A Devil And Her Love Song, Vol. 6

By Miyoshi Tomori. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.

This manga has been on my Bookshelf Briefs stack for the past few volumes, but it completely steps up its game here, so I feel I should do the same. We were in danger of hitting a rut and resolving things too early, with Maria’s latest antagonist, Anna, proving to be another in a series of foes that Maria and her harem… um, friends can win over with honest feelings and stubborn refusal to give up. But in this volume, we see that Anna is made of far sterner antagonist stuff, and steps up her game in a way that tries to both destroy Maria’s life *and* win the affection of Shin.

I’m quite impressed with the author, who has made Anna a villain who ruins the heroine’s life, through the usual shoujo tricks (oh dear, I threw your cellphone into the river by accident) and by things that only Anna could really utilize (telling Shin about Maria’s past). Both work quite well, but the latter really takes hold more than the former. And yet with all that said, it’s somewhat startling that I still really hope that she and Maria can work things out in the end. Maria, as we’ve noted before, *is* genuinely very hard to be around sometimes, and this would have been especially true given what happened between her and Anna. And clearly Anna is not doing this entirely out of pure hatred, given her reaction in that last scene.

Speaking of that last scene, it’s one of the best in the series to date, with Maria once again attempting to sacrifice herself in order to ‘protect’ someone else. Admittedly, this being Maria, it comes from a series of harsh truths and insults, but the heart behind it is there. And Anna can see that heart, which just makes it worse. Her final comment ‘You’re terrible at playing the devil’ is true – Maria is at her worst when she’s wallowing in her own self-hatred and trying to make everyone else see the same things she does.

And then there’s the revelation about Maria’s past that Anna shows Shin. While I’m not sure I buy the whole ‘it’s all Maria’s fault’ that was tossed in, I’m inclined to think the basic facts are true. I like that it took a lot for Shin to buy into this – actual newspaper clippings. Shin is not your typical guy who will believe anything a pretty face tells him. That said, this does affect Shin, but not in the way Anna expects – he’s now hell bent on helping Maria get over the trauma that this has left on her, and his discomfort around her stems from this. And I can see why he’s reacting this way – I mean seriously, how much more tragic can we possibly make Maria’s life?

All this plus we see Yusuke finally making his own move, even if he has to continue to couch it in ‘just kidding’ terms (which is going to come back to kick him in the ass one of these days). I think the audience now knows which pairing we’ll end up with by the end, but there’s 7 volumes still to go, so I’m fine with Yusuke showing he wants to be more than just a romantic runner-up – especially since he doesn’t have the knowledge Shin or Anna do. And by the way, the teacher from hell? Still there, still horrible. HE MUST GO. But the rest of the volume? Awesome.

A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 2

By Miyoshi Tomori. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.

In Volume two of this series, we delve further into the psyches of both Maria and Kanda, and get a good look at how the series overall is going to shape up. Basically, if you dislike hardcore bullying, or people abuse authority? You may wish to consider another series. I wish you wouldn’t, though, as this is really quite good.

It can sometimes be frustrating that so many manga series are devoted to life in high school. Do we really need to relive those years all over again? And this volume is especially good at showing us the darker side of high school – Maria has virtually the entire class (save our two heroes, of course, as well as Tomoyo, the girl we dealt with in Volume 1) united against her, with Ayu Nakamura only being the most obvious. Given the nature of shoujo manga, I expect Maria will eventually win over one or two more of these girls, but in the meantime, it’s hard to take – especially given how vicious they are here, calling Maria a slut and ripping off her rosary (which them gets thrown away by the teacher.)

Oh yes, that teacher. Another trend of Japanese manga and anime dealing with bullying is that ‘blame the victim’ seems to be the norm (not that this is limited to Japan). Fruits Basket had Kisa being urged to “get stronger” so that she wouldn’t be bullied, and Medaka Box has a bullied track star afraid to tell anyone as *she* would be the one cut from the track team. Towards that end, we have the class’ sadistic teacher, who seems happy enough to use Maria to further his own ends. He’s over the top, yes, but I also liked the fact that he is a clever bully – he manages to turn things around against Kanda quite well, and is compared uncomfortably with him. Teachers in Japan hate the nail sticking up, which is exactly what Maria is – and what Kanda tried not to be every day.

