Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Spell of Desire
Kaoruko “Koko' Mochizuki's mother vanished when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her herbalist grandmother. Since her grandmother's death two years ago, Koko has been running an herb and tea shop out of their home, using her talents for herbalism to create a successful business. Then one day a man dressed all in black, Kaname Hibiki comes in and tells her that her grandmother was a white witch...and her mother was a black one. Circumstances made her mother have to disappear for a while, and before she did, she transferred her powers to Koko. Kaname is now here to protect those powers, and to stop them from running wild since Koko can't control them...and of course the only way to do so is with a kiss.
Tomu Ohmi has done vampires (Midnight Secretary). She's done werewolves (Kindan no Koi wo Shiyo), weretigers (Barairo My Honey), and she's done ghosts (Flowers for Seri). What's left in the supernatural romance roster? Why, witches of course! Spell of Desire follows Kaoruko Mochizuki, a young woman who thought that her grandmother was just a really talented herbalist until the day Kaname Hibiki showed up to tell her that she was, in fact, a witch. Granny practiced white magic, but Kaoruko's missing mother was a black witch, and now she's had to disappear for a while...and she transferred her powers to her daughter. Suddenly Kaoruko (called Koko by her friends) is leaking magical abilities left and right, most notably the one to draw men to her. Kaname is a “knight” for her mother's coven, and he's come to protect Koko's new power, although it's unclear whether the power or Koko is more important to him at this point.
Visually, Ohmi's style is very similar to her previous series to get an English release, with large, dewy eyes and lithe bodies. Her backgrounds are detailed when the setting is important, giving us a firm sense of what Koko's shop looks like, as well as her small town and garden. What is most remarkable is that, cover notwithstanding, Koko gives off an air of being plain when she is not under the sway of her mother's powers. A little less shading around the eyes and lips and a slightly longer face than other Ohmi heroines accomplishes this, as does her predilection for frumpy clothes. It's a nice change in a romance manga and certainly gives this one a little something to make it stand out. Likewise Kaname in his normal guise is very severe looking – in fact, he bears a distinct resemblance to Mayu Shinjo's bespectacled bad guys. When he lets his hair down he gets more of the classic romance hero look, but for most of the volume, his severity compliments Koko's simplicity.
As for the plot, Spell of Desire's first volume does not do huge amounts to get the ball rolling. We are introduced to the characters, and then the book is basically a lot of Koko losing control of her powers so that Kaname has an excuse to kiss her. At first it looks like a fairly basic excuse to draw them French kissing, but as it goes on, one begins to wonder if Kaname is not somehow orchestrating the situations so that he will have to kiss her. Kaname makes it more than clear that he finds Koko physically attractive – he offers at least twice to help her lose her virginity, much to Koko's horror – and the final chapter has him beginning to open up to her emotionally. In fact, it might be said that the last two chapters are really when the story gets going: a romantic rival is introduced in the form of Koko's childhood friend Yu and we see that there is more to Kaname than he has hitherto shown us. Kaname's obvious jealousy of Yu is quite amusing, and it really allows Ohmi to open the character up, transforming him from “overbearing hot guy” to “person with human emotions.” She continues this with the animals present in the story, two cats and a dog, who help to soothe the protagonists and, in the case of Kitty, to move the plot along.
The most controversial part of this volume, and possibly of the whole story if it continues in the same vein, is that most of the kissing is forced, at least at first. Koko is not keen on Kaname seizing her lips to quell her power, and although she comes to like it, the nonconsensual way in which their relationship begins is kind of uncomfortable. Likewise Koko's power causes men to desire her (hence the title, presumably), resulting in them sexually assaulting her; one disturbing scene has a large group of men converging on Koko before Kaname gets there. Hopefully this will abate as she comes to understand and control her powers, but as of this volume, it is very much present.
Spell of Desire's first volume is very different from Midnight Secretary's, with a less assertive heroine and a slightly more unsavory hero. It treads some uncomfortable ground, but it is also easily enjoyed by romance (as in romance novel) fans. Ohmi's art is dewy and somewhat outside the norm, and her use of black vines to symbolize magic is a nice touch. If you're looking for a new romance about actual grown-up people and you enjoy magic as a plot conceit – or cute kitties and puppies with a little animal rescue thrown in – this is worth checking out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Koko and Kaname look distinct and Koko has a fashion aesthetic we don't often see. Witches are treated without the usual superstitions, even the “black” ones.
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