by Rebecca Silverman,

Demon Prince of Momochi House

GN 1

Demon Prince of Momochi House GN 1
Sixteen-year-old orphan Himari Momochi gets an unexpected present for her birthday: the deed to a family house, deep in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, “middle of nowhere” is code for “on the border of the human and spirit realms,” and Himari is supposed to become the house's protector. There's only one problem: a boy named Aoi wandered in a few years ago and became the guardian instead of her! Now he and his shikigami are living in Himari's house doing her job. What's a girl to do?

Aya Shouoto has officially Made It in the English manga market: The Demon Prince of Momochi House marks her third series licensed and released in under a year. Falling somewhere in-between Kiss of the Rose Princess (also released by Viz) and He's My Only Vampire (Yen Press), this series has a mix of reverse harem antics and threatening supernatural elements which work to make this debut volume fairly interesting, even if there are echoes of several other shoujo series very close to the surface. But Shouto's first volumes tend to undersell the series, and this volume has a fairly strong ending that make it look like the series has real potential.

The heroine of the story is Himari Momochi, an orphan who has spent most of her life in a group home. She's been very happy there, but she's also excited to receive the deed to an old family home when she turns sixteen. Setting out to learn more about the family she never knew, she arrives at a beautiful old mansion deep in the forest. While she's a little nervous about living there alone, she's ready to make the best of it – and then she walks in to find the place a total disaster and three hot guys (one naked) squatting in her ancestral home. Once she's done (understandably) freaking out, she learns that one of the boys is seventeen-year-old Aoi, who wandered in one day and somehow ended up as the house's guardian. He's bonded to the nue, a mythological Japanese creature of confusing origin, who keeps the house under control. The reason it needs him? Because Himari's new house is built on the border between the human and spirit worlds, and that's not a spot to leave unguarded. Helping him are the other two boys, who are his shikigami, Ise, an orangutan ayakashi, and Yukari, a water snake. All three of them want Himari to pack up and leave, but she's determined to stay, and no amount of creepy spirit encounters is going to change her mind.

As you can tell (and the cover is also a hint), this volume has some similarities to both Kamisama Kiss and Natsume's Book of Friends, as well as very nearly every other ayakashi-themed shoujo manga out there. Since beginnings are not Shouto's strong suit – and this volume is no exception in its initial chapters, simply telling the story without much to distinguish it – at this point that feels like a detraction. As the chapters go on, however, we can see that there's more going on here. The use of a nue is certainly an interesting choice: Shouto's version of the creature gives it cat ears, a fox tail, and peacock feathers, making Aoi's transformation visually striking as well as creating more opportunities than a more run-of-the-mill spirit would have, particularly since the nue's origin can be traced back specifically to 14th century text Heike Monogatari, which gives Shouoto something more to work with. There's also the question of why the house needed a guardian before Himari's sixteenth birthday, which is a pretty solid age for most folklore. Did something go wrong? Why was Aoi an acceptable Momochi substitute? These particular questions build throughout the book, and by the revelation on the last page, we have to really wonder about what has been going on.

This is Shouoto's most recent series, ongoing in Asuka magazine as of this writing, and her art has become much more refined than we've seen in previous releases. While it has always been pretty, now there is a refinement to her lines that adds elegance to the images. That's a good improvement to have in this particular story, and Momochi House itself is exquisite. Himari's basic shoujo heroine look also benefits from the new flair in Shouoto's s art, as care has been taken to make all of her outfits different but all conforming to a specific sense of style, making it feel like she picked her own clothes rather than served as a model for the author. The panel flow is also improved, reading easily and clearly. Some of the ayakashi are a little difficult to distinguish from their auras (this is a problem in chapter two), but in general this book looks good.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House has its issues – Himari's assertion that Aoi is always touching her isn't quite borne out and Yukari and Ise just feel like an excuse to have two more attractive males in the story – but once it gets past the first chapter, it starts to pick up. As the volume goes on it becomes more its own story, and there feels like real potential for this to become an interesting series in its own right as it continues. If you're an Aya Shouoto fan already, you've probably already picked this up, but even if you aren't, it's worth checking out this supernatural story of a girl who just may have been saved from a family curse without realizing it.

Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+

+ Very nice artwork, easy to read and fun to look at. Story grows into itself as it goes on and poses some interesting plot questions.
Reminiscent of pretty much every other similar supernatural shoujo series at first, Yukari and Ise are currently underused. Himari is a very cookie-cutter heroine. Slow start.

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Story & Art: Aya Shouoto

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