By Yun Kouga. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha, serialized in the magazine Comic Zero-Sum. Released in North America by Viz.
Another license rescue, this time of a very popular josei-ish series that’s still running, albeit at a crawl, in Japan. So I picked up the first omnibus thinking, why not? Generally I don’t read much BL, if any, but the author herself has said she doesn’t think it’s BL. Actually, if I’m honest, there’s not only a huge genre of ‘BL only not quite’, but several magazines devoted entirely to it, of which one is Comic Zero-Sum. (The most famous is probably Shinshokan’s Wings, whose manga I always classified as ‘whatever Wings is’ back in the day.) Given the cover, however, which features what seems to be an abused catboy being aggressively fondled by an unseen party, I’m going to guess that Loveless falls into ‘it may not be BL, but its fans sure are’. You know, like Naruto.
That aside, Loveless is basically a fantasy thriller with psychological overtones. Our hero, Ritsuka, is trying to start his life over after his older brother was apparently brutally murdered. He also has amnesia, and so is trying hard to figure out what he used to be like – something not helped by his mentally unstable mother, who keeps assuring him over and over again that he’s wrong and horrible and she wants her son back. To make matters worse, he ends up being stalked by another guy, who was close to his brother. Now he has to fight various members of an evil organization, figure out why his brother was killed, and deal with these strange feelings he gets whenever he’s around Soubi, the aforementioned stalker.
There’s very little setup here, with the author deciding it would be easier to simply drop you into the middle of her world and let you figure out how it works. So far it’s crossing between high school drama and fantasy. In this world, virgins have cat ears and a tail, which fall off after they lose their virginity. This mostly seems to be an easy way to mark off who’s meant to be innocent and naive and who isn’t so far, including Ritsuka’s ‘Christmas Cake’ teacher, Hitomi. Notably, she’s the only one actively mocked for said virginity, if only by the villains. Aside from this, there’s a lot of battle sequences where Ritsuka and Sougi must pair up to defeat whoever’s attacking them. This was easily the poorest part of the manga, with generic combat and spells/power words/whatever. The idea of your partner taking whatever damage you get could lead somewhere in the future, but at the moment it just seems to be there to make Ritsuka suffer more nobly.
When the manga isn’t focused on combat, it’s a lot better. Ritsuka is a messed-up young kid, and his hot-and-cold running emotions, even for a teenager, are jarring. He’s not quite sure about this whole ‘love’ thing, or why he’s so attracted to Sougi, but then again he’s not all that good at friendships either – it’s cute seeing him have to deal with someone as bright and talkative as Yuiko, the tall girl in his class who slowly befriends him. In case anyone’s curious, I absolutely loved Yuiko. I knew going in she was a heavily bashed character, so those who know me probably guessed this, but even more than that, she helps to lighten up the book and prevent the psychological drama from getting too depressing. I hope (but am not optimistic) she sticks around as events ramp up.
Loveless is a very odd duck, and I kept alternating between being fascinated and creeped out by its storyline. Soubi, who I barely mentioned at all, is likely the main reason for this – I just don’t like him yet, and thus it’s hard to see his disturbing devotion to Ritsuka, who is meant to be 12. The shotacon aspects are partly intentional, of course, but I’m pretty sure it’s only meant to be partly – which disturbs me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, there’s no denying that the author has skills and power to draw you in. It’s easy to see why this series is popular. And I do wonder what happens next. (Will Ritsuka abandon his shotacon stalker for cute tall-girl love? Mmmmmmm, probably not…)