Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Black Bird, vol. 1
The story: Misao is a 15-year-old high schooler with a secret—she sees ghosts, spirits and demons. While her classmates think she's a little odd, it doesn't deter her from living a mostly normal life. That is, until she turns 16 and everything changes. Evidently, she's the "bride of prophecy," causing every demon nearby to want to kill her in order to drink her powerful blood. Thankfully, she's saved by her first love, Kyo. But, Kyo's got a secret, too, one he never shared when they were children. He's the head of a demon clan and marrying Misao will make his clan the most powerful in the world. Of course, Misao refuses, adamantly stating that she'll never marry a demon. But, will she give in so she can live a safe life?
Reaction: I honestly don't know what to think of this story. On one hand, you've got an interesting and dark back story, and on the other, you've got a guy who forces himself on a younger girl by healing her with his tongue. Misao refuses Kyo, but how will she ever live a somewhat normal life without him? And, on top of all that, she's constantly questioning whether or not Kyo ever cared for her, as they've known each other since they were much younger. In that regard, Misao becomes a fairly typical high school romance heroine—constantly questioning one's feelings for a boy is pretty much the genre's bread and butter. And while I liked the darker elements of this story, I couldn't really get behind this weird, seemingly co-dependent relationship. Misao needs Kyo to protect her and, evidently, Kyo needs her so he can feed off of her energy and lift his clan's status. Then there's all the sexualized healing that I simply don't have the time to get into.
Deep thoughts: I'm constantly amazed at the pantheon of demons in Japanese folklore. There are a variety of demons, or yokai, with various characteristics, from personality to appearance to representative animals. Kyo is a tengu—also known as "heavenly dogs"—and is depicted with large black wings. Tengu are based off a dog-like demon in China, or tiangou, who were harbingers of war. While the tengu were originally known as disruptive demons in Buddhism, their image softened into protective, yet dangerous, mountain and forest spirits. To me, this specificity of demons is rather demonstrative of the spiritual character of Japan and its major religions, including Buddhism and Shintoism.
Artwork: The artwork here is stereotypically pretty, including all of the major characters, and there's an inherent cuteness, too. However, there is quite a contrast when minor demons and spirits are involved, as they usually appear frightening—like a hollow-eyed, ghost-like toddler—or grotesque, like the often "melting" spirits that surround Misao. It's interesting that the most powerful demons are still the most attractive, including both Kyo and a rival kitsune demon, because their inner personalities belie their outward beauty. There are some steamy moments with all the blood-sucking and licking, so there's plenty of screentone and puffs of hot breath sprinkled throughout. It's a bit cheesy, but it's to be expected in a somewhat smutty high school shojo series.
The verdict: Meh. For all the recent fanfare, I wasn't really all that impressed by Black Bird. The set-up is intriguing at points, but I don't find the characters particularly compelling. Kyo's almost too mysterious and controlling, while Misao isn't physically or emotionally strong enough to actually push him away and create genuine conflict. Black Bird is disappointing at best and misogynistic at its worst. Black Bird is available in the U.S. from Viz.