Note: This review will contain spoilers for those who have yet to read the manga.
In the world of Black Bird, bloodthirsty demons run amuck in the streets of Japan, only visible to the young Misao Harada. Unbeknownst to this High School student, she is truly the fabled Bride of Prophesy, a human born only once every thousand years. Her purpose is either to marry a demon and bring eternal prosperity to his family, or else be devoured and grant immortality to the monster who eats her flesh. On her sixteenth birthday her powers are awakened, and she is brutally attacked by a demon posing as a human. However, a strange man appears by her side, later revealing himself as Kyo Usui. Kyo is not only her childhood neighbor and friend, but also a powerful Tengu set on taking Misao as his bride.
Black Bird is a manga that I came across while on the hunt for something fluffy and demonic with which to pass the time. From the given summary, it sounded interesting enough, and so I loaded up the first chapter, hoping that I had discovered something worthwhile. I wasn’t entirely wrong, as Black Bird did indeed turn out to be the fluff I was expecting, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the sexual tension that surrounded the plot and the characters throughout this nonsensical and lust-filled story.
Kyo is a Tengu (bird demon or monster in some translations) who is outwardly and perversely attracted to Misao, a human girl who was coerced into befriending him as a child. The majority of the plot revolves around their rocky and bizarre relationship, which involves scenes of Kyo torturing the young protagonist in odd overly sexualized situations, as well as his desire to consume and eventually assault her.
Plot holes are few, but then again there isn’t much of a plot to puncture. Through twelve volumes, I counted over thirty scenes detailing the same action between Kyo and Misao: his healing her wounds by licking them. The most disturbing thing about it is how much Kyo seems to enjoy himself; almost as though he is having a full-out orgasm from the taste of her blood and the sounds of her pained screams alone. Without anything else said, I can safely come to the conclusion that the author based her story off of tactless segments of pure sexual desire.
Now, if I ignore these sequences, Black Bird actually presents a rather interesting supernatural romance story. Throughout the first five or so volumes, our two heroes search for information in regards to a mysterious record that could potentially derive answers from nothingness. The actual story kicks off from here, covering various scenes of battle, as well as the relationships shared with the secondary characters and antagonists. Countless demons fantasize about eating Misao in order to be proclaimed immortal. Others still desire her company for marriage. I admit that I was interested, but as soon as I came across another moment when poor Misao was slashed or tripped or stabbed, I knew that the next five to ten frames would be brimming with Kyo pinning her down and pressing his tongue to her gushing wounds. This would cause any otaku to roll their eyes with irritation.
With everything said, Kanoko Sakurakoji can definitely draw. I have seen more accurately rendered inks, but still, she is an excellent Shojo artist. Her characters appear realistic, though if I didn’t have to read Shizuka’s speech bubbles moaning things like, “Kyo, you’re hurting me.” I think I would have much more appreciation for the artwork. Cover and inside pages are aesthetically pleasing, as well as intricate, though more than many of them contain Kyo holding Shizuka in a variation of embraces. His mouth is often plated with her blood, and she simply stares up at her demonic-prince with complete and utter dumb adoration.
Dialogue on the other hand, is flat and somewhat lifeless. Kyo always has an expression of either lechery or smugness, who traits that I do not respect in male characters of his age. His constant speeches of lust directed towards Shizuka almost made me plop the borrowed volumes down at some points, though I always continued reading just so I could eventually type my thoughts down on paper.
The characters of Black Bird are odd, if I do say so myself. They are burdened by lustful and vengeful thoughts of war and copulation, all the while attempting to maintain the focus of the actual plot. This strive I am afraid, does not succeed as well as some may have hoped. Characters come off as either offensive or toneless as though there is no comfortable middle, and only occasionally do they exhibit actual relatable emotion, which leads us to our two main protagonists Kyo and Misao.
Misao is weak-minded as well as frail physically. Her only true meaning in life lies with the monstrous Kyo, her present day lover as well as her childhood friend. She is ultimately blinded by his so-called-kindness and is unable to see the veracity of his character: an evil and manipulative aberration. Day by day she pines for his presence, and more than often their interactions are veiled by Kyo’s lust for her flesh and blood as well as her mortal body. She worries that Kyo may not truly love her, but always comes to the conclusion that he does; a wrongful decision.
Although some members of a young audience may perceive Kyo’s protective instincts to be alluring, I myself am appalled at how easily he is able to control Misao’s every action. This continues to a degree where she is no longer allowed to walk around on her own, and is only permitted to befriend characters that Kyo have deemed worthy. Whenever she wriggles free from the demon’s invisible handcuffs, Kyo always manages to find her, and ‘punishes’ her by healing whatever wounds she has sustained while away. It is very obvious that he is greatly stimulated by torturing her, and enjoys the action much more than spending quality time with her as a person. Through his sadistic eyes, she is not but a means to an end. Kyo himself is a true wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.
Though it could have been much worse, Black Bird is nowhere even close to a good Shojo manga. Riddled with faults and irritating characters, all it really has supporting it from tumbling down into the trenches is its artwork, and even that doesn’t deliver everything it could to readers. By the way, did you happen to notice how many times I mentioned the wound-healing plot device in my review? Well, that should give you a fairly accurate recording of precisely what this manga is like. There are so many scenes of wound healing that I nearly forgot what the actual story was supposed to be about, and needed to constantly remind myself that the moments would eventually pass, like the rains a tropical storm. Even so, I have never wanted to leap into another story more and tear the two love-stricken protagonists apart, as well as kick Kyo in his almost pedophilic face. As such, I only recommend this manga to people who are either slightly sociopathic, or have an extreme fetish for characters who blindly portray sadism as though it is a laughing matter. Basically, if you’re the kind of person who is easily able to fall in love with serial killers, then this might very well be the manga for you.