By Rei Toma. Released in Japan as “Suijin no Ikenie” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Cheese!. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Abby Lehrke.
Holy catfish, this is dark. Don’t be thrown off by the cutesy picture of the heroine looking adorable on the cover, this is a fantasy that comes close to pure horror at times. Starting off with every parent’s worst nightmare, we move from crisis situation to crisis situation, and it’s a small miracle that Asahi (the aforementioned heroine) manages to be as strong as she does throughout. The water dragon in question is one of those “what are these strange things called human emotions” types, who has to be reminded of things like “humans eat in order to stay alive” She manages to find a good friend in a small village, but sadly Subaru’s mother comes from the School Of Evil Moms (TM) and Asahi ends up in probably worse trouble than if she’d just stayed hidden. There’s a lot going on here, so it’s a good thing you can’t tear your eyes from it.
We actually start off in modern times, as Asahi is a normal and seemingly somewhat spoiled girl who ends up being literally dragged into her family’s backyard pond by a wave of water and winds up in a fantasy-style world. (I have a sneaking suspicion the parents will never be seen again, and shudder to think of their reaction to their daughter literally vanishing when they turned away briefly.) Luckily, she meets Subaru, a nice young kid about her age. Sadly, she has pink hair and purple eyes, something that this world does not seem to have run across, and therefore must be EEEEEVIL. As a result, they perform a ritual to the local Water God and offer up Asahi, which is to say they tie a large rock to her ankle and throw her to the bottom of the lake. Then she meets the Water Dragon, who reminds me a bit of Ayame from Fruits Basket. Sadly, it’s Ayame before he grew up and wised up, so he’s pretty much a callous jackass.
Things move on from there, and I won’t keep describing the plot, but I will once again say that there’s some amazingly traumatic stuff in here, and the artist captures it beautifully. Asahi’s sacrifice, the starvation, the skeletons in the water, the hallucinations of each other that she and Subaru see… there’s a good reason this runs in shoujo/josei hybrid Cheese! and not, say, Ribon. That said, it’s not all doom and gloom, mostly thanks to Asahi’s basic spunky personality, as even when she’s despairing she still tries hard. And there are a few laughs in the book, mostly involving the Water God getting roundly mocked by the other nature gods for being, well, a petulant manchild. I have no doubt that his maturation, with the help of Asahi, is the point of this book. That said, Asahi is about 8-9 years old, so if it does end up being a romance I’m rooting for her kid friend rather than the God. I suspect a timeskip in the near future.
In short, I was somewhat blown away by this new series. Dark it may be, but I can’t wait to read more.