MJ: It took every bit of willpower I had not to begin with “Ho, ho, ho!” That’s how much I’m looking forward to my upcoming vacation.
MICHELLE: Heh. I’m not taking much of one, but hubby is, which is kind of like a vacation for me!
MJ: I hope it gives you a least a bit of a break! I’m counting the days…
So, in all the mess of holiday preparations (or not), have you had a chance to read any manga?
MICHELLE: Not a great deal, actually, but some!
The first item on my agenda this week is the debut of Demon Love Spell, a supernatural shoujo comedy from Mayu Shinjo. I must admit that the setup of this one—an inept shrine maiden with the thoroughly uninspired name of “Miko” tames a sexy demon—did not sound very promising. Coupled with the mess that is Ai Ore!, I definitely had to question why I was putting myself through another Shinjo manga. As it turns out, though, it isn’t bad. It’s not good, nor original, but it isn’t bad!
Miko Tsubaki is descended from a family that has protected a certain shrine for generations. Her father is a renowned exorcist, and though Miko lacks the ability to see ghosts and demons, she still wants to follow in his footsteps. When a classmate suggests her cheating boyfriend is possessed by a demon, Miko takes her seriously and attempts to bind the guy. To her utter astonishment, she succeeds. Kagura, a formerly studly incubus, who survives by feeding off women’s passionate feelings, has been reduced to a tiny state. This ignominious downfall prompts other demons to show up and mock him. However, whenever Kagura’s in physical contact with Miko, she’s able to see and fight them off.
Thus begins a partnership, with Miko lending him energy and him lending her his powers until she’s able to remember the spell to change him back. Of course, there’s a lot of innuendo here, as Kagura is typically tucked into her cleavage for these scenes, and he also has been visiting her sexually in her dreams. I did kind of worry this would be something like Black Bird, but it really isn’t. Kagura is pretty sexually voracious, true, but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything Miko doesn’t want—her dream self states quite plainly that she’s been enjoying what’s going on—and occasionally seems rather sad that she’s unable to remember their closeness during their waking hours. Theirs isn’t a deep love and unfolds far too quickly to be convincing, but at least it’s not icky.
Ultimately, Demon Love Spell is kind of generic, but it’s the kind of fluff one can enjoy without feeling bad about it.
MJ: I reviewed this book for my very first episode of My Week in Manga, and surprisingly, I think I enjoyed it more than you did—or at least felt more enthusiastic about enjoying it—though this could possibly be due to my extremely low expectations. (I never made it past volume two of Ai Ore!) I think I really appreciate its ability to provide some genuine sexiness without all the gross misogyny of Ai Ore! or Black Bird. I don’t know why these things always seem to go hand-in-hand in trashy shoujo manga, but they really do. I’m grateful for a break from it.
MICHELLE: Yes, “sexy without being gross” is a good way to describe it. I like it enough so far to read more, but it’s not the kind of thing I see myself wanting to reread multiple times in the future.
Anyways, what have you been reading this week?
MJ: I pondered heavily over what to choose for my solo read this week—even going so far as to solicit suggestions on YouTube—but in the end, I snatched up the opportunity to talk about volume two of Haruko Kumota’s My Darling Kitten Hair, out this week from JManga. Normally, I’d save a title like this for our BL Bookrack column, but this series is so charming, I just couldn’t wait that long!
A quick recap of the premise for those who missed my short review of the first volume: Young salaryman Kei-chan has left his Hokkaido hometown in order to join his high school boyfriend, Mii-kun (a slovenly writer who makes his living penning erotica), at his grandmother’s boarding house in Tokyo. Though the two have been a couple for a long time, the bohemian atmosphere of the boarding house is a far cry from their closeted world back home, which turns out to be a real adjustment for both of them.
This is absolutely a slice-of-life series, much heavier on characterization than it is on plot, but its series of snapshots into the young men’s lives illustrates beautifully the unquestionable weirdness of becoming a real, independent adult, especially when you’re trying to do it alongside someone from your childhood. Volume one focused heavily on Kei-chan’s introduction to Mii-kun’s queer circle of friends and the shifting of their relationship from chaste country sweethearts (and later, long-distance lovers) into that of sexually active adults. Volume two continues with more of both, which in less skilled hands might simply become repetitive. Fortunately Kumota is the kind of writer who understands how to move her characters forward without having to rely on dramatic plot points to do so. Her deceptively light story develops slowly and naturally, full of warmth and charm in every moment.
