The business of Death is never done. Asato Tsuzuki works as a Shinigami, or "Guardian of Death," in the Ministry of Hades. It's his duty to make sure that the souls of the dead reach the afterlife, but contrary ghosts and humanity's evils keep getting in the way of a job well done. With all these problem assignments, will he ever get a bonus...or will he be stuck paying back damages for all eternity?
I began reading this manga way back in high school, and although I adored it then, after years of holding it off, my opinion has changed.
I will admit that although I was a shounen-ai fangirl when I was a teenager, I have sense moved on. I still love the genre, but not as much as when I was in puberty. With that in mind, bear with me.
Characters: I begin with this because sadly this is what actually brought down the entire manga for me. The main character, Tsuzuki, is actually a huge issue for me. Although I do usually despise the "main character is a total idiot but within he is actually a powerful individual" troupe, this one took it to the max. Tsuzuki himself does not necessarily bother me, but his actions do. He has been dead for well over fifty years, but is haunted by his past. He is one of the most powerful characters of the cast with some of the most powerful allies at his beck and call, and yet needs to assistance of a recently deceased 17 year old (depending on the language you read) in order to prevent the sexual advances of another man (apparently he doesn't know what the word no means, or even to just move). It's not cute, it's frustrating. A character must evolve as the story progresses, and although we do see a conclusion to his story, most of the arcs concentrate on how haunted he is about his past life and how he can't seem to get a hold of himself (Muraki's constant advances, the possession arc).
Without giving away any spoilers, there is a lot of adult themes such as rape involved. Now I normally hate rape stories as they are a cheap gimmick in order for us to either feel for a character, or detest another. However, giving this manga credit, it actually does it well. The character in question is at war with himself and his attacker/killer for the assault, and this is brought up multiple times. However it's only glossed over. The main characters emotional trauma overtakes that of this horrific event that only occurred recently, placing this young character as the "adult" of the situation. There are even multiple occurrences where the victim is forced to meet with the attacked in order to "rescue" the main character from him, situations which could have easily been avoided if the main character just DID something instead of acting like a vulnerable child.
That all being said, most of the other characters I actually liked and would have loved to see more involving them. Watari, Tatsumi and some others. They were done quite well.
Art: I love the art of this manga. Even years later I still adore it, and actually adopted much of it into my own style when I was younger. It's crisp, detailed, and beautiful. You can understand everything that's occurring, even in the most chaotic of scenes. You can distinguish one character from another easily. Even the scenes of gore are done beautifully.
Story: I enjoyed the theme of the story, and even multiple arcs. I personally adore manga's and anime's involving such things as the supernatural, youkai, shikigami, horror and gore. And of course a cast of good looking guys thrown into the mix. I enjoyed the antagonist as I was supposed to hate him, and I did. He felt threatening, and the events leading up to him felt full and complete.
Final grade: B-
Pros: Beautiful art. Beautiful character designs. Good story concept.
Cons: The characters themselves can be frustrating in their cliche personalities. Don't think too hard when reading, or else most of it falls apart. read more
Before I begin, I want to state that actually, I'm not a yaoi fangirl. I support pairings of all kinds, but I'm not by any stretch a yaoi fangirl. Though this manga does contain situations suggestive of shonen-ai, that's not really the point of this story. This manga, I think, can be enjoyed by anyone. Those that like yaoi will enjoy the subtext between the (3) main characters, but others can enjoy this manga just as much, provided they have an open mind, anyway.
So I picked this manga up because I like shinigami. I enjoy reading about shinigami and I think these stories with shinigami life (similar to in Full Moon O Sagashite or Black Butler) are really interesting.
The manga's first volume (which I own, and as an aside, I own the first 8 volumes) starts out with a one-shot from before the main series started. It features Tsuzuki, but with a different partner than in the main series. Readers don't have to start with this chapter, in fact, I think this chapter was rather confusing and kind of a turn-off compared to the rest of the series.
After that begins the first story arc, the Nagasaki arc, where Tsuzuki partners up with Hisoka, encounters a vampire, and battles with Muraki, who becomes the recurring villain of the series. This story arc is also present in the anime, for those who watched it. Some aspects of this arc felt rushed because it lasted only about three chapters. However, it provides a strong, insightful introduction to Tsuzuki's new partner, Hisoka, and also explains how Juohcho (The bureaucratic organization the shinigami work for) operates. Future stories include: a story about a violinist who, through a cornea transplant, gains a contract with the devil, an investigation of a serial killer on a cruise ship, a trip to Hokkaido with shinigami of other districts, a New Year's martial arts competition, a infiltration of a catholic church to catch a murderer of students, a very amusing story where Tsuzuki gets trapped in one of the Count's story books, an investigation of a haunted inn, and a serial killer investigation in Kyoto.
Also included are a series of short side stories about Watari and his various experiments (which he always botches), mostly attempts to create a sex-change potion for the purpose of "exploring the female mind". These are always funny.
It seems that while, overall, the various "cases" the shinigami investigate are rarely anything special or groundbreaking, what really makes the story shine is how it uses these cases to construct the psyches of the different shinigami in the bureau. The stories really are rather gripping (particularly the ones that involve murders and cases to be solved) and entertaining enough when combined with the characters and their dynamics.
