Manga-ka: Yuki Shimizu
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “When a kotodama-sama dies, his or her kami-sama – a healer made of living paper – typically chooses to die as well, returning to a blank state as “hakushi.” But when Himi’s master passes away, a deep sense of obligation forces him to choose another path. Instead, Himi becomes kami-sama for his master’s estranged son, Genma. Genma is everything Himi’s former kotodama-sama was not – rough, arrogant, brutish – and furthermore, Genma enjoys using Himi for his own selfish pleasure. Is this more torment than Himi can endure? Or will he come to realize that different people show their true feelings in different ways?”
Volume three of Ze is not the kind of book that will leave most readers rooting for the romance – quite the opposite. This is a rough, painful and often downright depressing look into the abused life that a kami-sama (“a healer made of living paper”) lives with his new master for the sake of retaining the wishes of another. But, while the subject of the book is bad, the read itself certainly isn’t.
Himi is the volume’s central focus. After the death of his kotodama, he is given to the man’s son – a ruthless young man named Genma. It becomes immediately evident to Himi that things are going to be drastically different but he wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Raped, abused and locked-away from the world to an extent even his previous master didn’t adhere to, Himi lives every day in torment and tears.
The majority of the book is forceful sex scenes between Himi and Genma. As Himi lays in fear of Genma’s assaults and demands, he ponders the man’s feelings towards him – none of which seemingly anything but hate and malice. As some kind of upside to the content, the number of sex scenes in this book definitely earns the book its place in Digital Manga’s 801Media imprint, though the scenes work off rough spontaneity over sensual steam and definitely aren’t to be every readers’ cup of tea.
But despite the dark subject matter, it’s still well done – easily achieving a slew of emotions from the readers feeling sympathy for Himi and his situation. It doesn’t feel too overdone and the circumstances are so dismal at times that Himi’s dwelling never feels overindulgent. It’s dramatic, it’s sad and you can’t stop reading – but what kind of satisfying ending could such a volume provide?
The only time the story really feels like it starts doing itself a disservice is near the end when the author tries to turn Genma’s abusive nature into something resembling affection. A sudden proposal of love is thrown into the mix, causing Himi to rethink the motives behind his master’s actions. Though they offer him another perspective, readers won’t be as tricked by the rose-tinted glasses of boys’ love ploys where the L-word can save a ‘relationship’ based on rape.
But this is another example of what makes Yuki Shimizu an author with that special something. She has a flair for character drama that, though more often than not borders on the exceptionally angst-ridden, often succeeds because it takes itself seriously in just the right way. This third volume of Ze is a fair example of this, because though the situations are terrible and the perspective-shift a little nauseating, the rape-to-love angle isn’t provided as a quick fix or an instant band-aid. What it does is plant a seed of hope, a tiny sliver of intentional optimism that’s entire purpose isn’t to undermine the negativity of what came before, but to build up to the story’s traumatic finish that comes a mere chapter afterwards. And boy does it do just that.
The end of the book is heartbreaking on a number of levels. On one hand you have the obvious reason, which won’t be spoiled for the sake of the review. On the other hand you have the irony of who suffers what and for why in light of everything that happened. Then, on the complete flipside, one could even construe this end result as a good thing.
In the grand scheme of things plot-wise, the events of this book really drive home the restrictions and rules that govern the kami-sama, including their respective relationships with their masters and the fragility of their bodies. It’s a new angle to take back to older volumes and a more serious-tone to take with you into future instalments where we can hope for moods-sake things return to their more emotionally balanced collaboration of humour and grit.
Volume three of Ze is a depressing read but maintains being a darn good one. The quality of the writing and effectiveness of the art takes the story past its risk of being just another angst-fest, and into the realm of quality drama – albeit one with warnings for readers going into it not knowing what to expect.