Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Merry Month of Shojo Manga Review #9: CROSS

 Shojo manga loves to play with Christian imagery, but that doesn't always means it's tasteful about it.

CROSS (Juuji Kurosu), by Sunuko Amakawa.  First published in 1997 and first published in North America in 2004.


Tamara Amakusa is a holy exorcist working for the Catholic Church.  Wherever demonic forces are at work, he is there to fight back in the name of the Lord.  He faces his strangest battle yet when a strange girl stumbles into his church with mysterious powers and connections to a Satanic cult.


Cross is absolutely the sort of vaguely mystical, melodramatic horror story that was all the rage in late 1990s shojo.  Its big gimmick is its use of church iconongraphy and Christian mythology (since thanks to Evangelion, that was The Style At The Time).  Alas, like Evangelion it's all just surface-deep, merely set dressing for a lot of predictable horror tales and tropes.

I feel like Amakawa made a mistake by starting Cross with a fight with a literal demon.  I get that she wanted to make a big impression between the fanservice (gotta get the resident damsel naked ASAP!), the sensationalism of Satanism, all while delivering a giant pile of exposition about Tamara and his backstory.  It's all a bit of a comedown from there, tonally.  It's not for lack of trying, considering that the subsequent chapters feature a face-stealing nun and a schoolgirl who maintains her beauty through murder.  

Sadly, it's the only time Amakawa bothers to explain anything about Tamara because doing so would apparently get in the way of establishing his love-at-first-sight affair with Shizuha, the resident damsel.  You can tell just how much concern was put into her character by the fact that half of her scenes require her to be nude or in the bath while the rest feature her willfully wandering into danger because she's not bright enough to protect herself (even when others are tasked with doing so for her).  The two are thrown together in a relationship, but this feels more out of convenience than any sincere chemistry or interest between these two.

Christianity is treated less like a faith here than a superpower.  Tamara flings vials of holy water like grenades and finishes every battle with a magic forehead crossbeam like he's freaking Sailor Moon.  Shizuha is able to manifest squiggly magic words (which apparently is a Kabbalistic reference).  Cross digs deep into Catholic mysticism, to the point that this may be one of the few Tokyopop releases to ever feature a bibliography.  Yet there's nothing to really tie it all together thematically, and that extends to the story as a whole.  It's a lot of sensational ideas thrown together in the most slapdash manner.


Cross is clearly cribbing visually from the likes of CLAMP and Angel Sanctuary-era Kaoru Yuki.  There's lots of fine, floppy hair, dark glittering eyes, and veritable explosions of flowers, sparkles, and feathers, filling up as much panel space as possible.  It's just a shame that Amakawa can't seem to pull off an expression beyond 'mildly frightened' and 'mildly constipated.'  It's also a shame that she tends to lean hard on Dutch angles and dark screentones during action scenes, which only serve to make them harder to parse.  


Cross has some appeal as Catholic horror camp, but it takes itself too seriously to embrace that camp and it's not serious enough to build up its characters into something significant.  It's the worst of both worlds.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available.  All 5 were published and are currently out of print.

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