MICHELLE: Hey, MJ! What’s brown and sticky?
MICHELLE: A stick!
MJ: Ba-dum-dum *chick*
MICHELLE: That is seriously my favorite joke. Anyways! Want to get us started this week?
MJ: I will do that, though I warn you, it won’t be pretty.
MICHELLE: I’m a big girl; I can take it.
MJ: So here’s the thing. For a number of reasons (notably the “I get the message” incident) I haven’t read any of Kanoko Sakurakoji’s Black Bird since its second volume. But somehow last night, in a moment of true madness, I found myself picking up volumes six and seven from my review shelf, determined to give the series another chance. I’d genuinely liked the first volume, after all. Was not that alone reason enough to grant a second chance?
This was a mistake.
“I wanted to see this look on your face,” says super-Tengu Kyo to Misao, his helpless bride. Well, apparently that’s all anyone wants to see because she looks like that pretty much the entire time. It would not be an exaggeration to say that throughout the whole of these two volumes, there are maybe ten pages total in which she is not visibly flushed, either from terror, humiliation, or sexual arousal.
Furthermore, any hopes that Misao might have reclaimed even some small amount of the agency she appeared to possess in the series’ first volume have been utterly dashed by this point. She’s completely submissive to her demon lover, and though volume six opens with her going out on her own to try to stop Kyo’s brutal brother Sho from claiming leadership of the Tengu clan, practically the first thing she says to Kyo when she’s returned from the ordeal is, “I know you’re going to scold me. I’ll accept any punishment you give me,” at which point Kyo admits that what she did probably helped his cause but then adds, “All you had to do was stay in my arms and be protected. You’ve sure turned into a troublesome bride.”
Volume seven revolves around Misao and Kyo’s desperate struggle not to have sexual intercourse (featuring flushed, aroused Misao in an array of flustered poses), which is more tedious than it is genuinely offensive, but man, it was rough to get through.
I realize that I’m basically ranting here, but really, Michelle, I just don’t get it. And I mean that with all sincerity. I can accept that many girls and women enjoy fantasizing about being subservient to a stern, controlling lover. It’s obvious that they do, based on the popularity of this series alone. But it’s just so not my fantasy, to the point of making me feel alternately angry and ill as I attempt to read this series. I just can’t enjoy it, even when I try.
MICHELLE: I haven’t read beyond volume two, either, but I also have later volumes sitting around, waiting for their turn at a second chance. I guess it’s the sales figures and the feeling that popularity must somehow reflect quality that makes us feel compelled to try it again, even if it isn’t our cup of tea. If only it weren’t so skeevy, it could really be trashy fun! It’s not as if Kyo is hard on the eyes or anything.
MJ: I can often appreciate a trashy romance! I have done so many times! But there’s something about this one, Michelle… oh, it just makes me furious on pretty much every other page. And though I’m really quite fond of the adorable little Tengu, Taro, he doesn’t appear often enough in these volumes to sufficiently quell my rage.
So how about you? Anything less maddening to share with us this week?
MICHELLE: Well, though it does have its own shades of “average girl in love with a stern guy,” Itazura Na Kiss still continues to generally delight me.
The fifth volume is no exception. Brilliant Naoki Irie, who rivals Ash Lynx in the ability to do anything and do it awesomely, has finally decided that he wants to be a doctor. Even though he claims to be disinterested in Kotoko Aihara, the girl who has devotedly loved him for five years now, she is the only one he tells about his decision, knowing that it will upset his father to learn that Naoki won’t be taking over for him at his company.
Naoki’s right, but no one expected the father to have chest pains that require hospitalization. Putting his own plans on hold, Naoki steps in to lead his father’s company in his absence, realizes they’re in a pretty dire financial situation, and appears poised to go along with an arranged marriage that would make an in-law of a wealthy potential investor.
Of course, this brings much drama for our poor heroine, as well as many nice moments between the lead couple. While everyone else has their own vision of what Naoki should be, for example, Kotoko’s the only one who grieves the loss of his dream when he decides to put it aside for the sake of the family.
It’s too bad, though, that many other moments in the volume repeatedly drive home the point that Kotoko is thoroughly incompetent at anything she attempts. She’s worthless helping at the office, she can’t knit a decent scarf, she can’t cook… It’s frustrating, because I want to see her find that thing she is really good at. Happily, it seems that she might be poised to figure that out, since she’s realized everyone else has a dream and that all she’s been doing is revolving around Naoki.
Despite the occasional frustration, every time I finish a volume of this series I really wish I had the next. I’d say that’s pretty high praise!
