Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Heather's Book Review: A Devil and Her Love Song, Volume 1 by Miyoshi

Maria Kawai is a devil. At least, everyone around her thinks she is. She’s beautiful, she’s smart. She’s just been expelled from a high-class school. “You taint everyone around you” were the parting words given by the person she thought was her best friend. Now she’s starting at a new school, and rumors are swirling around her. Just who is this girl who seems to bring out the worst in everyone? Fellow students Yusuke Kanda and Shin Meguro are determined to find out. What they discover is most unexpected.


Miyoshi Tomori’s A Devil and Her Love Song (Volume 1) being a manga, I half-expected the title to refer to an actual devil getting up to dramatic high school shojo romance hijinks, and I thoroughly expected to have no interest in skimming beyond the first few pages. I certainly didn’t expect the first few pages to hook me, much less to lead me to reach the end of the book before I knew it, but that’s precisely what happened.


In this manga, Maria Kawai is not a devil, but rather an exceptionally intuitive girl who can see people for what they actually are. She doesn’t have the patience for fakes, and so she exposes their flaws and falsities with absolute frankness. She’s not evil per se, but her blunt revelations—and the lack of remorse with which she airs them—lead the people affected by them to react strongly, and not always in a positive manner. That said, it’s easy to see why she’s perceived as a devil like character. Naturally, when revelations like that happen, drama ensues. The other girls in the class decide that something has to be done about Maria. And Maria accepts the challenge.


Normally I’m not a fan of dramatic shojo manga because it ends up being too dramatic and centers too much on a passionate romance or some similar subject that I don’t really care about. A Devil and Her Love Song, in contrast to these other manga, excels because it’s not about a girl suffering traditional shojo problems and then whining about them only to be saved by the series’ hot leading man. It’s about a girl who is already a strong character, who just happens to be surrounded by whirlwinds of drama of her unintentional making, and then gets through them on her own strong personality, with minimal help from others.


Maria strikes me as the strong-willed, unaffected classroom tiger that all teen girls wish to be at some point. Regardless of which clique or class they belong to, all teen girls wish they could go up to the cruel, beautiful, duplicitous queen bee of the class, tell her what she really is, and then have everyone step back in dramatic silence, in absolute wonder that she’s just spoken the truth about this fake. And though most teens like to say that they don’t care about what others think of them, these same teens can’t deny that they’ve been affected by the snide remarks thrown by a rival or bully. Maria doesn’t have time to be affected by the gossip of others. In fact, when she first arrives at her new school, she addresses the fact that she’s being gossiped about point-blank, airs all the dirty facts that people are gossiping about, and then tells the gossips to do with them what they will. She is the ultimate picture of teen personal strength, and despite what the title would lead readers to assume, she’s actually a positive, even admirable character. Maria does have some personal weaknesses—for all her seeming indifference, she does genuinely wish for acceptance—but these weaknesses are reasonable and realistic, and do not necessarily make her a weaker character.


Not that I’m encouraging teen girls to totally adopt her way of interacting with the world. Maria gets away with her frankness because, in the rules of her story’s universe, she is the intuitive one, and she does speak the truth about people’s flaws. This is not always the case when people blurt about flaws in a real school setting, and of course the resultant drama rarely ends as smoothly IRL as it does for Maria. I love Maria’s absolute distance from the cattiness going on around her, though. She knows how silly it is, and she lifts herself above it. I love that she’s a teen character who looks at the drama around her and says, “This drama is stupid. You should get over it.”


There’s more to the manga than Maria being socially detached and omnipotent, though. Much of the manga’s quality comes from its well-balanced cast of characters. Once it’s clear that they’re going to form the main cast, Maria, Yusuke, and Shin’s personalities complement each other solidly—Maria is mysterious and blunt, liked by few; Yusuke likes everyone, indiscriminately; and Shin is Yusuke’s aloof, sometimes brusque, but also attractive pal who complements them both. Yusuke and Shin are individually well-presented, too. Every shojo manga seems to have a super cute male character that bursts into kittyface every other panel and a distant, dark male who makes girls swoon with his aloofness. Yusuke and Shin are these types, respectively, but they are not exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness that these character types tend to be. Yusuke has a genuine concern for Maria that goes beyond “I’m going to be the cute one who trails you for reader entertainment!” and Shin’s concern for Maria, though it naturally takes longer for it to occur, is believable when it happens. And while it’s clear by the end of this volume that Maria is likely to end up in a closer relationship with one of them, the manga doesn’t focus as much on this budding romance as it does the characters themselves. Ultimately, this is not a manga about Maria Making Friends and Getting the Guy, but a manga about Maria Being Awesome Because She is Awesome, and earning some genuine pals in the process.


It’s this finely balanced combination of personalities that also lets the manga get away with elements that would just be silly in other manga. In one of the manga’s more memorable elements, Yusuke takes it upon himself to teach her Maria the art of the “lovely spin”—basically, how to say what she means in a way that doesn’t turn people away, and how to appropriately tilt her head to make herself look more charming when she says it—in order to make her seem more likable, and thus better able to make friends. Rather than using this for cutesie purposes, the manga layers this perfectly over Maria’s stoic manner; she never gets the lovely spin exactly right, an awkward bit of frankness always slipping into her words, and hilarity results. And Maria doesn’t care, ‘cause she’s cool like that. There are moments of cuteness, but they meld well with the tone that the author is aiming for—a tone that is self-consciously aloof and amusing at the same time.


All in all, provided that A Devil and Her Love Song maintains its quality in future volumes, it has the potential to be one of the underappreciated shojo manga greats. Despite its main character’s exaggerated truth-telling ability, it features lots of realistic drama and even explores bullying and the nature of true friendship, making it a read that any teen girl who has ever had bully or friend drama could get into. It’s also quite clean, which makes it a good introductory manga for teens who are new to the format and not accustomed to the utter weirdness that is more typical of manga. It’s also a super-fast read, so even if it doesn’t end up being your cup of tea, at least it won’t take too much of your time.


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