Sayaka, the protagonist, walks into her kitchen one morning to discover that a handsome, imperious teenager named Kai has taken up residence with her family. “He’s the son of an old friend,” dad explains, though no one seems to remember which friend’s son Kai might be or when Kai’s family arranged the visit. Kai promptly enrolls in Sayaka’s school, where he distinguishes himself primarily by sleeping through every class, stirring only to solve a complex equation or dunk a basketball. Though Sayaka is annoyed by her new house guest, she’s also deeply curious about his nocturnal wanderings, as he slips out of the house every night, returning only at dawn. (Gee, I wonder what he could be up to?)
For a manga that covers such familiar territory, Moon and Blood proves surprisingly nimble and charming, poking gentle fun at many of shojo mangadom’s hoariest tropes. The first chapter reads like an affectionate parody of Itazura na Kiss, as Sayaka struggles to adjust to living under the same roof as Kai — he’s as smart and smug as Itazura‘s Naoki — and tries to fend off Takeshi, her big, goofy neighbor who’s adored her since childhood. Moon and Blood also scores points for allowing the reader to figure out what’s happening, rather than relying on an omniscient narrator to explain who Kai is, and why he’s insinuated himself into Sayaka’s home. Better still, Yazawa doesn’t artificially prolong that mystery by insisting the other characters behave like willful idiots; by the end of volume one, Sayaka and her brother are both on the verge of uncovering Kai’s true identity.
Art-wise, the characters boast the same upturned noses and rubbery faces of the Itazura na Kiss gang. The notable exception is Ai, a shape-shifting vampire who looks more like one of Takahashi’s sinister child minions, with her feline eyes, doll-like clothes, and blank, bored expression. (Her cat-form, too, has a Takahashian flair; Ai wouldn’t be out of place in Rin-ne, perhaps as Rokumon’s arch-nemesis.) Though Yazawa’s linework is clean, and her use of tone sparing, Yazawa isn’t quite Tada or Takahashi’s artistic peer; her character designs aren’t as refined as either Tada or Takahashi’s, and her reaction shots distort the characters’ faces and bodies to near-abstractions.
On the whole, however, Moon and Blood is a light, entertaining read that feels like something Tada or Takahashi might have produced in the late 1980s or early 1990s. That’s not a knock on Yazawa; if anything, the story’s character-driven plotlines, bickering antagonists, and horror-lite subplot are a welcome departure from the kind of intense, sexually fraught supernatural romances that are posting big numbers on the New York Times Manga Bestseller List in 2011. Recommended.
Review copy provided by Digital Manga Publishing, Inc.
MOON AND BLOOD, VOL. 1 • BY NAO YAZAWA • DMP • 70 pp. • RATING: TEEN (13+)