Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Seere is a demon from the depths of hell. Sakura is a fourth-grader whose mother died when she was a baby. When the latter summons the former, Seere is prepared to grant any wish his new master may have, but is still floored when she announces that her greatest wish is for him to “be my mama.” Seere quickly learns that she doesn't mean “make yourself look like my mama” but rather “do all the things mothers do.” This just may be the first request Seere is at a complete loss about, but he's got his pride: if Sakura wants a mom, he's going to be the best mom he can be!
When we talk about “odd couples” in fiction, often we're talking about a set of lovers or roommates who don't seem to be well-suited to each other but manage to muddle along anyway. Kuzushiro's Mama Akuma is here to add a new dimension to the odd couple relationship: a little girl summons a demon to take the place of her deceased mother, and rather than give up without trying, the demon decides to make the best of it. Not that he has any real idea of what it means to be a mother, as the circumstances of his new life and living arrangements make very clear.
The demon's name is Seere, and he's absolutely flabbergasted when he's summoned and discovers that the one who called him is fourth-grader Sakura. When he asks what her wish is and she says, “Be my mama,” Seere's even more thrown off, but he makes a noble attempt at rallying himself. Sakura goes on to explain that her own mother died when she was too young to remember her, a statement which both sways Seere into accepting the job, but also causes him to make some assumptions about Sakura's current life. The fact that she's the only one home when he's summoned leads him to believe that she's alone in the house without any other family members – so when first her brother and then her father shows up, Seere's starting to get a bad feeling about the whole situation. Since her older brother Hijiri is violently opposed to Seere remaining, he begins to wonder what on Earth Sakura's problem is, especially because Hijiri seems capable of taking care of his sister.
One of the triumphs of this volume is that it doesn't lean into the idea that motherless Sakura is, in fact, miserable all the time. Despite being an acceptable form of what is sometimes called the Orphan Fantasy (the idea that children can't have fantastic adventures if there are competent parents present in the story as well), Sakura's life is far from awful. Her father isn't home as early or as often as anyone would like because of his work in the punishing manga editing industry, but at most Sakura is home alone for a few hours a day, and Hijiri does appear to care a lot about his sister's well-being. What, then, is she asking Seere for?
The easiest answer is “normalcy,” although that doesn't entirely fit the bill. Sakura wants someone who will fill the role she sees her friends' mothers playing in their lives – someone who will be there when she gets home from school with a snack, yes, but also someone to just be bustling around the house, interacting with her and asking her for help. She'd like someone to do traditionally female domestic chores, but more than cooking or laundry, what Sakura wants is the comforting sense of another person who loves her in the house. She's lonely in a way that's not fully defined by spending time alone – she's missing the presence of a second parent in her life, and since she knows that her friends have mothers and hers died, she terms that second parent “mama,” although when you come right down to it, the gender implied by that title really isn't important.
Although the idea that beautiful young man Seere (once he banishes his horns, anyway) is playing “mama” does offer a degree of humor, the story in this volume relies more on the idea that he's trying really hard to do things the way Sakura wants them done – without magic – while also trying to hide the truth that he's a demon from the neighbors. It's more a fish out of water story than anything, and the challenges Seere faces are the basic everyday annoyances of living with someone else and helping with chores, such as Hijiri forgetting to take tissues out of his pockets before throwing his clothes in the hamper and getting bits of tissue stuck to all the clothes, or learning to cook for picky eaters. Seere also has the added difficulty of adapting to life on Earth in general – grocery stores baffle him and he's not sure what the family's sixteen-year-old neighbor is getting at when she asks him if he used to be a host. But his biggest quandary is figuring out how to fulfill Sakura's wish in a way that will make her happy. He's never quite understood how humans think, and flashbacks to a previous master show that the demon way of granting a wish isn't always what the human is looking for. While plenty of other demons might have written that off as just being a demon thing (as in, ask a demon, get a creepy form of wish fulfillment), Seere prides himself on doing his job well. That means that he really, truly wants to understand what Sakura, and later Hijiri, is looking for from him, and that gives this book a lovely edge of sincerity to balance out the humor.
Mama Akuma's first book is slight in terms of page count, but it's still a charming, funny read. There's an earnestness to Seere that's really winning, and the moments when he exceeds Sakura's expectations by observing other mothers and children make this even better than if it had stuck to being a goofy comedy. Being a mom isn't always something that's easily defined, but joining Seere on his quest to do so while being the best gosh darn mama he can be looks like it's going to be a good time.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Nice balance of sweet and silly.
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