another?

I was understandably wary about reading this one, considering that it seemed to be about a relationship based on belligerent sexual tension.  It's a trope that's common as hell, but there are few mangaka who can truly pull it off.  Far too many forget that the couple need to have something in common OTHER than arguments to forge some sort of connection, or that the two need some sort of positive qualities to make them endearing to the reader instead of having them wonder when the two will finally kill one another.  So you can only imagine my relief that Nakahara manages to dodge that pitfall and creates a couple that bickers but still actually have some proper romantic tension between them!

It's true that Risa and Otani tend to drive each other crazy with height jokes and neither of them are afraid to pummel one another when one needs a wake-up call, but everyone else around them knows the two have a lot in common.  They're both blunt, sarcastic, they have some shared geeky interests, and both are rather sensitive about their heights.  Their bond is fragile, even tentative, but there's definite and palpable romantic tension between the two, and Nakahara doses it out in just the right amount.  Their relationship is never too rushed, but neither does it drag on forever.  The only downside to these two is that they're so well-developed and thought out that the rest of cast pales in comparison, but truthfully I didn't mind all that much.  If your story's biggest fault is that your leads are too well-developed for the room, you don't have much room to complain.

The character designs are surprisingly realistic and expressive, and Nakahara puts a lot of care into the details - the way a shirt wrinkles when worn, the exact position of the fingers in a gesture, or the fine wisps of hair flying away from a hairdo.  This is often in stark contrast to the more extreme, cartoonish expressions or the fact that Nakahara draws blushes with a literal squiggle.  Backgrounds are rare and mundane - hope you like classrooms! - and instead are replaced with a lot of tones and effects.  Honestly, while the art's not bad I kind of wish Nakahara had put just as much care into the background details as she did with some of the more mundane stuff, as it would have taken it to another level.

The only extra is a single page of translation notes.

This is a solid, well-paced romance with two very dynamic leads, and for them alone this is worth a look.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete with 17 volumes, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Last time we looked at a couple of supernatural romances.  This time I want to look at something simple, just some classic, girl-meets-boy sort of stories.  Today's review certainly fits that description, and its age would define it as a classic, but has it aged gracefully?

ITAZURA NA KISS (Playful Kiss), by Kaoru Tada.  First published in 1991, and first published in North America in 2009.

Kotoko is a sweet young high school girl, if not something of a ditz.  That doesn't stop her from crushing on Naoki Irie, the star student of Class A.  She confesses her feelings, and he turns her down flat.  Her classmates rally around Kotoko to support her, but her troubles are only beginning.

Her father's new home is damaged in an earthquake, and now their only option until the new house is built is to stay with her father's oldest friend.  Said friend also happens to be Naoki's father.  Now Kotoko is stuck in the same house as the boy she both loves and hates, all while her father and Naoki's mother conspire to bring their children together in love.  Will Kotoko and Naoki learn to like one another, and will Naoki ever begin to return Kotoko's feelings?

The set-up should sound familiar: a spunky girl loves a distant, dickish guy, and bit by bit the latter learns to like (and eventually love) the former.  Does Itazura na Kiss do anything different with this well-worn plotline?  Nope!  If anything, it takes too long to get to the point and does far too good of a job of making its leads total opposites.

Kotoko may be good-natured and spirited, but the story (not to mention many side characters) make no bones about her being rather oblivious, a poor student, and a terrible cook.  It gets to the point where it goes far beyond rehashing lame jokes and well into mean-spirited territory.  It's only pride and determination that keep Kotoko from feeling dejected, and it's only those feelings that keep this story from getting too depressing.  It does help that her classmates are rather sweet in their support of her and her relationship, despite being a lot of dummies and thugs.  The only downside to that is that their leader, Kin-chan, is very possessive and pushy when it comes to his own crush on Kotoko.  Still, I would just as soon have him over Kotoko's actual love interest.

Naoki is nothing but a horrible, arrogant jackass.  He's the sort who is perfect at pretty much everything he tries, and because of it he never has to exert himself at anything and sees everyone not as his level as not worth his time or notice, including Kotoko.  Worse still, he has a little brother who is just like him, with the addition of a small child's willfulness.  I wish I could say that Naoki gets any better by volume's end, but truthfully he does not - sure, he may come around a little bit to Kotoko, but his few kind words always come with backhanded compliments, so the progress is half-hearted in a 'one step forward, two steps back' sort of way.  I feel like Tada forgot that the romantic leads in a story like this need to be both realistically flawed AND sympathetic.  You can't lay all the faults on one for a joke and make the other so perfect and distant as to be a douchebag.