It’s so rare to read a BL series (or any relationship-driven story) that is about staying in love rather than falling in love, and there’s a reason for that. It’s hard! As difficult as it can be to write authentic, well-developed romance, much like actual romance, it’s even harder to keep that fire burning after the initial rush of first love. Thankfully, My Darling Kitten Hair stands as a lovely example of how to do exactly that. And it’s a real pleasure to read.
MICHELLE: That sounds really wonderful. Almost like a worthy successor to Future Lovers, if I may make so bold a claim having not read any of the title in question! Is the story still ongoing after the second volume?
MJ: The internet tells me that it is, indeed, ongoing, which fills me with great joy! You particularly, Michelle, will enjoy the two bonus chapters at the end of volume two, depicting Kei-chan and Mii-kun’s relationship from the contrasting POVs of the boarding house’s two cats.
So as usual, we have a mutual read on deck. Would you like to introduce it this week?
MICHELLE: !! Okay, that settles it. I am going to do a brief of this in next week’s Bookshelf Briefs, I do declare!
Our mutual read this week is the re-debut of 07-Ghost, which was originally launched by Go!Comi a few years ago and is now back in print thanks to VIZ Media. This political/military/religious fantasy is the story of Teito Klein, a shrimpy (there needs to be some kind of master list of short male manga protagonists!) but talented student at the Barsburg Empire military academy. He’s a member of the special class, whose students use a power called zaiphon “to shape the divine energy of life.”
Their graduation ceremony includes banding together to defeat a hulking prisoner, and soon after Teito and his best friend Mikage manage to pass the test, Teito overhears some school officials talking about how he’s the best candidate for something called the Eye of Mikael, which was a stone that protected the rival Raggs Kingdom. This sets off a flurry of disjointed memories, and very quickly thereafter Teito has escaped and found himself seeking sanctuary in a church ruled by three rather eccentric bishops. The school/military hasn’t given up on finding him, however, and they’ve got no qualms about using Mikage to do it.
MJ: Well done, Michelle! What readers also should know is that this series runs in Ichijinsha’s Comic Zero Sum which, if you’re a fan of other Zero Sum fantasy series from authors like Yun Kouga (Loveless) and Kazuya Minekura ( Saiyuki Reload), gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. I went into 07-Ghost expecting three things: pretty male characters, sprawling fight scenes, and homoerotic subtext, and it delivered on all three.
MICHELLE: It definitely reminds me of those series, especially visually. Somehow the art style strikes me as “old-fashioned,” but I can’t really explain why. It’s not as light and simple as some things I’ve been reading recently, which helps create the fantasy feeling, methinks. There were times when I was confused by what I was looking at—what is that flying thing? what’s going on in this fight scene?—but these questions were all quickly answered by the story, so it wasn’t really an issue.
One thing I had some issues with is the pacing. Teito’s escape from the military academy after that overheard conversation is a veritable whirlwind, and he deduces very quickly that he’s a member of Raggs royalty. Perhaps I’m simply used to other manga, where we actually see the moment when a truth is realized, and there is much emphasis on the point to make sure the reader gets it, but with 07-Ghost it felt a little rushed to me. His memories, visions, and temptations to sell his soul in order to learn about his past can also be a little confusing. But that said, I think some of the other plot elements are paced nicely, like the continued allusions to the seven ghosts who I can only assume are eventually going to awaken and do something badass.
MJ: I agree, there were some whirlwind sections that left me feeling a bit frazzled and confused (though the story always caught me back up), and I think the fight scenes in particular could use more definition. But overall, I really enjoyed the chance to sink into some female-aimed action/fantasy, which I’ll admit is a pet genre of mine. I feel like the rushed introduction to Teito’s past was supposed to sweep us along so that we’d experience the same shock as Teito does, but it doesn’t linger quite long enough on that moment of realization which robs it of some impact (and a bit of credibility). But in the context of the whole volume, I can accept this as a minor stumble. And I’m anxious to find out more about the seven ghosts!
MICHELLE: Me, too! I wasn’t aware prior to reading this that I actually wanted 07-Ghost to be license-rescued, but now that it has been, I see that it was a pretty worthy contender. Thanks, VIZ!