Monday, September 20, 2010

Black Sun Silver Moon (manga, vol. 1) by Tomo Maeda

Synopsis:

Taki's family has always been really poor. When he was 17 (or maybe 18?) he learned that his father owed a debt to the church, which the priest Shikimi came to collect. Rather than asking for money Taki's family didn't have, Shikimi asked Taki to work for him. Taki thought Shikimi seemed nice (and it's not like he had much of a choice), so he agreed to do it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Shikimi is a bit of a slave-driver. Every time Taki manages to finish cleaning something, Shikimi messes it up again. Shikimi also failed to mention that one of Taki's jobs was going to be killing undead creatures, beings Taki hadn't even realized existed.

Taki eventually realizes that, despite Shikimi's constant smile, Shikimi's life is rather sad. The primary reason Shikimi hired Taki was so that Taki could eventually kill him - it turns out that Shikimi is half demon and will eventually turn into one of the undead that he and Taki regularly kill. A while ago, Shikimi's eyes and hair turned from black to silver, a sure sign that someone is a demon. Because of this, the townspeople don't like Shikimi.  However, that doesn't stop Taki from deciding that Shikimi is actually a nice person (even after he curses the messes Shikimi makes). There are hints, though, the Shikimi may have done something really terrible: in addition to fearing him for being nearly a demon, the townspeople also call Shikimi a murderer. There is no explanation yet for why this is.

Taki and Shikimi are eventually joined by a small white dog. Although Taki usually isn't afraid of anything, dogs scare him - when he was little, he secretly took care of a small black dog that was eventually killed, and the self-hatred he felt about that developed into an aversion to dogs. Taki tries his best to overcome that aversion when he learns that Agi (the name Shikimi chose for the dog) is that same dog he cared for as a child. After it died, the dog's love for Taki turned it into an undead creature. According to Shikimi, undead creatures go after the ones they love first, biting them as a way to show their love (biting = really aggressive kisses). Since Agi will only ever bite Taki and can drink Shikimi's blood for sustenance, since Shikimi heals fast, they decide to keep Agi as a pet.

Additional manga - "Magic Words":

Raru, the king of Imulu, is supposed to choose a bride for himself, but he refuses - he's tired of princesses who are only interested in his kingdom, not him. Every princess he's ever met has always been shocked and dismayed to learn that he's the king. You see, although he's an adult, he looks like a little kid. For unknown reasons, he never really developed an adult body.

Most of the current crop of princesses think the Raru's servant Adelle is actually the king, so they swarm around him. This leaves Raru free to be with the one princess who seems perfectly content to keep him company, Seshun, a woman with two different colored eyes. Even though Seshun thinks Raru is a little kid, she seems to like his company and treats him well.  However, things can't go on like this forever, and Seshun eventually figures out that Raru is the real king. Although Raru doesn't remember it, when he and Seshun were kids, he comforted a crying Seshun by telling her that he thought she was pretty. Everyone had always made fun of her for her odd eyes, so this really touched her. As a child, she was determined to marry Raru.

So, Raru's true identity is revealed. The story doesn't end with him proposing to Seshun, and Raru still has the body of a little kid, but I imagine a proposal isn't far behind.

Commentary:

I don't know how I feel about this one. The artwork is nice, the story is ok...overall, it's just ok.  It feels like a story I've read a billion times before. It's not bad, so I can see myself hunting down later volumes of this series, but there's not sign yet of something that will really set it apart from other works.

I'm sure that Shikimi's story will be the source of much future angst, but, so far at least, it looks like Maeda won't let things get too depressing. When Shikimi's bleak story starts to become too sad, Taki becomes the optimistic idiot who snaps him out of it. Then, when Taki slips back into griping house slave mode, Shikimi becomes his ever smiling self again. Although it's a little early to be saying this (after only reading one volume), this series could very well turn out to be a "tragic death" series, particularly since Taki swore that he would die alongside Shikimi, but I suppose I could also see Maeda somehow pulling a happy ending out of it all.

When I first flipped through this volume, I could have sworn I saw at least one moment where it looked like Maeda was going to have a romantic relationship develop between Taki and Shikimi, but when I actually read the volume that turned out not to be the case. Still, the two seem to have the relationship dynamics of Kurogane and Fai (Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle), if not really the massive amounts of chemistry - a hinted-at romantic relationship might not totally be out of the picture.

The dog was adorable, and the part where its origins were explained made me a bit teary-eyed, even as the whole "bite = aggressive kiss" bit made me want to gag.  Plus, the very existence of the cute zombie dog breaks the rules of the story. From what we'd seen so far, zombies (or whatever you want to call these undead creatures) kill things, anything that gets in their way. This dog is just as sweet as when it was alive and only ever bites Taki. If you decide to accept the dog, then it just becomes strange that neither Shikimi nor Taki try to figure out why the dog is so different from the other undead creatures they've encountered.  You'd think they'd want to figure out how to help Shikimi become a less dangerous version of the undead, just in case they can't figure out how to cure him completely.

I actually found I liked the additional manga more than the main story. The characters in the additional manga were very cute (although an actual romantic relationship between Seshun and Raru would probably be...icky). In general, Maeda seems very good at depicting sweet relationships.

Extras:

A few four-panel comic strips featuring funny little things with Taki and Shikimi; a translator's note explaining Kokkuri-san; bonus info from the author about some of the characters and some of the chapters in the volume.

Read-alikes:
  • XxxHolic (manga) by CLAMP; XxxHolic (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another series with a main character who's basically the griping servant of another character, the slave driver, might want to try this. Like Black Sun Silver Moon, there are strong supernatural and mystery elements.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (manga) by CLAMP; Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (anime TV series) - The relationship between Taki and Shikimi reminded me a lot of the relationship between two of the supporting characters in this series, Kurogane and Fai.  Like Shikimi, Fai is always smiling, although he's got some dark secrets he doesn't want anyone to know. This series also has a lot of supernatural and mystery elements, plus quite a bit of action.
  • Tactics (anime TV series) - Apparently this is based on the Tactics manga, but I've never read it and, actually, what I've heard about it hasn't been all that good.  The anime is ok.  Those who'd like another mysterious story with similar "I'm griping about you but actually kind of like you" master-servant relationships might want to try this.

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