Curse of the Queen of Hair

It was a funny little throwaway detail: Iwai’s ancestor, Zablefahr, was the first Queen of Hair and essentially the origin of all of their current problems. Zablefahr left behind two curses: the first one explains the origin of the Killing Goods, which are the possessions of the killers endowed with special properties, whereas the second explain Iwai’s own curse, the Queen of Hair passing on to her own descendants the legacy of having hair that cannot be cut, thus continuing the awful fate of the Queen of the Hair and the Killing Game.

Thanks Professor, I mean, that totally explains everything.

Iwai’s shocked reaction during this scene was really interesting to me. This infodump about the curse must not be new to her — was she just afraid for Kiri to hear the truth out loud? Kiri, at this point, is pretty much taking all of this in stride. Things have been weird ever since he decided to talk to Iwai, so what’s another strange story.  Iwai, on the other hand, acts as if she is only finding out about everything just now. She knows about the Killing Goods, she knows about the secret organization, and I’m sure she knows (prior to Crazy Megane announcing it during the fight with Kiri) that the endgame is her death. Are her reactions merely a result of her own denial?

(This may sound insensitive, but I’m honestly surprised that Iwai hasn’t taken her own life yet. If there are crazy killers out there fighting over the chance to get a wish granted through her death, wouldn’t it be easier to screw them over and end the game on her own terms? Whatever, I know I’m morbid.)

Like Izumiko, Iwai also belongs to the “I Want to be a Normal Girl” club. Again, it may just be me, but with a cloud of death constantly hanging over her, it seems that being teased by her classmates as a result of her long hair should be the least of Iwai’s problems.  Iwai’s curse doesn’t seem to be a result of her ancestor’s impetuous nature, but rather, her own insecurity. Until Kiri showed up, Iwai choose of her own will to give in and stay at home, protected by the two crazy sisters and the lolicon professor.  If she wants to be normal, she has to take her fate into her own two hands and claim it through her own strength. Otherwise, she can dream about it all she wants, she will never have it.

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Magical Boy Sherlock Holmes

This isn’t the Sherlock manga that you’re looking for. This version, with the story and art by Toya ATAKA, originally entitled Sherlock Holmes wa Kage ni Sasayaku (Sherlock Holmes Whispers to the Shadow), is currently available through JManga. The other one, which is based on the BBC drama, is not available in English, as of this writing. (And honestly, please don’t ask me where to get raws/scanlations for that, ’cause REALLY?!?)

This version follows Holmes and Watson on a case to figure out what exactly happened to a promising young opera singer whose teeth inexplicably fell out during a performance and died. The investigation is further complicated with the interest of the Minister of Finance on the singer’s death. What exactly is his involvement in this situation?

I have mixed feelings about this short one-shot. As an addition to the Sherlock mythology, I think it misses the point. Sherlock as shota just doesn’t work for me. He seems too emotional and too easy to rile up — not at all what you’d expect from London’s smartest mind. He bristles when Watson calls him “kid,” and speaking of which, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Watson to carry Holmes like a princess when Holmes destroys his car. I think it’s the same cognitive dissonance each time I would watch an Edward Elric throw a hissy fit over being called short; he’s supposed to be a genius alchemist but he goes around stomping his feet over a tired joke. If you look like a kid and act like a kid, then guess what? You shouldn’t get upset when people treat you like one.

Beyond the character’s appearance, I think Sherlock’s ability as a “shadow user,” in this manga, in which he uses the shadows to extend his senses through space and time, takes away from the keen observation skills that this character is well known for. Sherlock doesn’t need to see behind doors, he already sees and knows more than the average investigator. He combines the observation with flawless deduction to solve the cases. That’s the only magic that he needs.

Does this story work well as a manga though? Sure. The two characters have a sexy, if typical, relationship going on. I mean, Watson has a checkered eyepatch! How could you not think that’s sexy? And he’s all tall seme to Holmes’ babyface. It’s easy fujoshi bait, because you know, the story of Sherlock Holmes is so immune from that sort of thing. The art is actually very pretty and the action scenes are well-done. The author manages to combine the creepy and heart-pounding elements in the panels and the artwork. The final reveal on what really happened to the opera singer’s teeth was very creepy cool.

I’m truthfully not a hardcore Sherlock fan, even though I have watched the BBC series as well as the CBS version, Elementary (which I adore! You can’t change my mind about it!). Maybe if you’re a purist, this manga would be too watered down Sherlock for you, but if you’re like me and you don’t mind looking into other interpretations of this classic character, then give this a try.

You can preview the chapter before purchasing it, even though I think we should all support JManga so that they’d continue to have more interesting titles available digitally.

Yurara and the Problems of a (Supernatural) Love Polygon

This post is written for the September 2012 Manga Moveable Feast hosted by Manga Report. This month’s featured topic is Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint. If you’d like to participate, more information is available at the Call for Participation post or in the Google group.

Yurara is just your everyday love story between two boys, a girl, and a ghost. Okay, guardian spirit, but you’re just being fussy.

In most shojo manga, a love triangle is a plot tactic often used to build and develop emotional tension. It seems very much the stuff of young fantasy: a cute girl has to pick between two equally attractive boys vying for her favor. Each boy would have qualities that differentiate him from his rival; one may be quiet and brooding, whereas the other would be  loud and impulsive. It really becomes a matter of closing your eyes and letting random chance pick between two great flavors, since in the end, either one is probably worth it.

In this shojo series, the relationships are further complicated because the two boys, Yako and Mei, are competing for the love of Yurara, their classmate and Yurara, the guardian spirit that possesses and protects her.

It’s stories such as these that are the reason why I can’t ever give up shojo manga. As if teenage love wasn’t complicated enough without adding a ghost into the mix.

Warning: unmarked spoilers after this point.

Yurara Tsukinowa has always been the weird girl. She blankly stares off into space and starts crying for no reason whatsoever. Turns out, she has a special ability: she can see ghosts as well as have empathy for their emotions. The ghosts that she encounters have a reason why they can’t pass over, and it’s these remaining emotions that she feels and which trigger her own emotional response.

On the first day of high school, she literally finds herself in-between the two boys who would change her life. Mei Tendo and Yako Hoshino, like Yurara, are able to see spirits as well as possess abilities that they use to repel the ones that have become malevolent. Mei uses demon fire, whereas Yako uses a water barrier — again, playing on the stereotype that rivals have to be opposite to the other.

Yurara, unlike the two boys, doesn’t have an offensive or defensive ability to help her if and when the spirits should attack. Unknown to her, she has a guardian spirit, which only reveals itself each time Yurara finds herself in trouble. The spirit, which is revealed to be Yurara’s ancestor (and whom she was named after), possesses her body and has the ability to exorcise the ghosts from the earthly realm.  When the spirit takes over her body, Yurara’s appearance takes the form of her ancestor, even though she continues to be aware of what is going on.

The primary conflict in Yurara is more a matter of logistics than anything else: Yurara loves Mei (and vice-versa); Yako, in turn, loves the guardian spirit, who only appears to take over the body of high-school age Yurara. There’s just not enough physical bodies to go around!  Each time Yurara transforms into the form of the spirit guardian, the guardian’s emotions are so strong that they take over the entire being, thus causing even additional emotional turmoil for Yurara, who thinks that she is in love with both boys at the same time. When Yurara agrees to become Mei’s girlfriend, she feels like she’s betraying his trust by still having feelings for Yako each time the spirit appears. The random kisses with Yako don’t help her case too much either.

(It’s a good thing that Yurara isn’t Natsuyuki Rendezvous — if Yurara’s spirit guardian were as selfish as Atsushi, then this story would have ended up a little differently…)

To her credit, though, Yurara has always known that Mei was the one whom she loved. He accepted her and loved her as herself. He would sometimes tease her and make jokes that he prefers the more statuesque guardian, but he genuinely loves Yurara, the normal, slightly weird girl the most. Yurara’s choice to become independently strong, to live without the protection of her guardian, came about from her desire to save Mei. Once she was able to use her own powers, the guardian no longer needed to protect her. The guardian’s soul was able to follow her own love without being joined to Yurara’s physical body.

How about Yako? Does he get his happy ending? Well, that’s why Rasetsu came about.

When the Monster is the Hero: Blue Exorcist

It’s impressive how the majority of shounen heroes are misfits. They’re the loud, unruly, irrepressible — nothing like the stereotypical image of the Japanese people that has pervaded Western thinking. They’re usually the kids who are the class clowns, disrupting the teacher’s lessons with their raucous behavior. Or, they’re the shortest or the skinniest or the weakest and their goal in life is to be the best in their sport. It’s usually the one who’s the most unlikely to succeed who becomes the series’ focus of attention.

The title character of Blue Exorcist, Rin OKUMURA, is another gem in the long line of shounen misfit heroes. He’s the older sibling of twin brothers, and for better or worse, he received a greater share of brawn than brains than his brother, Yukio. In the beginning of the series (both manga and anime, though for this post, I will be referring to primarily events that happened in the anime), he was sent out to look for a part-time job when he was attacked by a group of bullies; in the progress of the fight, Rin found out that his fighting powers were better than an ordinary human’s. It was through this fight that Rin finally learned the truth that he was, in fact, a demon, one of the sons of Satan.

Rin’s situation is definitely reminscent of another well-known Weekly Jump hero, Naruto. Because of the circumstances of their birth, they were orphaned early on and needed to be raised by a compassionate elder aware of their condition. Naruto, as the vessel of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, was generally ostracized and marginalized in the same manner as Rin. Both boys were essentially considered “monsters” by the majority of their respective communities. They weren’t just clowns, they were actually dangerous and treated accordingly.

