by Lissa Pattillo,

Black Bird

GN 7

Black Bird GN 7
Kyo and Misao continue to search for the knowledge of what will happen if they were to have sex, biding their time by enjoying anything else they can do with one another in the meantime. Family politics still brew however and Misao must decide how she feels about Kyo sleeping with another woman. When Valentine's Day comes around, she must figure out what to get the demon who doesn't eat chocolate then be-still her beating heart when the two are home alone together. Things take a more dramatic turn when her father brings home an exorcist who immediately senses Misao's dilemma and is determined to rescue her from suffering the same fate he had at the hands of demons, unaware that her body holds the power to make demons stronger.

Black Bird is a story meant to be taken seriously and this is what separates it from other questionably one-sided romances from Viz Media such as Stepping on Roses and Butterflies, Flowers. While giving it this serious look, we're presented with a story about a young woman who has been mentally and physically exhausted into dependency on a single man, one who wants to make her his bride in a demonic-bidding war to attain her blood. Conveniently, her power to enhance a demon's abilities can also be obtained by violating her but by now her hero has chosen to abstain. While all these unnerving elements remain, the plot has deviated for the time-being into a benign romance with the occasional splatter of blood to remind readers that this is still a dark story.

Seven volumes in and it's almost possible to forget how unsettling Misao and Kyo's relationship is. On one hand, you have the pretty-boy demon who's willing to do anything to protect his girlfriend. On the other hand, this same demon in the past has also tried to push sex on her repeatedly and forced her to watch him kill others to test her commitment. The power dynamic between the two is disconcerting and because of this their romance often falls far from being ideal. Some readers' hearts may flutter when Kyo pulls Misao into his embrace, yet just as many will be struck with the urge to tell her to run away fast and far as she can. Thankfully things have gotten more tolerable at this point as the two have become close enough to make the majority of their interaction consensual. They spend much of this volume blushing, gazing and longing for one another as the floor is opened for another episodic antagonist to make his way in.

Briefly switch-hitting their sexual roles, Misao is now the one instigating things such as licking chocolate off Kyo's body and she's always wondering how long she'll be able to control herself from wanting Kyo to go 'all the way'. It's made pretty clear they've already engaged in an array of off-scene sexual play. Because no one knows what will happen when Misao's virginity is taken by Kyo, their search continues for an old scroll that they hope will hold the answer. This quest is sidelined for most of the volume however in place of scenes of them coddling in Misao's bed, fooling around in the bathtub or battling another round of self-doubt. While spending the bulk of the series on the fence regarding if we should even approve of their relationship, watching them suddenly go into virgin married-couple mode is hard to take without severe reservation. Scenes like the book's opening chapter where Kyo torments Misao with jealously until he get the satisfaction of making her cry doesn't win it any brownie points either. Due to this the mushier scenes, which make up most of the book's first half, waffle between being sweet and sensuous to simply repetitive and frustrating.

The artwork is much the same. Misao's face always seems to be plastered with the same rotating expressions of cry, blush or smile while crying and blushing, and Kyo is almost never without his permeating narrow-eyed gaze. Benefiting this repetition though are a few choice scenes where a change in Kyo's facial expression can have a big impact on both Misao and readers. There's a more positive consistency in the way the artist balances the pages with heavy blacks and dark screen tones that compliment the overall bleaker tone of the story. She also seems to be enjoying the opportunity to draw the leads getting good and cozy before drifting off to let readers' imaginations fill in the rest.

The volume-specific drama of book seven is the abrupt entry of a young man from a local temple, Raikoh Watanabe, who also happens to have a serious problem with demons and the ability to exorcize them. He immediately recognizes Misao is trapped in a precarious situation and remains ignorant of her pleas that he's wrong. In attempts to save her, Raikoh removes the item that's been keeping the generic demon swarms at bay and leads the book to a cliffhanger end as he sees Kyo dish out his special brand of healing magic (ie: lick and suck all Misao's wounds away). Raikoh demands answers from Misao about what the demons want from her so badly before the book veers off to a couple short, sweet and even funny stories with other characters.

Though Black Bird has its fundamental flaws as far as showcasing what resembles a healthy relationship, it still has that special brand of trashy charm. Will these two ever find their sex-filled, assault-free happiness? The timing of its release in English of course coincides perfectly with a pre-tailored audience already proving itself eager for more of these angst-ridden love stories where the dark and mysterious attributes of the male lead out-shadows the ick factor of the relationship itself, not to mention the damsel role Misao plays for all those readers we're told are out to self-insert. There remains a fairly interesting cast of secondary characters floating in and out, notably Kyo's demonic vessels, and the demon-family politics that fuel much of the drama not based on the leads' sexual tension. All of these story elements ultimately play second fiddle to Misao and Kyo sharing page-time but still help flesh out the plot to make Black Bird at least a little more than just a creepy supernatural love affair.

All the same, put all its plot in the pot and you still get a brew that's completely dependant on Misao's indebted love to Kyo. While this volume slips in what fluff it can, it still feels like Misao needs Kyo less to love and more just to live. The effectiveness of its fan-service, be it the chocolate-smearing or wound-healing, remains up to the respective reader but at least its efforts to pull in a particular brand of reader is clear, so credit where credit is due. As a whole, the series' relationship dynamics will be a quick turn-off for many with little to even distract from it. Fortunately this particular volume at least keeps its less than desirable aspects in relative check and chooses instead to focus on offering its other forms of melodrama in excess instead.

Overall : C
Story : D+
Art : B-

+ Supernatural romance tailored made for the sparkling-vampire fan crowd; achieves a decent atmosphere of intended situational creepiness and new exorcist characters brings another human into the mix
Relationship between Misao and Kyo is creepy and bulk of page time consists of pushy sex talk and the same overused expressions; damsel-in-distress elements still feel taken to a sickening level at times while other plot elements pushed to sidelines

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Story & Art: Kanoko Sakurakoji

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