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Lost in Translation
Even though Renji is an angel, all he knows how to do is fight. As punishment for insubordination and unnecessary collateral damage during the recent war with the devils, he is stripped of most of his powers and sent to Earth. Now he and his angelic supervisor Kaito will not be allowed to return to Heaven until Renji has saved 10,000 souls! Fortunately, God has granted him the power of Soul Rescue to assist him in this monumental task, and he soon learns that by kissing those in need of rescuing, he can heal both “heart” and “body.” If he comes to sympathize with their plight, that is! God clearly has plans for Renji, and they involve him learning the true meaning of divine mercy…
Mangaka Aya Kanno readily admits that she never intended to draw shoujo manga. She did, after all, train under the auspices of a shounen artist (Masashi Asaki of Psychometrer Eiji fame). But it just so happens that the first magazine to accept her submission was Hakusensha's Hana to Yume, so shoujo manga, complete with embarrassing, sparkly screentone, it was.
Even though, in actuality, this series is more shounen in its manifest narrative structure than it is shoujo. As in any number of mainstream shounen manga a fan might be inclined to name, Soul Rescue's unformed protagonist is presented with an indefinitely large sequence of episodic challenges to overcome, which in Renji's case of course involve saving the souls of those in dire need of divine assistance. The first challenge confronting him is Linda, a young woman who appears to be raising her two younger siblings alone. We eventually find out, however, that Linda used to be an assassin, and her brother and sister are actually the royal children of a queen she killed in her previous line of work. But she just couldn't bring herself to murder the kids. She has been on the run from her former employer since then. Fortunately, Renji shows up to save the day when said employer catches up to her, and his kiss restores Linda to life.
This bit of bawdy humor regarding the nature of Renji's powers does not go unexploited by Kanno, although yaoi fans may be disappointed to note that all of the characters he kisses in volume one (apart from a joke pass made at Kaito) are women. The second soul he rescues is that of a princess who is being poisoned by her stepmother so that her younger sister can inherit the throne instead—and who, moreover, knows why she is being poisoned and accepts her fate. However, aforementioned younger Sister Princess Shalala does not want the throne, and Renji can only use his Soul Rescue power once he understands the power of sisterly love.
The last story of the volume involves a young woman named Janis who is organizing a commoner protest against a despotic feudal lord. Unfortunately, this time the pretty boy devils Vinny and Toi—one of whom seems to remember Renji from his pugnacious old days—are involved and sowing discord and despair, and Renji is unable to save Janis in time. Despite the politics of this subplot, its conflict, like all of the others, is reduced to a failure to emotionally connect. So all our problems would be fixed if we could just learn to get along and love each other? Right. Though it seems that Kanno really did try, the effect overall proves simplistic and disappointing, especially given the gravity of the moral dilemmas at stake here.
The artwork, like the narrative, seems better suited to a shounen manga as well. Although the characters' faces are luminous and reasonably attractive, the asymmetric panel layouts are pretty cramped by shoujo manga standards and generally highlight the dynamic over the aesthetic. Though Kanno is self-deprecating when it comes to her art, it is actually here that she is at her most confident. It's not great, but it's plenty solid and functional.
And so, by the end of volume one, the official tally is as follows: 2 souls saved, 1 soul lost to damnation, 9998 souls left to rescue. Few are likely to find these stats especially promising, and those rolling their eyes and groaning inwardly probably have the right idea. Soul Rescue, after all, only made it to volume two before being axed from the pages of Hana to Yume, so it seems likely that most of those other 9998 sorry souls never managed to make it on to the narrative agenda. Don't get too attached to Renji and Kaito, in any case, because they will soon be gone. Still, for a rookie effort, it could have been a lot worse, and it is safe to say that we can expect bigger and better things from this mangaka in the future.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B+
+ Reasonably attractive art and a handful of juvenile laughs about kissing.
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