Go!Comi had a particular fondness for Mick Takeuchi. Who is she? No one but people who pick up out-of-print shoujo release like me remembers, but the folks at Go!Comi were so fond of her that they licensed not one, not two, but three of her manga. Luckily, we're looking at what is the most recent and (arguably) the best of the lot today.
BOUND BEAUTY (Shibariya Komachi), by Mick Takeuchi. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2006.
Chiyako has a talent. She calls it 'fortunetelling,' but in truth it's more like she can see the red strings of fate that tie people together. She's used it to great effect and modest profit, funds she hopes to use to get away from her loutish father. Then one day she follows her school's calligraphy master to a strange mansion and stumbles upon a great secret. It seems her teacher is teaming up with the scholarly Aya and the hot-headed Hirotsuna to master the various strings of fate. An accident leaves Chiyako in a child's body but grants her the ability the manipulate fate herself and thus join the team. Now she must learn to adapt to her new teammates of Tyers and control her powers if she is ever going to be able to return to normal.
Moreso than with her other works, I can see why Bound Beauty would convince Go!Comi to go out on a limb for a relatively unknown mangaka like Takeuchi. It's got a heroine and a premise that are equally strong and captivating.
Chiyako seems like your standard spunky shoujo heroine, but her barely repressed anger at her father gives her a bit of edge that's far less commonly seen in the genre. She does have a bad tendency to stumble into danger without thinking, but she's also brave enough to save herself and others as the situation demands. Takeuchi makes it clear that like most teen girls, Chiyako simply wants to grow up faster and be independent. By working as part of a team, she has to learn that no man (or woman) is an island and that there is value in working with others. It just so happens that fate had to teach her this lesson in the most dramatic and ironic fashion possible.
Her fellow Tyers round out the cast, but despite their appearances they are not precisely your standard reverse harem eye candy. Most of them are downright hostile to Chiyako for most of the book for reasons that are never make completely clear. Do they see her as competition? Or perhaps as a rogue outsider not to be trusted? Regardless, they do lighten up on Chiyako after a while, but their reactions range from kind guidance (from Akeo, Chiyako's teacher) to mild creepiness with a touch of manipulation (from Aya) to outright pissy hostility (from Hitotsuna). Alas, based on his prominence on the cover and how frequently he fights with Chiyako, he's all but guaranteed to be her future love interest. At least they have weirdly complementary hang-ups about their families: Chiyako hates hers, while Hirotsuna is loyal to a fault to his own. Between this and the tension within the group, it's clear that Takeuchi is shaping things up to make a moral about family being where you find it or something along those lines.
The quality of their cases is pretty variable, although their first one kicks things off with style. It brings in one of Chiyako's school friends, who turns out to have a unrequited crush on her dead older brother (...ewwww). What makes it really effective is how Takeuchi conceptualizes their attacks. It's less about blasts of magic or punches and blows as it is somewhere between an exorcism and weaving a tapestry. The end is perfect, adding a bit of a surprise while smoothing out the weird incest angle. If the rest of the series is as good as this part, then it's truly shaping up into something interesting.
Takeuchi was a pretty good shoujo artist and Bound Beauty is no exception to this. The character designs are good-looking and she clearly puts effort into their carefully drawn wardrobes (or in the case of the cover art, on their reasonable yet pleasing physiques). She does indulge in a bit of cheesecake with Chiyako's transformations since Chiyako's child-sized wardrobe doesn't grow with her when she reverts to her teenage body. She also tends to sub in screentones for backgrounds, but she uses them to great effect during the spirit battles. She mixes smoky tones with with some nicely drawn spirits to evoke a malevolent atmosphere. It lends the fight just the right amount of surreality to convey the shift from the regular world to the spirit realm.
Bound Beauty's kinky-sounding name belies the strength of the story and artwork. It's a real shame that out of the Takeuchi works licensed by Go!Comi, this was the only one that wasn't finished because it's easily the best of her licensed works.
This series was published by Go!Comi. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. 4 volumes were published and are currently out of print.