Sunday, February 02, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #33: Bloody Cross Vol. 1 by Shiwo Komeyama

There's a very particular cadence and syntax to translated Japanese manga -- slightly different in each subgenre, so shonen is not quite the same as shojo -- with standard phrases (lots of "I'll do my best!"), word order and choice that's just a hair off colloquial English, and an entire buried set of cultural assumptions that bubble up unexpectedly. This is most obvious in genre works, since those are the most dependent on cliche, precedent, and standard tropes -- a demon-fighting shonen story comes in a long line of similar stories, and leans on that cultural construct in a way that a more personal work doesn't.

Shiwo Komeyama's Bloody Cross, Vol. 1 is very much one of those genre exercises: it would take someone much more immersed in manga than me to trace all of the influences, but they're clear and present and copious. For an American audience, that exoticism is part of the appeal: it's not only an adventure romp, it's a Japanese adventure romp, and the fact that the characters don't talk like Americans is a plus.

So this is both familiar and not-familiar: it's like a lot of other things, none of them American, and the dialogue is pretty shonen standard. There's the usual complicated and vaguely blasphemous supernatural underpinnings: there are angels and demons, and "half-breed" mixes of the two (though, sometimes, they're called half-vampire instead of half-demon, and it's not clear if that's just meant as a synonym), and curses on those half-breeds with complicated trigger mechanisms that need to be assuaged by the drinking of demon blood. Oh, and God's Prophecy Book, the major maguffin for the back half of this volume. Yes, an actual spellbook used by the Christian God himself, and available for these half-breeds to find and save themselves with. Nobody let a Catholic Priest see this book: that's what I'm saying.

Tsukimiya and Hinata are both half-bloods -- Komeyama most often uses the term "mixed-race," which is pretty weird to an American sensibility -- who meet while both stalking the same demon/vampire and who double-cross each other at the kill, each in an attempt to take all of the blood and clear his/her particular curse. But that causes their curses to fuse and combine, something totally unexpected and novel, and leaves them to the expected love-hate relationship henceforward. (They don't seem to need to stay near each other, which I was mildly surprised by: that's usually central to the magical version of the squabbling-until-they-fall-into-bed story.)

That was the initial story -- the one that got this picked up for series, since the others are numbered but the first isn't. After that, they're mostly trying to get God's spellbook, fighting with each other intermittently and against a cute demon cat-girl (naturally) and a tall slim cold-hearted blond angel-boy (equally naturally) who are also after the book, which seems to be just lying around. So there's a lot of fighting, a lot of back-stabbing (and supposed back-stabbing), leading up to a shocking cliffhanger at the end of this book that absolutely does not mean what it seems to mean.

The art is stylish and only occasionally difficult to follow, with inky swirls that are sometimes blood or shadows but also sometimes just page design. It's very talky, but I think manga fans really like that: it's the equivalent of the way Spider-Man never shuts up while he's fighting. Anybody who likes manga stories about battling demons -- or Moonlighting-esque you-know-they're-going-to-screw-eventually relationships -- should give Bloody Cross a look; it hits all of the checkboxes for the genre and does it with enthusiasm and verve.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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