Rin’s advantage over Naruto is a stronger familial network. As a twin, Rin has always had  his brother for companionship. Where Rin may have had a difficult time growing up– being called a “demon” certainly doesn’t help an already damaged child heal — he also was able to share and experience memorable times with Yukio and their adoptive father, Father Shiro Fujimoto. If I were Rin, I would feel maybe a little uncomfortable that the two closest individuals in my life would also be the first people to restrain or kill me when the situation calls for it.

In typical shounen hero fashion, Rin vows that he’ll “kick Satan’s ass,” even though his powers are a result of being the son of the monster he wishes to defeat. His strength, his control over the blue flames of Satan, even his ability to communicate and command  lower-class demons — these are available for Rin to tap and to use because he is half-demon, so I’m curious if this conflict will become a point of self-loathing for him later, especially when it seems to me that he is battling a crucial part of his identity in order to achieve his heroic goal.

Like Naruto, and yet another fictional hero, Harry Potter, it appears that the best measure to avoid future conflict between the dueling nature of Rin’s identity is to ensure that he gets trained in the right path. Even before his passing, Father Shiro knew that he needed to entrust Rin’s guardianship to someone who would ensure that Rin would not go astray. Of course, it is the biggest of (anime) ironies that the next guardian should be a demon himself, another son of Satan, that is, Mephisto Pheles.  (I also am amused to no end that I just ended up comparing Mephisto Pheles to Professor Dumbledore.)  If Satan had gotten to Rin first, he could’ve ended up his strongest weapon against humanity. If Voldemort had been able to get Harry to join the Death Eaters, that book series might have ended up a lot bleaker. Without the proper guidance and training, our heroes might have ended up being the heinous monsters that everyone feared they would be.

Keeping true to its shounen roots, Blue Exorcist utilizes a familiar hero trope yet still manages to engage and entertain, proving once again that just because it’s a trope doesn’t mean it has to be bad.

Black Crow and White Snake: Kamisama Kiss 2-3

It’s been a while that I’m reading a manga ahead of its anime adaptation. I read the first volume of Kamisama Kiss a month ago, since I thought the art looked cute, but my interest has only really been piqued once I found out about the upcoming anime.

Volume 2-3 picks up on Nanami Momozono’s life as the new deity at Mikage Shrine. In volume 2, a transfer student, Kurama, arrives in Nanami’s class. Known as “the fallen angel with black wings,” Kurama is a bonafide visual kei rock star straight out of the 1990s. Turns out, he’s also a yokai, a karasu from Mount Kurama — which would also explain the wings. He ends up being small fry for Tomoe, who decides that it would be funny to turn the karasu (crow) into an ostrich, to be prepared and served for Nanami’s dinner.  He doesn’t end up being much of a threat anyway; in the latter half of the book, he even takes in Nanami and Tomoe when Raijin Narukami-hime takes over the temple.

The white snake appears in volume 3. Nanami rescues a snake from classmates that was harassing it in school. White snakes are rare enough, and she knows that rare creatures could possibly be familiars of yokai. Before leaving, the snake wraps itself around Nanami’s wrist and forearm, which turned out not to be a good thing for her. I guess when a magical white snake does that, it’s the sign that you’re engaged to be married! Mizuki, the white snake, is a shinshi of an underwater shrine where he kidnaps Nanami to complete their marriage ceremony. Again, Tomoe arrives in time to rescue her as Nanami figures out the reason why Mizuki has been so lonely and in need of a wife in the first place.

(Confession time: I was half-expecting the white snake to be Ayame, which would have been an AWESOME shoujo manga crossover. Only in my dreams.)

I thought it was interesting that the creator, Julietta SUZUKI, wrote in the sidenotes how she wanted to write a yokai school comedy (where the students are the yokai), but apparently it was rejected so she’s had to adjust it as a high school comedy and structure the yokai stories around that. Kamisama Kiss is cute, but I even feel that the parts set in the high school are weaker than the parts where Nanami (and Tomoe) just has to interact with the yokai. Nanami doesn’t seem to want to go to school, and she’s bullied half the time for being poor anyway; I wouldn’t want to go to school in those conditions either.

While these early volumes do have a “monster of the week” feel to them, I’m willing to stick it out for a little while. I’m not excited about the romantic drama between Nanami and Tomoe (which, as a shoujo series, is to be expected), rather I’m actually looking forward to the other supernatural creatures and beings that will show up. As in xxxHolic and Natsume Yuujinchou, it’s interesting to see how certain creators will interpret a well-known ‘character,’ while staying in the confines of the audience’s canon knowledge of that creature. The creator of this manga seems really invested in the sundry of Japanese folklore, she actually has used characters that I don’t think I’ve seen in a previous manga before.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched an anime based off a Hanayume series (Gakuen Alice was the last one I’ve seen and I don’t remember that one being particularly well-done) so my sentimental self is looking forward to the animated version of this series come the fall.