Vol. 2 delves deeper into Kanda’s psyche, as we see not only how much of his everyday behavior is a false front, but how much he relies on that front to get him through life. Maria has no filters, so is unable to see just how people use them to make things less harsh. (I’ve noticed her tendency to use full last and first names with everyone.) The trouble with these filters, of course, is it makes it harder for genuine feelings to get through – on either side. Maria is so unfiltered that she makes an impression right away, but I also loved the end, where Maria notes that the class is so angry with Kanda because he was so important to them in the first place.

This is a 13-volume series, and we’re barely into it. Which makes sense, not because Maria will have to defeat and/or befriend teachers and bullying classmates in order to get that brass ring, but that it’s becoming clearer that the biggest obstacle is her own self-hatred. If Maria keeps thinking of herself as making everyone and everything around her worse, then she’s never going to be able to open up. She seems to realize this, and is happy that she came to this new school. As we get more of her backstory (and the cliffhanger here seems to imply the next volume may have more of it), hopefully we’ll get to see her begin to cope with not being a devil, but simply a teenager who’s been through a harsh life.

A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 1

By Miyoshi Tomori. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.

I must admit, when I first started reading A Devil and Her Love Song, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Maria. Sure, she was blunt, and I quite like blunt heroines, but she seemed just a bit too stoic for me. Was she really going to be able to carry a 13-volume shoujo manga. Also, the genki blonde male co-star was really getting on my nerves. Then within a couple of pages she shows us how much of that ‘get on my nerves’ attitude was a facade (hint: all of it), and does a head tilt that must easily be seen to be believed. You’d think she was totally mocking him if she weren’t so deadly serious and incapable of understanding sarcasm. That was when I began to love Maria Kawai.

Speaking of those two guys, there not nearly as reverse harem as I might have expected. Shin is likeable right away, especially for long time readers of shoujo manga, and I’ve a feeling that he and Maria will be the main couple. Yasuke is perhaps more interesting to me personally, however. I noted that he annoyed me at the start, and that really didn’t precisely go away as the volume went on. I did like the growing sense of unease that he feels, especially as Shin notes that his act isn’t really working as well as he thinks. Maria is simply the only one willing to call him out on it. His best moment is right at the end, where he opens up to Maria and reveals how much of his life is a deliberate lie. Usually the “broken bird” type in manga like this is someone like Shin – grumpy, cynical, worn down by past events. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Yusuke in future volumes.

Back to Maria for a bit, as I wanted to discuss something else that separates this series from most other generic shoujo mangas with a blunt, in your face heroine – her faith. Japan has a very casual relationship with Catholicism, and its depictions in shoujo manga tend to simply involve the Catholic School as a setting – the strict nun teachers, praying to the Virgin Mary about someone’s love life, etc. Maria, however, seems to have a genuine faith. Not in an active, religious sense, but more a faith in the good in man, and belief in oneself. It’s a very personal faith, and one I can easily identify with. Of course, that faith also brings with it a great helping of sin, and Maria certainly seems to have a low opinion of herself – something that’s helped along by everyone around her.

For Maria is highly empathic. Which unfortunately, combined with no social filters, leads her to tell everyone exactly what she thinks, and point out the obvious walls that everyone puts up to protect themselves from being hurt. Maria has no such walls, and so is hurt all the time, to the point where she almost seems dulled to pain. Almost, but not quite – her “date” with Shin not only shows us that she can be passionate about something (even if it’s goth-loli shoes), but that she is aware of how she is to other people. She holds herself to impossible standards, and when everyone around her says she’s a horrible person (usually for calling them on their shit), it only reinforces her lack of belief. Back to faith again – Maria wants to believe in herself, in a Maria Kawai who she can love and be proud of. But since she hates herself, this faith has nowhere to go. Except into singing “Amazing Grace”.

The old hymn appears a few times throughout this volume, sung by Maria, who has a beautiful angelic voice. When I grew up, I didn’t realize that I was taught a “censored” version of the song – the lyrics in the 2nd line that I learned were “that saved and set me free”. The original, of course, carries a far greater sense of self-loathing – “that saved a wretch like me”. It is this version that Maria sings. She believes herself unworthy of being saved, but desperately wants to be. (I will note that this manga does feature a cast of female classmates who all hate the heroine, a peril in many shoujo manga. But Maria doesn’t exactly warm the heart. I’m hoping as the series goes on, we’ll get her some female friends.)

I could keep writing – I found a lot to talk about with this series. Probably a sign of how good it is. Go and get the first volume.