Reviewby Casey Brienza,
High school student Misao Harada has been saving herself for that special somebody that she met back when she was a little girl. But little does she suspect that the adorable boy she remembers is somehow connected to all the weird ghosts and ghoulies only she can see that always seem to be following her around! She has just celebrated her sixteenth birthday when she learns that she is the bride of prophecy: Demons that drink her blood gain long life, demons that eat her flesh gain immortality, and the demon that marries her wins guaranteed good fortune for his clan. Needless to say, she is a hot commodity—and hottest on her tail is the über-hot karasu Kyo, who is determined to make her his bride! Will she ever let this onetime childhood friend go from licking her wounds to *ahem* licking her in other places as well?
A bodice ripper with lots of bodice ripping but no sex (at least in the first volume)? And lots of blood drinking but no vampires (yet)? That would be the deliciously dirty Black Bird by Kanoko Sakurakoji (Backstage Prince).
Of the three major Japanese manga publishers, Shougakukan has been struggling the most of late in the shoujo manga genre. They simply do not have anything on the order of Kodansha's Nakayoshi or Shuueisha's Ribon. And so, what do you do as a publisher when your back is against the proverbial wall? Why, but of course, you lift your legs up high into the air and bring on the sleaze! Shougakukan does shoujo sleaze like no one else, and Black Bird is an excellent, award-winning entrant into that particular category. Those who like their manga with a naughty twist have come to exactly the right place.
The story begins with Misao Harada, the heroine and Object of Desire of the piece. At first, she thinks her main problem is that mischievous spirits that only she can see love tripping her up (literally), and someday the adorable little boy whom she met when she a small child will return to sweep her off her clumsy feet. Well, the adorable little boy in question (his name is Kyo) does come back to sweep her off her feet…but there's a problem: He's actually a karasu, the head of his demon clan, and in addition to wanting her as his bride he also wants her in the more sordid sense of the word. Oh, and because the rest of the demon world wants her—“want” in many of their cases is in sense of “dead”—he also spends a lot of time licking her wounds in order to heal them.
And here is where the aforementioned sleaze comes in. Misao gets hurt a lot, and Kyo is always conveniently around to, shall we say, savor her flesh. Naturally, Sakurakoji knows exactly how to milk a scene for every last drop of its erotic fanservice potential, and any time Kyo is healing her it actually looks more like he is doing her. Like any good bodice ripper, there is one of these scenes in every chapter, and every scene gets more daring and steamy than the last. I am willing to bet that a lot of readers aren't in it for the innovative plot or nuanced character development.
But in all honesty, neither the plot nor the character development is especially bad. Actually, they are a cut above average. The plot, as least as far as the first volume is concerned, is well paced and entertaining, and the characters are endearing in the best tradition of pulp fiction. Kyo, we learn, has admirable self-restraint, and his unwavering devotion to Misao comes flapping straight out of a teenage girl's wish fulfillment fantasy. By the end of the first volume, she even has a (supposedly, since this manga is in black and white) silver-haired kitsune who is competing with Kyo for her affections, and he seems like he could be an interesting character as well. There is even a good bit of humor in the form of Kyo's child servant—and of course the fact that Kyo is also masquerading, again in great pulpy manga tradition, as Misao's homeroom teacher.
The artwork is about average for shoujo manga of this sort. The cover illustration for the first volume is truth in advertising and should give you a good idea of what to expect from the interior pages. Sakurakoji draws female characters a bit like Moyocco Anno and other similar josei mangaka, but her bishounen are all shoujo manga all the time. Too bad that they tend to look cross-eyed from some angles—it is definitely not a flattering look for a demon specializing in seduction. Her depiction of wings also lacks over the top exuberant romance, though wing fetishists will certainly consider Kyo's black karasu pair better than nothing. Obviously, her ability to make healing look like sex is quite the trick and quite visually impressive.
All in all, this is not a bad series and does very well what it was intended to do. It should appeal to the Vampire Knight crowd, particularly to those tween readers who are looking to age up into something just a touch more racy.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Amusing and sexy. Good if you want to put your critical sensibilities into neutral with something trashy.
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