Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Bride & the Exorcist Knight
Anne and Haru continue to fight their way towards a happy ending, their age difference notwithstanding – but introductions to their respective families don't go quite as well as they had hoped. The Vellmans insist that Anne prove herself worthy of marrying into their illustrious clan and try to set her up to fail, and then Anne's family isn't sure that they want their girl marrying a boy five years her junior, and with a shady past to boot. And even if they overcome those objections, there's still the issue of Anne being the Demon Bride – and Mephisto has definitely gotten tired of waiting.
These two volumes conclude Keiko Ishihara's The Bride & the Exorcist Knight fantasy romance, and the same basic warning applies as to the first half: if you're not comfortable watching a twelve-year-old French a seventeen-year-old (and at one point kiss her breasts), this is not the series for you. That fact remains in full evidence in these books, but more in service of the plot than in the first two volumes. It's one of the chief objections both Haru's and Anne's families have when they bring up their engagement, and Anne's father in particular is very uncomfortable with his nearly-adult (by the standards of their pseudo-19th century world) daughter being engaged to a child. Although we don't see his face when Haru says that he wants to announce their betrothal at his thirteenth birthday party, his words afterwards make his feelings abundantly clear. Anne also has some concerns about Haru's youth, although those come out more in the end of the story, as she doesn't want him to rush into marriage when he's still only – (the line cuts off there, but he looks perhaps fifteen or sixteen). Of course, this is offset by her blush when she implies that they've been sleeping together in a more adult way than we see in the series.
As long as we're on the topic of the romance plot, it is worth noting that as Haru grows up, he also begins to realize that consent is important. An epilogue lets us know that he's aware of his greater physical strength and that perhaps all of that jumping on Anne and touching her he did when he was twelve was not the way to her heart. Although we don't see it in the main story, it is a worthwhile addition to the story in general, and it shows that Ishihara is well-aware of some of the issues present within her own series. Romance, after all, is essentially a fantasy genre, just with (in this case) handsome pre-teen exorcists instead of spell-slinging bards. And it is clear that age and dubious consent aside, Anne and Haru really do compliment each other as people; he has the confidence that she lacks and teaches her that she has value beyond just “the Demon Bride” while she has the warmth that he's been missing and understands that he's done what he had to in order to survive, allowing them both to take strength and learn compassion from each other.
The switch from LaLa to LaLaDX that came between volumes two and three means that each of these two books contain a full story arc told in longer, more detailed chapters than the first half of the series. Because LaLaDX (a sister magazine to LaLa sharing the same demographic) is bimonthly, Ishihara had more time to really plan each chapter out, and that definitely shows. Mostly it means that there's space to cover all plot elements in each chapter, so there's a nice balance of action, explanation, and romance. The convent storyline, covered in volume three, isn't quite as well developed as the final battle in volume four, but both are entertaining, with the conclusions reached in volume four working nicely to sum up the characters' experiences in the series as a whole while moving them forward as people. It would have been nice to get more of an explanation about the final spell Haru unleashed in the fight against Mephisto and Lillith, but we do get enough information to form a basic understanding of what he did without feeling too lost.
The revelation in book four about Anne's role as the Demon Bride is both interesting and well-done. It not only explains why Anne has lived with the stigma all her life, but it also makes use of the tattoo-like markings on her body, which have been growing. This is perhaps the best evidence of Ishihara's careful planning with the series – the intricate designs do contain a hint that you can see later on once you know what you're looking for. It helps, of course, that they're easily the most memorable artistic feature of the series, and the scene when Anne is in the tub and we see the full extent of her markings is beautiful, slightly suspect anatomy aside. (Like many artists, Ishihara has a bit of trouble with how the whole pelvic region connects.) Historical sticklers may be annoyed by the mix of Victorian and modern styles, which is evident in the language of the translation as well, but it's hard to deny that Ishihara draws a lovely corset or that she understands how one can shape the upper body of its wearer.
The Bride & the Exorcist Knight's finale does more than just fill the gap for older girl/younger boy romances. It brings two characters together who have wanted to be together, but not quite understood how to make that happen. It isn't a perfect story, and it certainly isn't for readers who find the age gap conceit uncomfortable, but for a dark fantasy romance, it definitely gets the job done with the requisite hearts and flowers.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Pulls romance plot together at the end, longer chapters mean more details in the story
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