by Kazuto Okada; adaptation by Christine Schilling
published by Yen Press; $12.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Hideo Aiba is a 15 year-old high school student and social misfit. Kurumi Sahana is a new transfer student. She is attractive and instantly becomes popular with other students. She is seated next to Hideo and shares his textbooks on her first day. While seated together in class, Hideo’s desire for Sahana becomes, let’s politely say, obvious. Sahana notices and later that same day she decides to test how far she can manipulate him. Turns out he is willing to do anything she asks, even if it means self injury.
Once she has established her dominance over Hideo, she then lays down the rules of their relationship. Sahana tells him that she will never have sex with him, even if they are the last two people on earth. Hideo accepts this and tells the reader, “I put on a collar. But, I still thought the day when she and I would become one was yet to come.” (Actually, the way the second sentence is phrased makes me think the author is telling us not to expect them to end up as lovers in the end.) To emphasize the master/pet (slave) nature of the relation, the text is divided into collars instead of chapters and Hideo answers all commands by saying, “Woof!”
Honestly, I’m completely torn in my feelings toward this book. I got disgusted watching Hideo complacently following Sahana’s orders and getting himself hurt. In one chapter he gets his arm broken, in another he is almost robbed by a school bully, and he nearly drowns himself after that. Hideo constantly debases himself out of some perverse misunderstanding of love.
To further my frustration, we don’t get a look inside the mind of Sahana. She is always simply this attractive girl taking merciless advantage of Hideo. What’s Sahana’s motivation in all this? Does she think she is helping him become more of a man or is she simply a sadist? If she doesn’t really care about Hideo, then why does spent so much time around him? Because Hideo doesn’t have the courage to really get to know Sahana, she remains a cipher to him and the reader.
However, each time I was ready to quit reading and write off the book, small amazing moments happened. There are moments of both brutal honesty and emotional intimacy. The author teases us by suggesting that under the surface of this twisted relationship, genuine fondness is beginning to develop.
What got to me to rethink the book was the final chapter. Hideo is skipping class to get Sahana a bottle of water, on what he thinks is another test of his obedience. Hideo imagines what reward he wants for this service, and he thinks he should ask for a fifty-fifty relationship. Shortly after that, he feels resentment for being forced to do things he’s uncomfortable with. Finally, Hideo was showing some self respect. It took him 184 pages, but he is on the path to being a real person and not just someone’s pet.
As usual though, Hideo’s timing sucks. It looks like this was a request made from an actual need and not just another way to pull his strings. Hideo gets back to school to find that Sahana has passed out and is in the nurse’s office. I was shocked as Sahana began to realize that their relationship objectified and dehumanized her as much as him. She finally gets sick of being treated like a vending machine of sexual favors and wants a relationship built on authentic care and affection. They have a brief verbal spat, and the manga ends with Sahana leaving to go to the hospital.
When I finished my first reading of the book, I was both repulsed and fascinated. Theirs is a sick relationship, and it’s hard to sit back and watch it all. But I was shocked that I was actually interested in what happened next to both Hideo and Sahana by the end of the book. I really wanted them to heal the damage they’ve done to themselves and each other. In the epiphanies of those final pages, there is a hope that this demented relationship can become a real friendship. It’s this potential for the change that attracts me, and I want to read the next volume to find out if they truly can become friends.
I do have a few complaints about the translation. First, I’m not familiar enough with Japanese names to know which of the names given for the main characters, or the author for that matter, is the first name. The main characters are addressed by both names frequently enough that it never becomes clear. It would have been nice to know whether they were following the Japanese custom of listing family names first or the American custom of listing given names first. Second, there were a few places where a translation note was needed. The best example is page 105. I would like to know what a Yakiniko shop is and how the reference to hormone-injected food is connected.
Third, honorifics (-chan, -san, -sempai, etc.) show up sporadically in the text. I assume they are only included in the translation when needed to make the underlying connotation of the dialogue clearer. But it reads oddly to have characters talk to each other for several pages without honorifics and then have one just randomly appear in the text. If the Japanese text uses them sparingly and the translation is simply following suit, then that needs to be explained. If, as I suspect, they are regularly used in the original text, then please use them regularly in the translation. Or, if the translation is going to drop them, then drop them completely and find another way to make any implied meaning clear to the American audience. To be fair, though, this book does an excellent job of translating and explaining all the sound effects used.
The artwork is well done. Where it really stands out is in the emotionally (sexual or otherwise) intense moments. Here Okada uses true blacks and darker greys to really contrast these panels with the normal narrative panels. It’s an effective device that intuitively lets the reader know something significant is happening. Also, Okada is an excellent cheesecake artist. This is best seen in those moments when Hideo is awash in desire as he is looking at Sahana. Okada draws her in such a way that we can feel his desire as well.
I really can’t recommend the series one way or the other until I see how the second volume turns out. The best I can say at the moment is that this book is both a frustrating and intriguing portrayal of a warped relationship.