The story may be clichéd, but it's nowhere near as dated as the art.  Characters are delicately drawn, with huge eyes, big dated hairstyles, flat simple round faces and equally big, round chins.  Expressions are simple and big, to the point of being wonky on some of the supporting cast.  There's a similar sort of simplicity to the backgrounds, which alternate between blankness and simple overlays of screentone.  The panels are relatively spacious, and this space combined with the delicacy of the linework keeps the artwork relatively pleasant to look at.

The only extra is a single, black-and-white splash page.

This so-called love story is too mean and too slow for my taste.  I can't say that shoujo as a whole has necessarily gotten any better since this story was released, but I can say with certainty that there are better, kinder, and more equal love stories in the genre than this one.

This series was published by Digital Manga Press.  The series is complete in 12 omnibus editions, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Monday, September 9, 2013


So, last time I look at Black Bird, a supernatural romance that is a shining example of how to make such things irritating and dull.  So that begs the question: is there a way that it can be done right?  Can a supernatural romance be done in an entertaining way?

MILLENNIUM SNOW (Sennen no Yuki), by Bisco Hatori.  First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.

Chiyuki has a problem.  She was born with a weak heart, and her heart only gets weaker with every year.  Because of that, she's spent most of her childhood in the hospital, and every year she hopes to make it to the next snowfall.  One evening, she witnesses a boy falling off the hospital roof.

Below, Chiyuki finds a young man, complaining of filthy humans and the scent of blood.  This boy, Toya, is a vampire, although he doesn't quite fit the ideal.  Sure, he's vulnerable to things like garlic, but he can tolerate sunlight just fine and can survive on human food when blood is unavailable (which is good, because he actually has a major distaste for blood).  When he bites a victim, he doesn't turn them, but instead bestows extended life upon the victim and binds himself to the victim.  Chiyuki sees this as her salvation.  Toya sees this as a nightmare, being a bit of a sensitive, introspective boy.

Toya eventually yields to Chiyuki's request, and now the two must learn to get along as Chiyuki tries to bring Toya into the human world.  Things only get more complicated when they meet Satsuki, a handsome classmate with a hairy little secret.

I know what you guys are thinking.  You see a story involving a human girl caught in a love triangle with a grumpy, handsome vampire and an equally handsome werewolf, one where the girl constantly begs the vampire to bite her.  You are likely getting Twilight flashbacks and recoiling at the thought of reading yet another story like that. 

Well, let me put your fears at rest - Millennium Snow is no Twilight clone.  It's far more lighthearted, it isn't asking us to accept the vampire as the ultimate romantic hero, and the werewolf is far more cheerful and far less prone to stalking.  The best part is that here, the girl has a perfectly good reason for wanting to be bitten - for her, it's literally a matter of life and death.

I really like the characters.  Chiyuki seems a bit bland at first, but after being bitten she becomes much more lively, and you get a real sense that this is the self she has always wanted to be.  She's relatively proactive as well - she's willing to give the men around her a piece of her mind and is not swayed solely by the bishies around her.  I really enjoyed Toya, and I suspect a lot of that is due to how he doesn't fit the mold of the typical manga vampire.  Most vampires in manga are beautiful, seductive creatures, and a few are just outright mad monsters.  Toya is neither of these, instead being high-strung and neurotic, qualities which in turn conceal the loathing he has for his condition and his fears of loneliness and rejection.  He's no Casanova - he's grumpy comic relief.  If anyone fits the role of beautiful seducer, you would have to look to Satsuki, whose cheerful, flirtatious nature conceals his own insecurities about his own identity as an orphan and as a werewolf.

This sounds like it could get a little too serious and dramatic for its own good, but thankfully Hatori never lets things get TOO serious.  This is aided by Yamimaru, a goofy little bat who serves at Toya's minion, emergency food supply courier, and giver of exposition.  He's useful enough at the beginning, but once the main plot gets going he disappears.

