Mikuzu Sudou is terrified of ghosts, vampires…and men. Luckily for her, the one man in her life, a transvestite exorcist named Seto Ashiya, looks—and acts—like a beautiful girl. The two young people meet by chance one day; Mikuzu is a Kenki, a person who can both perceive and attract restless spirits called “oni,” and Seto saves her from a particularly troublesome one. Unfortunately, the supply of oni is endless, and Mikuzu’s safety can only be temporary. So in return for protection from future supernatural mischief, Seto convinces Mikuzu to bake a cake for him every day. And before long, he has also convinced her to join him in starting a ghost-busting business.
Their first and only on-the-job adventure is at the student council president’s home. He wants them to exorcise the oni possessing his handcrafted upright piano. However, even with the assistance of Seto’s vampire companion Kagari, they meet with failure. If they are to have any hope of success, Mikuzu will have to unravel the mystery that is Seto. Why is he dressing like a girl, and what does he hope to accomplish? The answer to the riddle may well destroy the tentative bonds of friendship only too recently formed between Mikuzu and Seto.
The single-volume shoujo manga Heaven’s Will was never intended to be a multichapter storyline, yet even when expanded significantly by creator Satoru Takamiya, it does not feel particularly complete. Readers never even learn Seto’s real name, for example, and there is no romance to speak of between any of the characters. Nevertheless, this attractively illustrated title serves up plenty of provocative food for thought about the boundaries between male and female, friendship and love.
Of course, this manga, though free of explicit content per se, is nonetheless rife with sexual ambiguity and homoerotic tension. Since Mikuzu is afraid of men, Seto’s crossdressing makes him the only tolerable male friend. Yet at the same time, the reader is never allowed to forget what lies beneath the long blond locks and frilly dresses, so when Mikuzu realizes that what she wants most in the world is to stay always with Seto, you are not entirely certain whether her affections are wholly platonic. Seto, for his part, has some serious, self-effacing issues related to his crossdressing, but I will not spoil them here. Suffice it to say that they are equally—if not more—intriguing.
Takamiya’s artwork in Heaven’s Will is pretty and light. She combines the vintage shoujo horror style of Chie Shinohara with latter-day gothic Lolita fashion sense while demonstrating an unexpectedly high level of skill in her angles and panel layouts. Seto’s fan-wielding exorcisms are reasonably dynamic from a visual standpoint yet remain pleasingly easy to follow and digest quickly. Takamiya’s character designs are likewise lovely. Mikuru is a dark, brooding waif, while Kagari (a vampire after all!), and to a lesser extent Seto, boasts a delicious fission of decadent sensuality in selected panels.
In the end, the banal dichotomies between male and female and friendship and love are never fully recuperated. So although the story at times feels disjointed and unfinished, it is this very lack of closure that makes it so memorable. Mikuzu and Seto will live on in your head for far longer than it will take you read this compact volume cover to cover.
Reviewed by Casey Brienza on January 6, 2009