by Rebecca Silverman,

Black Bird

GN 11

Black Bird GN 11
Since moving to the tengu village, Misao has been plagued by allegations of unfairness – if she would give her blood to Ayame, why not to other sick or injured tengu? Concerned about how this will look for Kyo, she decides to take action. Meanwhile Sho continues to foment unrest – but is it all of his own doing, or is someone else pulling the strings?

Readers turned off by the last few volumes of Kanoko Sakurakoji's paranormal romance may find themselves a little more intrigued by the series with this volume. After the disturbing sex scenes and objectifying context of volumes eight and nine, Black Bird's eleventh book offers a less R-rated adventure in the tengu village, returning to the political machinations of the supernatural world and its impact on Misao and Kyo.

Last volume brought our protagonists to Kyo's hometown, high in the mountains. Misao must now adjust to living there, a place where she can only really trust Ayame and the Daitengu. She finds solace in the village orphanage, where the children's innocence is consoling and calming. She discovers a real use for her status as the Senka Maiden when Kaede, a tengu woman who works with the orphans, teaches her that just by touching sick children she can function as a placebo and make them feel better. Misao confesses to Kaede that she feels useless and wishes that she could help the other villagers the way she aids the children. A short conversation between Kyo and Kaede later, not to mention the dead giveaway of Kaede's character design, and we are left wondering whether Misao has confided in the right person.

Kaede, naturally, has ties to Sho in his new piratical incarnation. Sho is clearly hiding nefarious intentions behind his charming facade, and his plans, should they come to fruition, will not only be bad for the tengu as a people, but for the supernatural community as a whole. Kyo begins to guess who it may be pulling the strings as Misao starts to learn the truth about Sho's return. The plot definitely takes a turn for the fantasy rather than the romance here, and while this may disappoint some readers, others will find a renewed interest in the tale, as the story focuses on magic, politics, and warfare.

That is not to say that the romance and sexual elements have vanished. While the book itself is devoid of explicit sex scenes, Misao discovers that she can use her new-found sexuality to influence matters, specifically concerning Kyo's actions and the perceptions of the villagers. While some readers may find this distasteful, or at least a promotion of unsavory female stereotypes, others will find it reassuring. Misao has spent much of the series as a sexual victim, her choices dictated by her status as the Senka Maiden and paranormal males' irresistible attraction to her body. Now she takes control of that attraction, using it to turn tides in her favor. The scene where this occurs is a small one, but it is large in its overall impact on the readers.

That said, Misao still spends a large portion of the book making some variation of the horrified/crying face that has been a standby in the series. Kyo's role is reduced, although a flashback sheds some light on his actions throughout the series, as well as on Misao and Sho's childhoods. It is Sho, Kaede, and Misao who are center stage this time, and the cult-like atmosphere that Sho is cultivating in the village is a promising direction for future volumes. His new, sexy-sinister character design (assuming pirates are your thing) helps add to the suave menace of his resurrected persona, giving him the charismatic air of a dangerous man who has fooled the world into thinking he is nothing of the sort. Indeed, his new look is the most distinctive artistic flourish in the book, with most other characters featuring a vaguely generic look, particularly since the villagers all appear to wear variations on the same outfit.

Black Bird is still not an excellent series. It still features a fairly weak heroine generally subject to the whims of an overbearing hero, a group of people objectifying that same heroine, and an overall vague feeling of “ick.” But Sakurakoji has made strides in terms of removing this from the realm of terrible, and the new plotline has real promise. If she can continue in this vein, Black Bird may actually become a series worth reading.

Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B

+ Misao begins to come into her own, actual plot that does not revolve around sex. Sho's new character design is more interesting than anything we've seen thus far.
Still elements of the unhealthy, objectifying relationship, less interesting art. Misao still comes off as helpless.

Story & Art: Kanoko Sakurakoji

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