A terrifying new disease called Return Syndrome is aging people in reverse. Those who contract it are doomed to regress back into childhood and straight out of existence. The prognosis is grim, and the cause of Return Syndrome --- along with its mode of transmission from person to person --- is unknown. Researchers around the world are racing to find a cure. Among their number is the brilliant and handsome young Shinobu at the Weatherhead Institute for Advancement of Integrated Research in Japan…who happens to have a secret back home that might just be the key to unlocking the mysteries of Return Syndrome.
The secret in question are his distant relatives cum wards, twin sisters Mona and Rina. Rina has been infected by the disease, and it is clear to Shinobu that both young women were exposed in utero. Through a bizarre twist of fate, they learn that Return Syndrome is caused by human contact with inhuman entities from another world --- “demons” that only a handful of people can control. The twins’ mother was apparently one of those people, called a “chain,” and when the demon she once tamed arrives at their doorstep, they soon learn that Mona has the knack too! Naturally, making a deal with the devil is dangerous at the best of times, but Mona will stop at nothing to save Rina’s life, so if she has to become a “chain,” she will.
Few have had careers in shoujo science fiction and fantasy manga as starred as Natsumi Itsuki, and she brings three decades of experience to bear on her work in Demon Sacred. Although what are arguably her most famous works in Japan, OZ and Yakumo Tatsu, have never been made commercially available in English translation, readers in the West have already been treated to her Jyu-Oh-Sei, published in a three-volume edition by TokyoPop. Demon Sacred, also published by TokyoPop, is the second of Itsuki’s works to debut in the United States, and it is a crowd-pleaser, plain and simple.
Although her artwork is visually pleasing, it is in the grand storytelling department that Itsuki is truly a standout. She weaves together tried and true themes in manga --- J-pop idols, medical science fiction, dark urban fantasy, mash-up Biblical and classical mythology, and the ever-popular angsty bishounen --- that, by less skilled manga artists, would normally be used only one or two at a time. Demon Sacred, on the other hand, incorporates them all and does it in a way that never seems strained. You really do believe it when you find out that demons cause disease, that they can be summoned and tamed, and that after they are tamed they might look like J-pop idols. Really.
In a bid to bolster the series’ popularity, volumes one and two of Demon Sacred have been released together, each book priced at a bargain basement $5.99. It’s a good move on the part of TokyoPop; one volume is enough for readers to keep coming back for more, but two will have them hooked. Itsuki remains at the height of her powers. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Casey Brienza on September 28, 2010
Demon Sacred, Volumes 1-2