Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Bride & the Exorcist Knight
When Anne Lotte was born, the demon Mephisto laid claim to her soul, saying that in her seventeenth year, he would come and take her as his bride. Tired and heartsick at the tragedies visited upon her family because of Mephisto, Anne runs away from home, but can't outrun her fate. Just when it looks like the end, she's saved by an unexpected knight – twelve-year-old Haru Vellman, the strongest exorcist in his family. Haru claims Anne as his bride, and vows that not only will he keep Anne safe from Mephisto, but he'll eventually marry her himself. Has Anne jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire?
We hear a lot more talk about Lolita series (shows where the female romantic interest is a child), but not so much about Shota ones. That's not because they don't exist, but perhaps rather because there's simply less of a spotlight shone on them, potentially because Vladimir Nabokov didn't write a famous novel on the subject. (Or Marguerite Duras or any of the other renowned authors who wrote about sexually precocious girls, or ones who seem that way.) While social norms about gendered sexuality could also be a factor, what's more to the point here is that The Bride & the Exorcist Knight, Keiko Ishihara's second English-language release, could, in fact, be classified as a Shota-con story, with our sexually precocious hero being twelve to the heroine's seventeen. It's hardly the first English-language release of such a title (Meru Puri is the one that stands out the most), but if you're not here for a pre-teen forcefully Frenching a seventeen-year-old, this is not going to be the series for you.
That forbidden, or at least mildly taboo and therefore purportedly titillating, aspect of the characters' romance is clearly something that Ishihara is banking on, and indeed from her commentary in the sidebars is part of what she sees as the appeal of the story. (Initially Haru was going to be fourteen, but she decided that wasn't enough of an age gap.) Age aside, Haru does fall into the mold of the more forceful shoujo lead, putting his own wants before the objections of the heroine until she gradually begins to fall for him. In Haru's case, this is at least partially because he lacks the emotional maturity to better express his feelings for Anne. A chance encounter during his unhappy early childhood initially infatuated him with the older girl, and he's all too aware that five years can make for a big difference for a long while. To that end, he's desperate to prove to Anne that being younger than her doesn't mean that his feelings aren't real and that he's not capable of protecting her. In terms of the latter, that means that he'll go above and beyond to keep her safe from Mephisto and his henchmen, including a cult of bored wealthy youth who decide to summon the demon, even endangering himself. As for the former, he thinks he needs to express a sexuality beyond his years, which is where things can get uncomfortable.
Anne, on the other hand, is a character who is trying to understand precisely where she stands. She's not averse to eventually marrying Haru – he sure beats Mephisto – but she's also trying to figure out what Mephisto's claim on her soul truly means for her and those she loves. She left her family home after they lost their fortune and her father nearly died in a carriage accident, and she's had to be careful to move on quickly so that full moon nights don't spell doom for those around her. Once she realizes that the Vellman family, and Haru specifically, can truly protect her, she's forced to rethink her entire perception of her life. Does Haru's exorcist power mean that she actually does have a say in what happens to her? Does she owe him for that reclamation of her own life? It's a major conflict for Anne, and one which she does come to a basic conclusion about at the end of the second volume, leading to her continued growth throughout these two books.
It's no coincidence that Anne arrives at an answer at the end of volume two. These two books were initially serialized in LaLa, but with the start of volume three's chapters, it was moved to LaLaDX, meaning that Ishihara had to wrap up what is essentially part one. It will be interesting to see how LaLaDX's longer chapters work for the series, because at times these volumes do feel rushed, as if there wasn't enough time to fill in the details. Of course, this was also an issue with The Heiress and the Chauffeur, her other series to get an English edition, so that may simply be her storytelling style. Ishihara's art has refined some since she wrote that other series, and there's a nice overall attention to detail, be it clothing, backgrounds, or those adorable little demons Anne tamed. The only real sticking point in these editions is that the translation feels too contemporary in its use of slang for a story set in the 19th century, an issue that always takes me, at least, out of the plot.
While the two short stories included, one in each volume, are actually a little more interesting and tightly plotted than the main tale (and hopefully someone will license Strange Dragon, which did expand from the story included in volume two), The Bride & the Exorcist Knight is still a decent story. If younger, aggressive male leads aren't your thing, that will be an issue here, but if you're looking for a supernatural-themed romance and aren't bothered, this is good enough.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Nice art, short stories are good, Anne grows over the course of the books
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