I should note there's also a short story afterwards, an early prize-winner from Hatori's early days.  It's about a couple of best friends, one of whom has a strange sort of split personality.  It's a solid little story with a bittersweet ending, and it's an nice little inclusion.

Millennium Snow is a novel little twist on supernatural shoujo romance, one that is strengthened by its well-rounded characters and its avoidance of the clichés of the genre.

Even by this point, Hatori had settled into her own distinct visual style.  While her character designs fall very much in line with much modern shoujo, being all long legs and angles, she draws them lightly, with fine, fairly detailed linework and enormous, shimmering, and expressive eyes.  In some ways, this really was a warm-up for her best known series, Ouran High School Host Club.  It's certainly true when it comes to the character designs: Toya looks like Kyouya without his glasses, and Satsuki is pretty much a double for Tamaki. 

One advantage this series has over later works like Ouran is that its panels are far less busy, since it's working with a smaller, less commentative cast.  Instead she uses that space for more close-ups.  This sounds claustrophobic, but she tends to leave the borders off the panels, which only enhances the lightness of her art.  Backgrounds are sparse, and tend to be filled with very plain washes of screentone or speed lines.  Hatori's art style might not be the most visually exciting, but it's delicate and eye-pleasing, and she finds a good balance between personal style and shoujo conventions.

There are translation notes, as well as an omake under the title of "Egoist Club," where she shares some character profiles of the cast.

It's a shame that Hatori abandoned this series for so long, because it's a pleasantly unmelodramatic take on vampire romance, and one that I would recommend to others.

This series is released by Viz.  The series is ongoing, having been recently restarted, with 3 volumes available.  2 volumes have been published, and both are in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I've made no secret of my fondness for shoujo manga, and equally so I've made no secret of my despair over how some shoujo series revel in the very worst of the genre: insipid heroines, abusive love interests, shallow relationships, lackluster art, and so forth.  So this month I'm doing a sort of compare and contrast of selected shoujo works, reviewing two works with a similar theme that show how said theme can be done right and how it can be done wrong.

I'll get things going with an extremely popular shoujo series - indeed, until Kodansha started rereleasing Sailor Moon, it was one of the best selling shoujo series on the market.  It's also one of the worst things I've read since starting this project.

BLACK BIRD (Burakku Baado), by Kanoko Sakurakoji.  First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2009.

Misao Harada has been able to see spirits and demons all her life, and sadly all it's done for her is make her appear spacey and clumsy to normal people since they can't see the spirit world tormenting her.  Her only consolation comes from the fond but vague memories of Kyo, a young boy who could also see the spirits and promised to come back to Misao someday.

It turns out Kyo is true to his word and then some.  It also turns out he's a demon, a tengyu to be specific.  He has returned because for reasons unknown, Misao is a particularly tasty morsel to the denizens of the spirit world, the kind that only comes once a century.  To drink her blood will grant long life; to eat her flesh will bestow eternal youth; her hand in marriage will bring great prosperity to any demon clan that claims her.  Now that she is 16, it's open season on Misao, and Kyo is determined to make Misao his at any cost.  Even if it means following her every move, posing as one of Misao's teachers, and fighting off every creature that comes for her, Kyo will have his prize.

I was perfectly willing to give this story a chance, even if the "ordinary kid is tormented by various spirits" has been done before by better and more interesting manga.  Then Kyo showed up and I spent the rest of the volume wavering somewhere between revulsion and rage.

I thought I had seen hopeless, hapless shoujo heroines before, but Misao truly takes the cake.  She is never at any point proactive in this story.  Once the demons start showing up, all she does is cry, cower, and bleed, always waiting for someone else to save her.  I'm not saying that she should be able to kick loads of demon butt, but would it honestly hurt the story if she at least ATTEMPTED to defend herself?  Could she have just enough brain cells to rub together to know that maybe she shouldn't follow strangers lest they turn out to be demons out to eat/screw/do god knows what to her?  If she were carried off any more often, she might as well have a handle on her back to better facilitate her frequent kidnappings.  Personality-wise she's not much better, because Misao spends the majority of her time vacillating between two moods: hating Kyo for being so controlling and (OF COURSE) falling in love with him because he's hot and he saves her all the time.

