Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Labyrinth Angel

Novel 1

Synopsis:
Labyrinth Angel Novel 1
Satsuki Tsujikawa is the picture-perfect heiress to the Tsujikawa Corporation. She's been raised with kid gloves to the be best lady she can be, mostly by her faithful retainer Akira Shindo, a young man who was at first sent to kill her but was swiftly won over to her side. Now almost eighteen, Satsuki is on the cusp of womanhood, with her father preparing to make her pick from five suitors—and give up Shindo's constant companionship. But what most people don't know is that Satsuki has psychic powers and that Shindo's the only person who can help her control them with the mere fact of his presence. Satsuki's already lost control with disastrous results a couple of times – if she's torn from the man she loves, what might happen?
Review:

Labyrinth Angel may not be the darkest title Cross Infinite World has released, but it certainly does approach it. Falling under the demographic heading of New Adult (for a college-age audience as opposed to Young Adult's high school-age target), the story has lots of non-descriptive sex, one attempted rape, some nonconsensual touching, and a decent amount of relatively descriptive violence, making it a story better suited for more mature readers. It also has an undercurrent of tragedy to the central romance; this doesn't appear to be a book with an assured happy ending, which may also influence your decision to pick it up.

Assuming none of these things are deal-breakers, Labyrinth Angel is an interesting story. It combines the basic upstairs/downstairs romance with an urban fantasy story, which works quite well. The main character is Satsuki Tsujikawa, a seventeen (later eighteen)-year-old who is the sole child of the Tsujikawa Corporation, a massive business enterprise. As the only scion of the family, Satsuki has been raised to be not only a perfect young lady, but also a savvy businesswoman, with the end goal of her taking over the family concern. Because she's the only heir, however, she's also expected to marry well and produce an heir of her own, something her father is loath to let go; in fact, he tried on her sixteenth birthday to force her into picking from his hand-selected suitors and get married. Satsuki put her foot down then, and now as her eighteenth birthday looms, her father is determined to try again – and this time, to succeed.

The fly in the ointment is the other protagonist, Akira Shindo. Twelve years older than Satsuki, Shindo has been her attendant (basically a combination manservant and bodyguard) since he was sent to assassinate her when she was an infant. Instead he began working for the Tsujikawa family, and he and Satsuki are utterly devoted to each other. Over time the two have shifted their relationship and are now pining for each other, although neither party is willing to admit their love, because once they speak it aloud, they can never go back. This changes, however, when part of Mr. Tsujikawa's plans for Satsuki's future includes removing Shindo from his post as her attendant; although he doesn't seem aware that the two are in love, others are, and they know that any marriage plans will fail with Shindo and Satsuki still together.

The other piece of all of this is the fact that Satsuki has a range of psychic powers, which is less of an absurdity than it sounds. She's telekinetic, telepathic, and has the ability to communicate directly with the natural world (wind, plants, etc.), and when she loses control of her emotions, her powers run amok. Fairly early in the book she turns them against a man who attempts to rape her; his death, while absolutely deserved in context is still brutal. Shindo is the only person who can help her maintain her cool in such situations, teaching her how to shield herself from the hurtful thoughts of others – and when he's not there to help her, that's when psychic murders happen. Just how much of this Satsuki's parents understand is up for debate; although they're fully aware of her powers and how strong she is, they don't seem to realize how linked Satsuki's and Shindo's emotions are, nor how much of an effect that has on Satsuki's control. Her cousin, who is her father's partner in crime in the marriage plans, does seem to have at least some idea, but because the two are so wrapped up in each other, it's difficult for anyone to really grasp the depth of what's going on.

While the writing can be a bit dense at times and definitely overuses exclamation points during fraught scenes, it is very good about drawing clear lines between consensual and nonconsensual sexual behavior, as well as taking down the notion that “virginal” equals “pure.” Some of the other heiresses at Satsuki's fancy school are sexually active, and that is just treated as a fact, not a factor of whether they're good or bad characters, and when Shindo talks about not wanting to “ruin” Satsuki by sleeping with her, she tells him that he wouldn't be, and her sexual desire for him is described as natural. While undoubtedly her parents would be aghast, the story itself is not, which is good to see. (It's also not treated as some sort of rite of growing up or mark of adulthood, which is another troublesome trend often found in fiction of this genre and type.)

The foreshadowing is laid on thick in both the beginning and end of the volume, but even without it, by the fourth of five chapters it is becoming increasingly obvious that this may not be a story with a happy ending. Hopefully it's intended to throw us off, because Satsuki and Shindo are a couple you really do want to see get together permanently when all is said and done. But the edge of potential tragedy does make you want to see what's going to happen next, either because that's your flavor of romance or out of morbid curiosity. Either way, if you're in the mood for something darker and more mature than some of the other light novel offerings, this digital-only release is worth checking out.

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

+ Easy to root for main characters, doesn't indulge in some of the more problematic genre tropes
Slow start, may be too relentlessly dark for some readers, art is often disproportionate

Story: Nao Tamaki

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Labyrinth Angel (light novel)

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