Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #70: Inu X Boku SS, Vols. 1& 2 by Cocoa Fujiwara

A reviewer must always cultivate an air of knowledge -- oh, perhaps not perfect knowledge, since no one knows everything, but a definite sense of being sure what's going on and what it all means. This is more difficult in some situations than others.

I have to admit that I have no idea why this manga series by Coca Fujiwara -- the first volume of which hit US shores last October, the second of which arrived with the new year -- is called Inu x Boku SS. Oh, the "SS" part is clear enough: it stands for Secret Service, the name for the private bodyguards at a very exclusive Japanese apartment building [1], which doesn't realize or care that "SS" has a very different connotation in English. (And probably in German, come to think of it.) But the "Inu X Boku" completely stymies me -- I think it's untranslated Japanese, for whatever reason.

Whatever the title means, it's about this building, named Maison de Ayakashi, and we learn before very long that it's not just a very expensive, very exclusive residence for a few young members of very rich families -- all of those families are also secretly descended from yokai or ayakashi, monsters and creatures from folklore, and that descent gives them the families their vigor and power. And, every so often, there's a "genetic throwback" -- a family member with all of the abilities and powers of the supernatural ancestor. Those throwbacks are honored, but not loved; raised carefully and painstakingly, but without any affection; and valued as symbols of the family's power, but unwanted as actual people. So they come to live at Ayakashi, where they each have a private bodyguard (Secret Service) sharing their floor. They also are all, as far as we see her, high school students, either because there's a whole network of similar houses or just because every manga is set among high school students.

Those bodyguards, though, are also all throwbacks, which rather throws a crimp in Fujiwara's declared explanation that all of the families descended from ayakashi are rich and powerful. (Or maybe some are just more rich and powerful, so the bottom half of the chart has to serve the top?) In any case, everyone in Ayakashi is a supernatural being of one kind or another: kappa, mamedanuki, ittan-momen, hayakume, orochi, korpokkur, and so on. (You probably don't know most of those: I certainly didn't.) And most of them are potentially quite dangerous, if you get on their wrong sides -- but they still all get bodyguards (or are bodyguards), because if there's one thing Japan does better than anyone else, it's follow exacting rules.

Our main character is Ririchiyo Shirakiin, from an oni family, and she's moving into Ayakashi on the first page. Her big character flaw -- all manga heroines need one -- is that she's sarcastic and cruel on the surface but secretly sad and lonely. Her new SS agent is the too-submissive-to-be-true fox spirit Soushi Miketsukami, who combines all of the disadvantages of both a smothering boyfriend and a smothering bodyguard. Nevertheless, it's blindingly obvious that the arc of the series will be about their love.

There are forces of some kind -- possibly other yokai, possibly something else -- that threaten the denizens of Ayakashi, but those forces are only mentioned in these two books. So far, it's all character-based humor and relationship drama, focusing on introducing Ririchiyo and Soushi and all of the secondary characters. (There's a flying bolt of cloth, who seems to be the only sensible person; a ditzy redhead; the obligatory dominant girl-with-glasses, though this one is obsessed with all things "smexxy;" a wanna-be tough kid and his annoyingly all-knowing -- picture Loki as a motormouth used car salesman -- bodyguard.)

Any book with a love plot at its spine relies on its audience finding the two fated lovers adorable, and I'm afraid that Soushi comes across as a creepy, bizarre stalker to me. I'd also like Ririchiyo better if she'd just own up to either her sarcasm or her mushiness, though I do feel for her. Then again, I expect they'll have many volumes to come in which to change and grow up, so maybe I'm judging them too harshly. Either way, if you're looking for a tsundere or I'm-your-dog fix, this is just what you need.

[1] Almost certainly in Tokyo, but I don't think the books have actually said that yet.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment