Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A Devil and Her Love Song
As the choral competition draws closer, Maria's class is still divided, and what looks like a boon might turn out to be just the opposite. Hana Ibuki has been missing for most of the year due to illness, and when the sweet and perky girl returns, it looks as if she may be able to reunite the group. But when it is announced that the concert will be filmed for television, it becomes clear that Maria's teacher has some plans of his own. Can even Shin Meguro's budding feelings save this situation?
Things have gotten no easier for Maria Kawai since last we saw her in volume two of Miyoshi Tomori's bittersweet shoujo. Having been forced into the role of choir leader, Maria has amassed a small group of loyal singers, but the continued machinations of her homeroom teacher throw wrench after wrench into her spokes. Now with the return of Hana Ibuki, a classmate who has been out sick for most of the year, things are about to get stickier for Maria, although as always, the root of the problem lies with her horrible teacher, who exemplifies the person who won't see past her outward appearance.
With her entry into the story, Hana replaces Ayu as the primary female antagonist, giving a different kind of mean girl. Where Ayu was the controlling girl whose brash personality ran roughshod over the other girls in class, Hana's weapon is her apparent sweetness. Her character design is in direct opposition to Maria's – her eyes are exaggeratedly big, round, and sparkling, her hair is short, fluffy, and messy, and she gives off an air of angelic cuteness. Where Ayu ruled with the fist, Hana favors honey, and the teacher instantly sees her as a weapon in his war on Maria. He decides that if he can use Hana to make Maria look even more horrible, he can then stage a reformation of the problem student on live television in order to make the school look good, and Hana seems willing to go along with him.
With Hana's introduction, Ayu has a chance to be reformed to a certain degree, which brings us to one of the major problems with the series: villains are too quickly turned into allies. We saw this in the first two books with Tomoyo (Nipachi), who went from antagonist to sidekick in the space of two volumes, and now in these next two both Ayu and Hana are, if not made friends, at least resolved. While the excuse can be made that this is all in service of pointing out who the larger villain is (and thereby saying something about the power of adults over children), or possibly making a case for Maria's own reformation, it smacks of cliched storytelling and brings the level of the series down somewhat. In a story where the bullying can provoke a visceral reaction in the reader, this is a bit of a let down.
Fortunately the rest of the story is well done. The cruelty of some of the other characters towards Maria is, as has been said, enough to make the reader react emotionally, although your mileage may vary depending upon your own school experiences. These two volumes also bring Maria's past into play, with more explanation than we have previously been given. Volume four expands upon the story of her friend telling her that she taints everyone, although we still don't know precisely what provoked that statement, and also gives the history of the song “Amazing Grace.” The symbolism is nicely worked in to the story of Maria's isolation from her classmates and when coupled with the story of Maria's past adds a layer to the character as well as giving a more fleshed-out sense of how Maria sees herself. Between these two volumes we also get chapters told from Shin and Ayu's perspectives, a nice trick that we saw in volume two with Yusuke and one that continues to work to deepen the story. The romance subplot comes more to the fore in these two books, but manages to do so without overwhelming the rest of the tale. While more cynical readers may find it a bit odd just how open everyone in the class is with their feelings, when juxtaposed with Maria's reserve, it works to show just how different she is from everyone else. All of that aside, the developing romance is really very sweet and worth throwing your emotions behind.
Tomori's art continues to be over-toned and crowded while remaining distinct and attractive. In volume three, Maria sings on the roof on a windy day, and the contrast between her usual sleek appearance and the windblown tossing of her locks is wonderful, showing that Tomori can draw her as “innocence ruffled” as well as “utterly disdainful” and still have her be recognizably the same character. Boys' posture and body language has a very familiar look, with most of them slouching, while adults stand up straight. There is an increase of chibis in these two books, which does serve to lighten the mood when needed, and seeing Maria's bee-stung lips on one is really very funny.
A Devil and Her Love Song manages to be set in school without being just another school story. While it has its flaws, like crowded pages and villains who reform too quickly, its heart is absolutely in the right place, and Maria is a unique enough heroine that she can keep us reading. YALSA needs to take notice of this one, but even if you're out of the “young adult” category, this is a series worth reading.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Maria is both interesting and unique, keeping us rooting for her. Chapters from other characters' perspectives keep the narrative fresh. Attractive art and good emotional content.