Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jan 29th 2012
A Devil and Her Love Song
Maria Kawai is an exquisite beauty with a tongue of acid. Kicked out of her exclusive Catholic school and forced to enter the public school jungle, she is vastly unhappy with herself and believes that she taints people simply by being near them. Naturally she attracts attention when she enters the classroom, most of it negative, but two boys, Yusuke and Shin, might be able to see the rose behind the thorns.
Despite what the back cover says, and even in spite of the title, this is not a love story. Maria Kawai, a girl who would fit seamlessly into the 1920s with her stylish bob and bee-stung lips, is fiercely intuitive and has the tact of a charging wildebeest. The thing is, she knows it. She is painfully aware that people are drawn to her looks and then despise her for her words, and she hates that about herself. It might even be fair to say that she dislikes herself as much as other people do, albeit for different reasons. So rather than a romance where Maria must choose between the light haired boy and his dark haired friend, what we have is a story about a girl coming to like herself and helping the two boys to understand themselves a bit better too.
We first meet Maria and the girls who will be her antagonists on the train. To the outside observer, that is, the other girls, it looks as if Maria is refusing to let an old woman sit down and kicks a sleeping man out of spite. What really happened, however, is that Maria was protecting the slumbering salaryman from an elderly pickpocket, and woke him so he would no longer be an easy mark. She does these things instinctively, based on her intuition and observation, and doesn't appear to care how it looks. This immediately sets her up for failure at school, however, and her actions are quickly compounded when she quells the classroom whispers by announcing that she was expelled for assaulting a teacher. No one knows what to do with this, and the girls quickly label her “not our kind” and go on the attack.
As is required by high school shoujo, Yusuke, a boy with bleached hair and a casual look, tries to take Maria under his wing. She is not unwilling, but she doesn't know how to behave and quickly calls him out on only pretending to be a people person. Yusuke is shocked, but he doesn't give up, though how aware he is of the other girls' treatment of her is unclear. Shin, his grumpy buddy, is less enthralled with the new girl, but shows more perception and genuine kindness, going out of his way to ease Maria's troubles. Both boys, as well as Maria, are more interesting and complex characters than the genre usually allows for, with hidden depths that are only just touched on in this first volume. Another character who has potential is Tomoyo, or “Nippachi” as the class calls her. She appears to be an affable, easily led girl, but Maria calls her out as something else. Tomoyo isn't willing to drop the act, but is clearly upset by Maria's observations, reacting violently and then shifting the blame.
Blame shifting and bullying are both significant themes of A Devil and Her Love Song, and aspects of it may hit close to home for some readers. The girls in Maria's class, Tomoyo included, are ruthless, using all of the tricks in their adolescent arsenals to harass Maria. One key weapon they have is “parent manners,” or the skill to behave well in front of adults. The result of this is that Maria's teacher is turned against her, emotionally abusing her as much as the girls, though he doubtless sees it as “tough love.” What makes it that much worse is that Maria believes that she deserves such treatment. “On the day I was expelled, the person who I'd thought was my best friend said, 'You taint everyone around you',” Maria recalls. These words seem to define how she sees herself, and suggest that she feels that being attacked by her classmates is her fault. These are not uncommon feelings in bullied children, and lend Tomori's manga a sense of harsh realism that it might not otherwise have had.
While Maria herself is the most visually striking aspect of the manga, Tomori's style is attractive, if not fairly typical of other series in Margaret. Yusuke's personality is enhanced by the occasional monkey-like touch to his face or posture and Shin's perpetually furrowed brow and stress lines help him to stand out. The pages tend towards the crowded, both in terms of number of panels and figures and use of tones. Tomori includes some nice touches, such as Maria's cross and swollen ankle, but there really isn't much here to separate it from the shoujo herd. What does make it stand out are some uses of Christian themes, like Maria's cross, and also the fact that her favorite song is “Amazing Grace” and that Tomori states that her design was based on Mary Magdalene. These are themes worth paying attention to, as they look as if they will inform the story as it goes on.
A Devil and Her Love Song is an interesting piece. While it has elements of romance, it is more about Maria's self-esteem. Early on Yusuke tries to get her to apply a “lovely spin” on things, and for Maria, it becomes a way of trying to see the world as a kinder place than it has been in her experience. Watching her work through this may very well make this a series to follow as it chronicles the story of a girl who sings like an angel, but is convinced that she's a devil.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Much more than the back copy promises, a heroine worth following. Realistic classroom bullying.
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