Serialized in Betsucomi magazine since 2007, Black Bird received the 2009 Shogakukan Manga Award in the shojo category. Previewed in the final issue of Shojo Beat (July ’09), volume 1 was released in August in the states.
Synopsis: Misao Harada is quickly approaching her 16th birthday. Burdened with the ability to see the spirit world, she has always been plagued by pestering spirits and wishes only to have a normal high school life. As her 16th birthday arrives, she finds herself attacked by demons. When her long lost childhood crush, Kyo, comes to her rescue, she discovers that she is the legendary bride of prophecy – a human whose blood gives power to the demon clan that claims her. Without adequate protection, Misao’s life is constantly in danger from blood seeking demons. Only a very powerful demon can keep the others at bay, and to Misao’s horror, Kyo has come back to claim her as his bride. Refusing to marry a demon yet unable to protect herself, Misao has no choice but to accept Kyo’s attentions. Yet she struggles to overcome her childhood emotions. Does her demonic childhood love just want her for the power he can gain, or are there other reasons behind his desire to possess her?
Review: A bodice ripper, smut, trashy…these are all terms I’ve seen used to describe this recent manga series. Typical literary criticisms for a series that follows a traditional formula for a romance story. And it does follow the formula, from a victim type heroine being forced into the arms of a strong protector, to sensual scenes of seduction, to proposals of marriage…it’s all there in the first volume.
Sakurakoji uses interesting Japanese legends as plot elements, and spices it up with sexual tension and character development. Misao’s fate as the bride of prophecy puts her in a difficult position. While some may see her as weak-willed, she is more of a victim of circumstance, never being informed of her situation and therefore unable to prepare herself for what is to come. She tries to be strong, but things are beyond her control and she is overwhelmed. Her childhood feelings for Kyo muddle her emotions, yet she still refuses to become the bride of a demon. Kyo is a typical dominant male personality. We see glimpses of his sweet demeanor as a child, but it is his arrogant attitude and confidence that he exudes at Misao now. When he is not trying to save or heal Misao, his too forward actions cross the line with what could only be considered as sexual harassment. He knows Misao is left with very little choice as to his protection, and in fact he is determined to be her only protector. An action that hints that his feelings may be more genuine than Misao realizes.
Within this first volume, Sakurakoji uses attack after attack to emphasize the true danger Misao is in, and to heat up the sexual tension between Misao and Kyo. Every time Misao is attacked, Kyo comes to her rescue and always ends up providing healing using his saliva. That’s where all the naughty scenes come into play, with Kyo having to lick Misao’s wounds to make her well. Since Misao is attacked every chapter, Kyo is healing her every chapter, so the first volume is made up mostly of scenes that are either action or sensual.
That being the case, Sakurakoji does both types of scenes well. The action sequences are drawn fluently making good use of speed lines and chosen imagery for panel transitions, leaving no confusion as to what is taking place. The more sensual scenes make effective use of toning to convey the intimate mood. Misao is drawn to be pretty or attractive, not an average looking protagonist. The male characters are all designed to look attractive, with the demons being the main bishonen.
If you are a part of the crowd that doesn’t like romance novels and finds them sub-par literature, then you probably won’t like Black Bird. However, if you’re a fan of the genre and enjoy those steamy moments thrown in with an intriguing plot line, then you’ll most likely be pining for the next volume as soon as it’s available.
Romance Rating: Steamy – Plenty of sexual tension and suggestive imagery to satisfy the most devout romance fan.
Media Status: Black Bird volume 1 is available in English from Viz Media now. Volume 2 is due out in October 2009, and volume 3 in February 2010. As of May 2009, 8 volumes have been released in Japan, but the story is still running in Betsucomi.