Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Sep 10th 2011
When Kyo is cursed by demon hunter Raikoh, Sagami tells Misao that the only way to efficiently save him is for the couple to consummate their relationship. Misao is all for it, but Kyo is afraid for her. Eventually lust wins out, however, and the two have sex...which all of the other demons in Japan seem to be able to tell. But once the deed is done, Misao's power hasn't abated, which means she is still a target for demons and demon-possessed humans. Kyo seems unwilling to repeat the exercise, which concerns Misao – was she no more than the senka maiden to him? This issue is soon eclipsed by the arrival of Kyo's long-lost father, who not only reveals the secret behind his wife's death, but also some upsetting news about who is behind the recent attacks and the return of an old enemy.
Does YALSA have a prize for “Creepiest Sex Scene in a Young Adult Book?” This is an important question when reading these three latest volumes in Viz's English translation of Kanoko Sakurakoji's paranormal romance, because if it exists, someone needs to nominate volume eight for the prize immediately. While this volume does firmly establish Sakurakoji as a master of symbolism, it does so at the expense of any younger audience members and with a question for Viz about why this series is not wrapped in plastic. Not that there is anything wrong with sexually explicit manga – it is the unequal relationship at the heart of this one that makes its contents questionable.
Volume eight is, without a doubt, the raunchiest of the these three. Those who have been reading this series for the titillation of the not-quite-sex that Misao and Kyo engaged in previous to this point may find themselves surprised by the longest sex scene since Tokyopop published Mars volume ten. Normally such a thing would not merit so much discussion in a review, but the over-the-top quality of this one could determine for some readers whether or not they will continue to follow Black Bird. Kyo consistently refers to the act of copulation as “devouring” Misao, and when the other characters go out of their way to remind her that she is food for demons, it becomes difficult to see the scene as anything other than violent. This is borne out by the ongoing visual metaphor Sakurakoji provides of a bird of prey striking and shredding some smaller animal and our own cultural predisposition to associate the word “devour” with the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Add to all of this the fact that every time Kyo and Misao have sex tears are overflowing from her eyes. While this could be some other kind of metaphor, one suggested by the most gratuitous use of “fruit = female sexuality” since Christina Rosetti's “Goblin Market,” Misao's watering pot tendencies permeate all three volumes, giving her the image of a victim.
Where earlier volumes of the series could be seen as romantic, by the end of volume ten Misao seems like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Kyo continues in the vein that he established around volume seven, teasing Misao until she doubts both herself and his affection. This blatant cruelty is not the behavior of man in love, or at least not one in a healthy relationship. Misao's insistence on sticking with him (“I have to hold on to him with all my might...or I can't have him,” she thinks in volume 10 when he mentions leaving her behind) and her resolution to forsake her family for him may seem sweet at first, but it is important to remember that she is sixteen. That is below the age of consent in most cultures (including many prefectures in Japan; although federal law has it at 13, prefectural law often trumps it in court). Kyo is older, even if not significantly – remember, his “day job” is a teacher at Misao's school and he is very insistent that they not show affection on campus. This adds an uncomfortable layer of statutory rape to the proceedings. While some sixteen-year-olds seem mature enough to be treated as adults, Misao's dependance on her parents indicates that she has not yet achieved adulthood.
On the plus side, volume ten's plot is much improved from the earlier “will-they-won't-they” storyline that dominates most of the series. While volume nine mostly focuses on the aftermath of Kyo and Misao sleeping together and her worries that now that he's gotten what he wanted he will no longer love her, the tenth book looks more into the future of the tengu as a race. With Misao's powers claimed by the clan, the other demons step up their games to eliminate or steal her, especially as it is revealed that her powers are not dictated by her virginity. With Kyo's father's narrative about how Kyo became the head of the clan and some more background on his older brother Sho, Sakurakoji sets us up for a supernatural battle for the tengu throne. Sho and Kyo's mother Yuri also informs the past, offering an explanation for the brothers' rivalry in the first place. This world building is quite promising, particularly as it looks to develop the characters of the eight daitengu, Kyo's faithful bodyguards.
Artistically, Sakurakoji provides attractive people on easily identifiable backgrounds. Clothing is stylish or lush depending on whether it is eastern or western, and Misao's ever-changing hairstyles are visually interesting. The panel flow is clear and easy to follow, and as has been mentioned, her use of symbolism is excellent, albeit creepy. Facial expressions are not her strong suit – Misao seems to cycle between about three and during one sex scene Kyo looks annoyed that Misao is enjoying herself – but for the most part the emotions come across clearly. Hands tend to be consistently too large, but all the other anatomy is where it ought to be.
Black Bird has never really aspired to be literature, but in at least two of these three volumes it also loses the right to call itself “good.” The disturbing aspects of Kyo and Misao's relationship far outweigh the romantic ones, making this an almost textbook example of what you don't want in your daughter's love life. While it is hardly the first series to do this, it also lacks some of the qualities that make something like Miki Aihara's Hot Gimmick readable – for example, Hatsumi never aspired to anything resembling an equal relationship, where Misao does. That she is unable to achieve it makes her seem trapped, a victim of her own Kyo-stoked libido. And when your romance heroine seems like a victim, something has gone wrong with your story.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B
+ Nice art, story picks up in volume 10.
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