Review

Black Bird, Volume 2

written and illustrated by Kanoko Sakurakoji

The demons’ prophecy is appallingly clear: “If a demon drinks her blood, he is granted a long life. If he eats her flesh, he gains eternal youth. And if he makes her his bride, his clan will prosper…” Needless to say, the “her” in question --- one Japanese teenager named Misao Harada --- is having none of it. Little beasties (and at least one decidedly big one) that only she can see have been tormenting her since childhood, and prophecy or no prophecy, all Misao wants is a normal life. That is, until the hunky head of the Tengu clan Kyo flaps in, determined to make her his bride.

In this volume, Misao and Kyo have reached an uneasy détente. She has not agreed to marry him, and he has definitely not given up on her. Slowly but surely, though, she is becoming a willing part of his world. She meets, for example, Kyo’s loyal entourage and his not-so-loyal big brother. The latter’s motives are not entirely virtuous, and Misao, desperate to retrieve the pieces of her childhood that have gone missing, ends up in a very sticky situation that nearly gets Kyo killed. Danger strengthens their nascent bond --- could it be that Misao is falling for Kyo?!

Mangaka Kanoko Sakurakoji (Backstage Prince) continues to deliver the goods with the second volume of Black Bird. While the first volume was hardly more than a bodice ripper with lots of suggestively drawn bodice ripping and little in the way of actual intimate relations, the story here begins to flex its ambitions as new characters are introduced and past histories are revealed. There is something here besides sex appeal --- though there is plenty of that as well --- and the way it all combines into a near-perfect package secure in its own modest, pulpy pleasures is surely what earned it the 54th Shogakukan Manga Award.

Indeed, it’s hard to take Black Bird too seriously. Misao is your standard shoujo manga heroine who never seems to have bothered to grow a backbone, while Kyo is the Tengu with the heart of gold who never quite seems to know how to take “no” for an answer. This is a recipe for tasteless, even outright offensive, dreck when done poorly, but perhaps because the plot leaves just enough opportunities for the undoubtedly destined couple to redeem themselves in the eyes of the readers, the manga steers deftly clear of creative disaster.

Besides, there is plenty of pretty pictures and comic relief to compensate for any narrative flaws. Readers who enjoy the art style of Natsuki Takaya (Fruits Basket, Phantom Dream) should love Sakurakoji’s smooth-faced bishounen lounging in stylishly traditional Japanese domestic settings and costumes. And like Takaya, she too has a penchant for bawdy humor and sight gags. All in all, Black Bird is sure to be a hit with teenage girls in the market for stories about sexy supernatural beings who won’t settle for anything less than the least likely of, well, teenage girls. Recommended.

Reviewed by Casey Brienza on October 18, 2011

Black Bird, Volume 2
written and illustrated by Kanoko Sakurakoji

  • Publication Date: November 3, 2009
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC
  • ISBN-10: 1421527650
  • ISBN-13: 9781421527659