Misao is only half of the problem I had with Black Bird.  The other half is Kyo, or as I had mentally dubbed him halfway though, "Professor Bad Touch."  He's like a walking checklist of cheesy shoujo fetishes.  Don't believe me?  Let me count the ways.  He's a dark, tall and handsome (1) supernatural being (2) with wings (3).  He's an older man (4) who sometimes wears glasses (5) to better play the role of Misao's teacher (6).  He's a white knight (7), always rescuing her and whisking her away to his large mansion, complete with servant (8), and he heals her injuries by suggestively licking her body (9).  There's probably more I could think of with time, but I suspect you all get the idea.  He's also quite the stalker, which for some might count as #10.   From the moment he reintroduces himself into Misao's life, Kyo is determined that no one but him will possess Misao, and that she WILL marry him.  This is not phrased as a question, but as a command or at least as a certainty that Misao is stupid for fighting against.  Then, to make doubly sure that Misao is never too far away, Kyo installs himself at her school as a teacher, so now he is literally an authority figure to whom Misao has to obey.  At no point could I discern Kyo having any real affection for Misao - all he feels for her is possessiveness, and frankly that makes him no different that the demons he fights.  But we the readers aren't supposed to think that.  We're supposed to swoon over him, because he's just so handsome  and so wonderful and so caring and how romantic it is that his every consuming thought is about this girl who is totally unworthy of him!

Why do I get the feeling that Twilight fans would love the hell out of this manga?

Speaking of Twilight, there's a frequent focus on bloodsucking and bloodplay between our two leads, whether it's a classic vampire-style feeding or licking injuries on various parts of Misao's body.  These acts are always staged like sex acts, which adds enough weird subtext on its own.  It only gets  worse when you consider that Misao is not always conscious for these acts, and it was at these points that I longed to find and press the BAD TOUCH WE NEED AN ADULT button.  It's weird how much emphasis is placed on this considering that Kyo is NOT a vampire and tengyu are not generally known for eating people or blood, which leads me to think that this is something of a favored kink for Sakurakoji.  .Unlike her, I don't get off on the combination of blood and sex, and this meant that a lot of the so-called 'sexy times' in this manga left me feeling rather disturbed, and it's just as much because of the "TMI, Sakurakoji-san" element as it is about the blood itself.

What can I say for Black Bird?  Well, I am genuinely surprised that it's such a popular series because it's built around two utterly vacuous characters, one being weak and helpless, the other less a character and more a mass of clichés.  It expects us to cheer on what is in truth a possessive and one-sided relationship and to thrill at a very literal combination of sex and violence.  Mostly what I wanted to do with Black Bird was to throw it at the wall as hard as possible and try to scrub the taint of its creepiness off of my flesh.

The artwork as a whole is terribly unremarkable.  The character designs are extremely generic, to the point where Sakurakoji seems to be able to draw only one sort of male face (generic bishonen) and one female face (simpering moeblob, so simplified that they often appear to have no noses).  They're not terribly expressive, either.  For example, Kyo only seems to have two emotions: Mildly Pissed and Creepy Leering.  There's a nice variety in panel shape and size, but they're assembled in a rather messy manner and it detracts from the big splash panels of Kyo which I presume were meant to be the highlight.  She's not much better with action, as she tends to just break out the speed lines and call it a day.  Even the backgrounds are rather plain.

I've already gone over the squickiness of Sakurakoji's blood fetish, but there's something else in the art that rather disturbs me.  There's a lot of imagery, from the cover to the last splash pages, that puts emphasis on Misao being restrained, unconscious, or is visibly upset.  Such imagery only emphasizes Misao's helplessness and the inequality of her relationship with Kyo, and when combined with the story and the bloodplay, the whole thing comes off as rather sleezy and exploitative, like an old-fashioned bodice-ripper.  It would be one thing if all of this was done so on purpose and the reader was supposed to be conscious of the innate wrongness and messed-up quality of the romance, but this is played perfectly straight, and that's what makes this work so utterly offensive to me.

Nothing to see here.

Avoid this one like the plague.  Black Bird's notions of romance are creepy, sleezy, and despicable, and visually it's dull as dishwater.  Leave this one to the Twihards and find yourself some GOOD shoujo to read.

This series is published by Viz.  The series is complete with 18 volumes in Japan.  16 volumes have been published so far, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!