by Miyoshi Tomori; adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Now that we’re firmly into A Devil and Her Love Song, the story’s become about introducing new characters and situations to highlight Maria’s differences from her classmates and provide new opportunities for her true friends to demonstrate their affection.
Book 3 continues Maria’s struggle to lead the class for a choral competition when everyone refuses to work with her. More importantly, we meet Hana, a cheery girl who’s just returned from recovering in the hospital. She appears to be the opposite of Maria, a short-haired blonde liked by everyone. However, because this series is what it is, there’s more to her than the “angel” she appears to be. Like everyone else, she’s worried about what other people think of her. This all becomes more complicated when the school is set to be filmed for a reality TV show.
I was surprised by how obviously mean the teacher was to Maria. I suppose it’s part of the culture, the idea that the nail that sticks out needs to get hammered down, but his activities are petty and hurtful. His motives, other than being a jerk, aren’t particularly clear to me, either. I can understand why he’d give Maria’s cross to another girl in the class, to reinforce his attempted dominance over her, but I don’t understand why he’d be allowed to, or why everyone would accept the change.
This series can be something of a mindbender, because it’s difficult for a U.S. reader, raised to be independent and think for oneself, to grasp why the characters talk around certain subjects. That may be why Maria is so sympathetic; she’s the most like us, the one who doesn’t rely on misdirection and self-effacement to communicate what she’s feeling. She just says it, which is why the others hate her. I assume that’s because they really envy the way she’s aggressively herself, but perhaps that’s my cultural filter asserting itself again. They certainly seem to believe that any action is justified to convince her to fit in. And at one point, Hana tells Maria the truth about her nickname: “Only a devil wouldn’t be scared of people hating her!”
Hana turns out to be jealous of Maria for another reason — she suspects the boy she likes likes Maria instead. The way she turns on her is well-observed, because Hana gets all upset over how Maria betrayed her trust, but Hana forced that trust on Maria in the first place, trying to make them into instant friends for her own purpose. This series, in short, is twisty about human nature and teaches readers to think about what they really mean, not just what they’re saying.
There are some true friendships, though — Maria’s got a small group that supports her regardless, and their faith is enough to get her through. They’re also learning to call people out on their pretense.
Book 4 continues the competition between Maria and Hana over leadership of the class for the choral presentation. First, though, there’s a showdown between Ayu, popular pretty girl, and Maria over whether Ayu should reveal that she likes Yusuke. (Everyone seems to like him, which I don’t get. He seems like a nice guy, but a little absent inside.) Maria makes the mistake of pointing out how everyone is like her in just wanting to be liked, a truth that sets people off, although Ayu does begin sticking around more, a nice addition to the little group.
Halfway through this volume, we see a flashback to Maria’s only previous friend, a girl at her previous school who lost her voice completely. She’ll reappear in the next book, but first, we have to finish playing out the competition and what happens.
At the start of Book 5, her friends are begging Maria for tutoring help, since her previous school was more rigorous. Shin, meanwhile, is attending a music school for piano lessons, where he’s the first person to run into Anna, Maria’s former friend, again. That complicates Maria’s struggle to tell him how she feels about him.
Anna’s very cheerful, in spite of her need to communicate on a notepad, and she quickly becomes part of the group. The others don’t mind, especially once she starts bringing them delicious lunches. She needs to feel needed, since given her disability, others tend to take care of her and speak for her. But she’s also got an ulterior motive, which puts her into direct competition with Maria.
In Book 6, everyone’s looking forward to going to the Christmas Eve concert at Shin and Anna’s music school, but Maria’s stuck at school. Due to a convoluted series of events, there’s the predictable “someone else answering the cellphone at the worst possible time” scene, complicating the triangle among the three of them. Then someone starts telling stories about the past in order to use blackmail to keep two people apart, and I started rolling my eyes.
Having a plot that works only if key characters don’t talk to each other is a cheap shortcut, and in this case, it’s worse, because truth-telling drew me to the characters originally. The story has gotten very stereotypical in becoming more about who likes Shin and how he’ll react, with a bizarre revenge component that I don’t even understand the motivation behind.
I’m glad I read so many of the volumes at once, because Book 6 by itself might have driven me away from the series. In a group, it’s less annoying, and I’m still willing to see what happens in Book 7, out in February. (The publisher provided review copies.)