My first exposure to this series was through the anime, which, as far as I can tell, means I know what's going to happen in this manga through at least part of volume 3.
In this first volume, we meet Ririchiyo Shirakiin, the sensitive daughter of a wealthy family. The Shirakiin family is one of a select few families with an ayakashi (supernatural being) ancestor, and Ririchiyo is considered to be a “throwback,” a sort of reincarnation of the Shirakiin family's ayakashi ancestor. Although she has spent her life coddled and protected, she has also felt isolated. Anyone who ever spoke up for her or was nice to her only did so because of her position within the Shirakiin family, and so, as a defense mechanism, Ririchiyo began adopting a haughty and prickly demeanor.
Ririchiyo knows that her behavior makes it that much harder for her to make true friends, but she can't seem to stop herself. In an effort to change, she requests to leave the Shirakiin family home and is allowed to go as far as Maison de Ayakashi, an apartment building whose tenants come entirely from families with ayakashi ancestors. Each resident of Maison de Ayakashi is protected by a secret service agent (no explanation is given for why some throwbacks are secret service agents and why some are clients). Soushi, Ririchiyo's agent, is surprisingly devoted to her. No matter how prickly she is towards him, she can't seem to push him away, so he accompanies her as she gets to know her new home and those who live there.
This is one of those series that it's embarrassing for me to admit that I like. Ririchiyo is 15 years old, almost 16, and in the next volume we learn that Soushi is at least 20. Cocoa Fujiwara emphasized this age difference by giving Ririchiyo proportions that sometimes made her look even younger than she really was – for example, Rirchiyo's hands were so tiny compared to Soushi's that they almost looked like they belonged to a toddler. It did help that, in this first volume at least, their relationship was entirely innocent. Although Soushi's devotion was more than a little over-the-top, their master-servant relationship put a barrier between them.
It also helped that Ririchiyo, though starved for affection, wasn't an idiot. She knew that Soushi's devotion was excessive, especially since, as far as she knew, they'd never previously met. Part of her worried that he only acted the way he did because he was being paid by her family, or because he was hoping to benefit in some way. Why else would a grown man be that happy to serve as a 15-year-old's bodyguard, to the point where any sign of approval from her, even something so little as a text message, made him positively joyous?
His behavior was so flawless that she found herself starting to believe it, only to catch him kissing some strange woman. His explanation was that she was a former neighbor who had confessed her feelings to him and who he had rejected. She said she'd accept his rejection if he kissed her, and so he did.
That was the first big clue Ririchiyo got that Soushi was willing to play any part he needed to and do whatever he needed to. Ririchiyo valued sincerity above all else, so this bothered her a lot. This was one of my favorite moments in the whole volume, in large part because I already knew the truth about Soushi and that his behavior during this part was not faked. I was happy when Soushi jumped to Ririchiyo's defense at the party, and when Ririchiyo forgave him, although I admit that, had I been a newbie to this series, I'd probably have been shouting “No! Stop! He's a master manipulator worming his way back into your good graces.” The last page of the volume certainly fit that interpretation.
All in all, I liked this first volume. The bulk of it was devoted to character introductions and fluffy stuff like the signature-gathering contest, but Ririchiyo's efforts to connect with other people were nice to read about, and I enjoyed the hints of mystery surrounding Soushi.
- One page of translation notes - I always love translation notes, and these ones were helpful. I knew what some of the ayakashi named in the volume were, but not all of them.
- Two pages of extra comics, printed on the inside of the front and back covers - I appreciated these too, although I didn't find these two to be particularly funny. They did do a good job of emphasizing the creepy depths of Soushi's devotion, though.
- Black Butler (manga) by Yana Toboso; Black Butler (anime TV series) - In this supernatural historical series, the main characters are an arrogant young boy looking for vengeance and his demon butler. Those who loved the "mistress and servant" aspect of Inu x Boku Secret Service might want to give this a shot. Just be aware that this series has similar objectionable content, plus occasional violence/bloodiness. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first fourteen volumes of the manga.
- Gosick (light novels) story by Kazuki Sakuraba, art by Hinata Takeda; Gosick (anime TV series) - This historical mystery series has supernatural elements and a bit of romance and stars a character named Victorique, who looks like a beautiful doll and has a brilliant mind. Those who liked Ririchiyo's blend of abrasiveness and vulnerability might also like Victorique. I've written about the anime and the first light novel.
- Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - Another series featuring an uncomfortable age mismatch and starring very damaged characters. The focus on the mystery elements and the recognition, on Soubi's part, that Ritsuka was a minor and that certain behaviors would therefore not be appropriate (not that that always stopped him) made this series hit my "ick" buttons less forcefully than Inu x Boku SS. However, there is still a definite ick factor, so be aware of that.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Those who liked the premise involving the supernatural "throwbacks" may want to give this series a try. Fruits Basket also features a family in which various supernatural beings are assumed to be reborn in certain people. Some of those people are coddled, while others are rejected. Tohru is a normal girl who ends up getting to know these people, secrets and all.