Matsushita's art really is very pretty. Most of the cast are bishonen or cute young girls. The artwork starts out pretty good, better than average, in the first three volumes. The only gripe I had early on in the series is that the page flow can be difficult to follow, and can get to looking rather cluttered. From there, though, it improves. Volumes 7 and 8 are beautiful, and really mystified me with the amount of detail. This pattern continues through the current arc (volumes 9 and on). I was very impressed overall with the art. Matsushita also gets better at drawing animals - Byakko and the other shikigami (guardian spirit animals) look wonderful in the later volumes.
However, after the 11th volume, the series was put on hiatus, because Matsushita got a hand injury. The series just recently continued in 2010/2011-ish. I have heard many different stories, but the consensus seems to be that this hand injury caused Matsushita to have to change her drawing style, possibly, she had to learn to draw with her left hand. Her new style is considerably less detailed, and seems much simpler. I can't fault her for this, though, since it is not necessarily a "bad" style, and I am glad enough that she is continuing the series.
The characters are the real gem of this series, by far. The main characters are Asato Tsuzuki, Hisoka Kurosaki, and Dr Kazutaka Muraki. Tsuzuki and Hisoka are a shinigami pair, while Muraki is human, and is considered the main villain of the series. Tsuzuki and Hisoka start out hostile, with Hisoka being emotionally closed and hesitant to become close to anyone. Tsuzuki wants badly to help Hisoka, and spends the remainder of the series trying to help Hisoka cope with his tragic past and psychic powers. However, Tsuzuki has issues of his own, which Muraki uses to attack him. Both Tsuzuki and Hisoka are broken inside and need each other to heal. In helping each other, they develop a very close relationship - there is much debate over whether this is a romantic relationship or a brotherly relationship. This distinction is not needed, however, in order to understand how much Hisoka and Tsuzuki both grow together over the course of the series. Muraki, on the other hand, as the antagonist, continuously tries to use the pain and weakness inside them to tear both of them down. Other than being a twisted sadist, he also spends most of his scenes coming on to Tsuzuki, with a both romantic and sexual attraction towards him. Tsuzuki shakes him off, but is deeply affected by the things Muraki does to get closer to him. Muraki is a serial killer who murders many, many people to get the attention of the shinigami and therefore draw Tsuzuki to him so he can use his body in a science experiment.
These dynamics between the three characters are the root of the story. Muraki, while being a depraved sexual harasser/rapist/murderer, is actually fascinating and well fleshed out. Especially with his back story and the explanation Matsushita provides about his family. His past is in no way an excuse for his (unforgivable) actions. But he is not one-dimensional at all. I find him to be one of the most entertaining and interesting villains in all the anime I've watched.
The manga also provides a sizable supporting cast. Other shinigami at JuOhCho include Yutaka Watari, Seiichiro Tatsumi, and Chief Konoe. Watari is mostly a comic relief character, and as I mentioned earlier, he wants to make a sex change potion. He's one of my favorite characters because he always makes me laugh. He's a good friend to Tsuzuki. He's a scientist, and helps solve a number of cases with his scientific specialty. Tatsumi, in the past, was one of Tsuzuki's partners, though he dumped him because Tsuzuki is such a slacker. Tatsumi, who's Konoe's secretary, is a control freak, and a cheapskate obsessed with money. Secretly, he really does care about Tsuzuki. Konoe is the shinigamis' boss. The Gushoshin twins are assistants to the shinigami, andwhile some think they're annoying, I like them. The Count, who comes on to Tsuzuki just as blatantly as Muraki does, is really funny.
Other supporting characters include both humans affiliated with the various cases the shinigami take on, and shinigami from other areas of Japan that come in contact with Tsuzuki's section particularly in the later volumes.
The characters throughout this section are very deep and detailed. Matsushita put a lot of effort into making them human-like and interesting.
I read only through the first nine volumes because the current arc, sadly, never ends. Matsushita, though she put the series on a long hiatus, has come back to work to the series, continuing the current arc. I plan to read more of the current arc when it is finished, and I hope Viz continues releasing the volumes.
However, Matsushita put out two bonus stories about Oriya (Muraki's best friend) and Muraki's fiance Ukyou, which I read. The artwork was different since she wrote them after her injury, but they were still very enjoyable. It hints that the conflict with Muraki isn't finished, and the series is still heading towards a resolution of this battle.
At times, the series can feel rather....schizo. It bounces from lighthearted to serious, to suspenseful, to silly. Entire arcs can be like this - volumes 1-3 contain mostly serious stories, while volume four has a couple of silly stories (talking animals, transformations) before dropping right into another serial killer story. Volume 5 contains the story where Tsuzuki gets trapped in one of the Count's romantic books and meets a gender-swapped version of himself (and alternate versions of all of the characters).
This is the one aspect in which I can say the anime is superior to the manga. Having watched all of the anime, I can say that it is definitely more focused and cuts the extraneous, silly arcs while keeping only the strong ones. However, the manga expounds more on the supporting characters (in the case of Tatsumi, the Count, and almost all of the human characters) as opposed to the anime, which keeps its focus on the main characters and even then cuts down some of Muraki's backstory.
I really enjoyed both versions of the story, though I respect the manga more, as it is the author's original creation. The manga is definitely worth reading, even if you've already seen the anime. The manga has a lot of additional material and is very well-rounded.
(note: overall rating is not an average of the other ratings...)read more