November 15, 2011 dreamkaleidoscope
Tags: , , , ,

TITLE: Rasetsu
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Chika Shiomi (mangaka of Yurara, Canon, and Night of the Beasts), Ghost Hunt, supernatural manga, romance, comedy, drama

I feel Rasetsu is a rather appropriate title to review this month, for the title character happens to share my birthday, which was November 2nd. Granted, it probably would have been even a better fit for October, considering it’s a supernatural romance about a group of exorcists, but I didn’t have time last month to write a review.

Rasetsu is the story of an eighteen-year-old girl of the same name who has the ability to see and exorcise spirits. Three years before the start of the story, Rasetsu was marked with a rose tattoo by a powerful demon, who informed her that if she did not find true love by her twentieth birthday, he would take her and make her his. Because of the demon’s threat, Rasetsu is obsessed with finding a boyfriend while also working as an exorcist for the Hiichiro Amakawa Agency.

One day, a handsome young librarian by the name of Yako Hoshino (of Yurara fame) comes to the agency for help with a possessed book. Though he has paranormal powers of his own (over water), he cannot exorcise the spirit himself. Through various circumstances, instigated by Rasetsu and her co-worker Kuryu, Yako ends up fired from the library and forced to work at the agency as well. As they work together, Rasetsu begins to think Yako might be the “true love” who will save her from the demon’s curse, but, unfortunately, he’s still in love with the departed guardian spirit Yurara, who Rasetsu greatly resembles.

First of all, I think it’s important to note that even though Rasetsu is a sequel (or spin-off, as it is billed as on the cover) of Yurara, no prior knowledge of the previous series is needed to enjoy it. Rasetsu stands fine on its own, with everything you need to know about the events of Yurara explained in the story. That being said, I do recommend you read Yurara first. Not only is it good series in its own right (though not as great as Rasetsu), but several characters from Yurara make guest appearances as clients, and you’ll get more of a kick out of their cameos if you’re familiar with their backgrounds and relationship with Yako.

To be honest, going into this series, I wasn’t expecting to like it very much, mostly because I never really cared much for Yako. I was a total Mei fangirl, so a story with Yako as the lead male didn’t interest me at first. However, I am a Chika Shiomi fan and thought the premise held promise, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Rasetsu is by far my favorite of Shiomi’s works currently released in English. One of the things I really like about the story is that it kind of straddles the line between shoujo and josei. The romance is very shoujo-y, but the fact that it takes place in an office enviroment and the characters are all over eighteen gives the story a bit of freshness, compared to the usual high school stories that dominate the genre. The supernatural aspect was also a big appeal for me, as it is with all of Shiomi’s works. Admittedly, the majority of the cases the agency works on over the course of the series aren’t terribly interesting on their own merits, usually being wrapped up within a single chapter — which is pretty much the main reason I didn’t give Rasetsu a Masterpiece rating; I was hoping for a bit more of a Ghost Hunt vibe, involving actual paranormal investigation — but I enjoyed how the cases served to reveal more about the characters and the overall plot involving the evil spirit who cursed Rasetsu.

But the main reason I love Rasetsu is the relationships and interactions between the five main characters who work at the agency. At heart, Rasetsu is a rather dark story, what with the main heroine cursed to die on her twentieth birthday and the male leads dealing with their own past issues, but its the romance and especially the humor that sold the story for me. For example, it’s rare that I find the ubiquitous Big Eater found in many anime and manga all that hilarious beyond the first couple of gags, but Rasetsu’s fanatical love of cake and anything sugary cracked me up in almost every scene it appeared (which was a lot, considering sugar actually fuels her psychic powers). Her facial expressions during these scenes are just priceless, and I also love how watching her eat all that sugar — sometimes even resorting to sugar cubes just to get her fix when Yako complains about how much company money she spends on expensive cakes — has a tendency to make people sick to their stomach. Another big source of humor for me is the rivalry between Rasetsu’s two love interests, Yako and Kuryu. They have a like/hate relationship similar to the one that Yako shared with Mei in Yurara, but the hate part is more subtle, in keeping with the fact that they’re both in their mid-twenties. It’s just plain fun watching Kuryu tease Yako, frequently abusing his kotodama powers just to do so, and Yako’s always at his funniest whenever he’s annoyed.

Another highlight is the characters themselves. Rasetsu is a great lead, with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. It’s remarkable to see just how much Rasetsu has grown since she was first marked by the demon when she was fifteen, as shown in the several flashbacks to the period right after, but even after the story proper begins three years later, she continues to develop into a stronger person. At the beginning of the story, Rasetsu is desperate to find someone — anyone! — to love her, in order to save her from the evil spirit’s curse, but as the series continues and she falls into (what she believes is) unrequited love with Yako, she begins to realize that “true love” really means and that having a boyfriend may not actually be the answer to saving her from the demon. (Love doesn’t actually conquer all in a shoujo manga? Shocker!) I thought that was a fantastic message to put forth in a series like this, meant to be read by teenage girls who may feel they are worthless without a boyfriend by their side.  

As for Yako, I ended up liking him a lot more here in Rasetsu than I did in Yurara. He’s still recognizably Yako…but different. More mature, I guess you would say, which makes sense, considering Rasetsu is set around eight years post-Yurara. I do rather miss his love of telling ghost stories, which was a fun quirk of his from his teenage Yurara days, but the new and improved Yako is much kinder and warmer than his younger self, making him a more palatable love interest in my eyes. He’s definitely more swoon-worthy here.

Unfortunately, even with his improved character and new leading man status, Yako still manages to be outshone by an even more interesting rival. That would be the Kuryu, whose sly, cheeky personality hides an incredible inner pain. His speciality, as I mentioned before, is kotodama — one of the most fascinating psychic powers I’ve ever come across in fiction. Basically, he can use his voice to manipulate people, animals, spirits, objects, and even the weather to do whatever he commands. He claims that his power isn’t very useful and that he can only use it a few times a day — in the first chapter, it was just once a day, but that seemed to be retconned in later chapters — but as the series continues, it becomes apparent that he is a heck of a lot more powerful than he initially seems.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Chika Shiomi’s work is that she almost always gives her stories some sort an unexpected twist. The twist in this case concerns Kuryu. It’s foreshadowed early on that there’s something a bit different about him, and I suspect many readers will think they’ve figured it out the twist within the first few volumes. In fact, had Shiomi stuck with her original plans as explained in one of her author’s notes in the last volume, those same readers probably would have predicted correctly, as Kuryu’s character was meant to go in a different direction. Had she actually continued developing him in that direction, it still would have led to a great, if somewhat more predicable, story, but the real twist is almost guaranteed to leave you in tears by the end of the series. Really, Rasetsu has one of my all-time favorite manga endings. I can never read it without sobbing my heart out. (It’s happy, but very bittersweet.)  

As the most recent of Shiomi’s works to be released in English, it’s no surprise that Rasetsu boasts her best artwork to date. Some of her full-page and two-page spreads are just gorgeous, making me wish for an artbook for the series. (There might be one in Japan; I haven’t checked.) Even her character design for Yako has improved from Yurara. The slightly longer layers of his hairstyle are much more flattering on him, and his wardrobe gets a stylish boost. Actually, I really loved everybody’s clothing in this series, from Rasetsu’s trendy outfits to Kuryu’s suits to even Hiichiro’s yukata.

Really, there’s a lot more I could say about this series — I didn’t even get the chance to talk about super-lazy Hiichiro and his faithful, non-psychic assistant Aoi, who are also great characters — but I think you get the picture. I love this series, and if you’re a fan of supernatural romance, I think you will, too.

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