Thursday, May 7, 2015

Merry Month of Manga Review: THE BETRAYAL KNOWS MY NAME

I rant a fair bit about typical shoujo being nothing but milquetoast schoolroom romances, but there's another sort of shoujo story that's just as common and just as boring.  They tend to involve some fantasy or supernatural elements, maybe a touch of fujoshi fanservice, and a lot of confusing mythology and terminology, and today's review is all too typical of these sorts of stories.

THE BETRAYAL KNOWS MY NAME (Uragiri wa Boku no Namae o Shitteiru), by Hotaru Odagiri.  First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2011.


Yuki's life has always been one full of strife.  Orphaned and unpopular, he nonetheless soldiers his way through life through his unending kindness and good will.  Soon enough, though, he finds himself wanted by all sorts of people.  There's the demon-possessed classmate that wants to kill him, the long-lost half-brother that wants to bring Yuki into their magical clan, and the dark and mysterious Zess who wants only to protect Yuki from the world.  Yuki discovers that he possesses potent magical powers, and he must use them to find his purpose and place in the world.


Few things are as tedious as bad shoujo stories, and The Betrayal Knows My Name is a perfect example of just that.  It's a stew of shoujo and supernatural clichés that have been mixed into the graphic novel equivalent of dull grey sludge, and honestly I think would rather have read some actual dull grey sludge.

The only novel thing about Yuki is that it's unusual to see a male shoujo lead act like such a spineless jellyfish of a person.  I swear that a third of this first omnibus is spent inside Yuki's inner monologue, where he rambles on endlessly about how he doesn't have anyone in his life and how sad that makes him or how making friends and having others care for him make him so happy.  Yuki is the sort who is all too willing to martyr himself for others, which means he's also the sort who willingly walks into obvious danger without a plan because of friendship.  He's even willing to go so far as to forgive his aggressors almost instantly because he's that much of an idiot just that gentle and good!  The story treats him like a princess, sometimes more literally than usual.  It's implied that he was a girl in a previous life, he's kept inside a giant mansion that might as well be a castle, he's even called Yuki-sama like a princess.  Yuki couldn't be any more of a passive figure in his own story unless he was comatose, and I couldn't have cared  less about the fact that the story treats him like a chew toy for others to play with.

Yuki at least gets the benefit of some backstory and purpose, however nebulously it may be defined.  It's still a lot more than the rest of the cast can lay claim to.  Yuki's brother is there mostly to glance over his glasses and spew exposition, and the rest of their clan does nothing but fill up space.  Zess (who randomly gets renamed Luka) is your stereotypically dark and broody dude who is there to loom over Yuki in a vaguely suggestive manner.  Even the villains are vague, being little more than weird little demon creatures that turn nameless NPCs into raving loonies.  Most of the cast is so forgettable that I could barely keep track of who was who as I read it.  These aren't characters - hell, they're barely even archetypes.  They're just a bunch of automatons going through the motions of a horrendously confusing plot.

Well, maybe the word "plot" is too generous for what goes on here.  It's far too unfocused to be a proper and straightforward plot.  It starts off as some sort of supernatural action piece, only to shift hard into some slice-of-life nonsense when Yuki meets his clan, only to shift again into a school-based storyline where Yuki murmurs to himself about friendship and how it makes him so happy (even as it starts to make me feel so nauseous).  Of course, he and everyone else will happily stop to throw loads of made-up terminology at the reader.  There's so much of it that they had to include a glossary, and that glossary is the only way that anyone could bring any rhyme or reason to it all.  I can't recall the last time I read a manga like this, one that was so fundamentally broken on every level.  Nothing works, nothing is developed well in any manner, and there is no pleasure on these pages, not even the guilty sort.


I should have guessed that someone who would write such a sloppy story would have equally sloppy, stiff, and amateurish art.  Odagiri is mostly known for yaoi works like Only the Ring Finger Knows, and she brings that same level of quality to this work.  That means all the characters have the same cookie-cutter, pointy-chinned, cat-eyed face and the same lanky bodies, complete with orangutan arms and creepy, spidery hands.  Often the only way to distinguish characters is by their distinct yet universally awful haystacks of hair or by their barely buttoned Hot Topic wardrobes. 

The sloppiness doesn't end with the characters.  The action scenes are badly obscured by sound effects, screen tones, and masses of jagged beams of mystical power.  The pages and panels alike are assembled in a haphazard manner, and Odagiri loves nothing more than filing up her pages with narrow vertical panels full of vague inner monologues.  That's another problem with the art - no one ever shuts up, and the art suffers for it.  The panels are stuffed frame to frame with talking and thinking, and it often turns the panels into a series of talking heads.  Some manga can make that approach work, but not one that's meant to be about demons and gods and whatever else is meant to be going on here.  Much like the story, the art work going through the motions of the genre without any understanding or skill applied.


I have a hard time believing that this sold as well as it has when it's such a ridiculous mess from cover to cover.  Not one thing is done well, as the story is incoherent and dull and the art is laughably bad.  It's a betrayal of good sense, good taste, and everything that makes a manga good in the first place.

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes available.  This series was released in 2-in-1 omnibuses, and all are currently in print. 

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