Manga-ka: Kanoko Sakurakoji
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “Kyo, the head of the Tengu demon clan, is Misao’s only chance for survival. But even though she has sweet memories of him as a childhood friend, she has trouble reconciling them with the man he has become. Despite the strange attraction she feels for Kyo, can she trust her life, let alone her heart, to a man who only cares about the promise of her blood?”
Black Bird left a sour taste in many a mind of readers with the abusive relationship forming in its first volume. But in volume two the author steps back from the violent encounters and deviant objectives of those now plaguing Misao’s life to give the series something a proclaimed-romance really needs – some honest affection.
The most enjoyable part of the book would be the appearance of Kyo’s vassals – a group of kind, attractive and fairly distinctive young men who’re all tengu in the service of their clan’s leader. Having heard about Misao for years, they immediately welcome her into their group. The casual and friendly nature of their interactions is very charming, especially with Misao when previously she’d only had Kyo’s young assistant Taro to offer a reprieve from Kyo’s steely gaze and questionable motives. There’s also some great humour woven around their arrival, including some fun pokes at boys’ love and Kyo’s innocent but juvenile attempts to keep Misao from getting too close to any of the young men in place of him.
This new cast of characters also brings with them plenty of pretty-boy panels to feast your eyes upon, adding to an art style that’s already very strong on its own. Character profiles do occasionally look a tad lop-sided and many panels suffer from a consistency that leaves them feeling over-repetitive. Pre-dominantly however Kanoko Sakurakoji’s artwork is a definite highlight of the series – attractive, polished and with a cast of easily distinguishable characters (unless otherwise intended) in well laid-out panels.
The book almost manages to go the whole way through with anything too sinister but enter the dreaded older brother cliché and you’ve got yourself a messy situation for Misao and Kyo alike. On the upside, Kyo seems much less scary when it contrast to his brother and the whole scenarios offers a much-needed look back into their childhood when Misao’s connection to the demon world was first set into motion. Also, with the exception of the aforementioned scene, the sexual scenes in this book are confined to either humorous or sensually suggestive – allowing the book a more mature overtone that isn’t just the occasionally darker nature of its subject matter.
Almost the whole book reads much more light-heartedly than the last. It focuses on Misao and Kyo getting to know each other better, as well as readers getting to know Kyo better in general, easing some of the animosity from his less than flattering earlier escapades. To those refreshed by the considerably less skeevy nature of Kyo and Misao’s rapport, you’re likely to be disappointed by the end of the book though where the author can no longer keep up Kyo’s streak of consensual-behaviour. He doesn’t do anything especially heinous to Misao but enough to remind us why their budding relationship still has a blaring warning signal above its head. The story’s balance of abuse and romance is well illustrated by these simple lines spoken by Misao: “He uses force to make me understand what he’s thinking. That’s why… when he hugs me gently, I can feel it.”
At the very end of this volume readers get a brief glimpse of Misao’s since-absent Father, but the true significance of this scene is the die it casts in Miaso’s mind as she finally thinks of the big question – what will happen to her if she does marry Kyo?
Overall the second volume of Black Bird proved a considerably more enjoyable read than the first – bringing in a cast of side characters that help focus the series on the more sweet and heart-felt inner workings of the story’s relationship while also providing some charming humour and a vast array of eye candy. It’s doubtful that readers who found volume one unsettling will ever fully get past the sensation, but volume two at least makes this guilty pleasure feel far less sadistic for the time being.