by Miyoshi Tomori; adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane
published by Viz; $9.99 US
If you’ve missed the enjoyable Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko series, A Devil and Her Love Song is a more than suitable replacement. Although both have a charmingly grumpy protagonist learning to make friends and fit in, Devil is preferable to me because it’s less episodic. With its continuing story chapters, there’s more potential for character revelation and development.
Maria, the “devil” of the title, is a new student previously at a Catholic school. She has a unique combination of abilities: she’s preternaturally insightful about why people behave or react a certain way, and she has nearly no empathy. Without the ability to put herself in someone else’s place and predict their feelings, her extraordinary truth-telling seems demonic in the pain she causes others by revealing their innermost motivations. Yet her commitment to authenticity is strangely compelling.
She’s a fascinating character, especially once you layer on her own emotions. She’s convinced that she “taints” everyone around her, yet she’s still trying to overcome that perceived curse. If this was a sitcom, we’d be speculating on how much Asperger’s she has, but in this romantic high school story, we feel her pain at not fitting in. Yet I admire her strength, as well, since she doesn’t bow to bullying (of which there is a lot) or peer pressure. She knows her own goal — to be accepted — and regardless of the words or deeds cast against her, she continues to struggle to reach it.
(Also, if this was an American comic, Maria’s faith, demonstrated by the cross she wears, and her truth-telling individuality would be more praised, less seen as a sign that she’s evil. The girls who haze her would also be more subtle about it. But since this is Japanese, the way she can’t help standing out is a bad thing, considered her fault.)
Miyoshi Tomori draws Maria as very attractive, almost sly, but not in a purposeful (from the character’s perspective) or creepy (from the reader’s perspective) way. She’s calm, self-possessed, demonstrating her quiet inner strength.
Maria is not completely alone. There are two boys who admire and crush on her in different combinations. Yusuke is an outgoing talker who wants everyone to like him. He’s the one who teaches her how to rephrase her comments in a more positive fashion (although the way she often gets that wrong is entertaining). His goal is to make everything beautiful, regardless of what lurks underneath. Shin is more of a loner, but his appreciation of her seems more honest, more aware of who she really is.
There’s also another girl, Tomoyo, who over the course of these two volumes goes from a kind of class mascot, tagging along with the mean girls just to fit in, to a proto-goth making her own decisions about who is really her friend. At first, she’s used by the other girls in the class to set up Maria and get her in trouble, but in the second book, we learn more about her motivations.
The challenge there revolves around an upcoming school choral competition. The cowardly teacher puts Maria in charge to set her up for failure. He wants to get rid of her because her presence makes too many problems visible that he’s not capable of coping with.
Before that, though, book two opens with Yusuke and Maria visiting Tomoyo at home. She hasn’t been coming to school. The other kids think it’s because Maria hurt her, but it’s really something more complex. There are a lot of layers among the class politics in this series, which makes it an involving portrait of teen life, anchored by the captivating Maria. (The publisher provided review copies.)