MJ: That’s certainly high praise, maybe even more so since you can recognize the things that frustrate you about the series, yet still feel that way. Of course I’m famous for loving flawed books, but I really think it often comes down to the very *personal* needs we have as readers, and whether a book fulfills them. Yeah, I’d be frustrated, too, with the heroine who is terrible at everything. That trope is really unpleasant for me, and obviously it is for you too. But the series still fulfills your basic needs as a reader and leaves you wanting more.
I suspect my problem with Black Bird is that it simply doesn’t fulfill my needs, so there’s nothing to balance the things that frustrate me about it. Based on your assessment here, I have greater hopes for Itazura Na Kiss!
MICHELLE: I certainly hope you’d find it more to your liking. One major difference is that Naoki’s not trying to quell Kotoko’s personal ambition; in fact, he’d probably like her more if she found something else to do with her life than just moon about over him. I admit that he’s frequently dismissive of her, but there are also things about her that he obviously values, as well.
Now, our final pick of the night is one that we both read. Care to do the summarizing honors this time?
MJ: Ouch! The summarizing! Me? Why?????? (insert dramatic weeping)
Okay, I’ll try. So, the manga we’ve both brought to the table tonight is volume one of Kazue Kato’s Blue Exorcist, out just this week from Viz Media. It’s the story of Rin, a rowdy teen who just happens to be the son of Satan, born to a human woman and raised (along with his frail twin brother) by local priest and well-known exorcist Father Fujimoto. As the series opens, Rin is just becoming aware of his demonic ancestry, the shock of which sends him into a teenaged temper tantrum capable of (accidentally) causing the death of his beloved father figure. Bereft and fueled by vengeance, Rin vows to become an exorcist himself, only to discover that his supposedly innocent brother must be the one to teach him!
How’d I do?
MICHELLE: You did quite well! Now, I will go out on a limb here and guess that you didn’t care much about exorcisms or Satan or demonic powers sealed by a sword, but that you did enjoy the relationship between the brothers once we discover that Yukio, Rin’s brother, is actually a fairly badass exorcist in his own right!
MJ: You are very smart indeed! Yes, that was definitely my reaction, and I suspect it was yours too! I’m actually really glad that David made a point of repeating, when he named Blue Exorcist his Pick of the Week, that the first chapter is exceptionally weak, because if I hadn’t known that it was going to get better, I might not have soldiered on. There really was nothing there to draw me in, aside from a vague fondness for the art style. How about you?
MICHELLE: David’s words definitely were in my mind as I read. At first, I was wondering what was really so awful. Boring, yes, but awful? But then came the thoroughly cheesy scene in which Father Fujimoto is possessed by Satan and I went, “Oh.” Things improve very much when Rin gets to True Cross Academy, however. While I do like the art style, particularly the looks of Rin and Yukio, I must say that the quirky-just-to-be-quirky garb of the academy’s president puts me off quite a bit. Usually I take characters with a bizarre sense of fashion in stride, but this guy’s outfit just seems extra pointless to me.
MJ: I’m on the fence regarding the president’s odd outfit. It’s definitely “quirky-just-to-be-quirky,” just as you say, but it contains a particular element that tends to be bullet-proof costuming for me (giant cuffs on sleeves), which is almost enough to win me over all by itself. There’s a reason I’m obsessed with the artwork in Pandora Hearts.
MICHELLE: That is an oddly specific costuming kink! I haven’t paused to consider whether I have anything similar. Maybe I like long coats, because I really like the outfit Yukio wears while teaching his class.
Which leads us back ’round full circle to the brothers and their relationship. I have to wonder where the story is going to go from here, because while I like the boys and find their interaction interesting—Yukio initially blames Rin for Father Fujimoto’s death but comes around to deciding to protect his brother in Fujimoto’s place—if the whole series is going to be them tackling cases like the girl whose legs were affected by a garden spirit, I can’t say my interest is going to stay put for long.
MJ: Long coats are delicious. I can completely get behind that!
I enjoyed the episode with the girl in the garden, but yes, I agree that format would not be compelling for long. I’d like to see more of the two of them in the classroom, with Rin actually learning the craft under Yukio’s tutelage, because watching the two of them together is the most compelling aspect of the story so far. I’d like to get to know both of them more, both as their present selves and the little boys they once were. I feel like there could be a lot there.
MICHELLE: I think that’s unquestionably the area in which the series shows the most potential, particularly in the character of Yukio, whose perspective of events we haven’t been privy to. I definitely plan to continue reading it; I just hope I don’t wind up disappointed.
MJ: Given how dramatically the series improved between its first two chapters, at least things have already shifted in a positive direction. I have high hopes!
MICHELLE: I have… modest hopes.
MJ: Always the smart one. ;)