|USA Info||Japanese Info||Image|
|Title||Akuma to Love Song|
|Alternative||Devil and Her Love Song, 悪魔とラブソング|
|Dates||2006.12 - (Ongoing)|
|Genre||High School, Drama, Romance, Shoujo|
Riding on a crowded train into the city, a few people notice a girl wearing the uniform of the famous St. Katria Girls' School – a girl who is sitting, and quite bluntly ignoring the very old woman standing right in front of her. They're surprised that she's so cruel, as to make an elderly woman stand when she's so young… but she is beautiful, and beautiful young girls are just like that, aren't they? As the train rolls to a stop, the young woman gets up, and the old woman immediately sits down, next to the sleeping man that was beside her. The young girl kicks the man in the ankle, protesting that his leg is in her way, waking him up… then as she goes to exit the train, whispers softly to the elderly woman that it's not much of a skill to pick-pocket people when they're asleep. To say the least, the elderly woman is quite surprised… she wasn't expecting to be caught.
Akuma to Love Song is, at its heart, a story about social acceptance, about the norms, expectations, assumptions and even prejudices that we have about people the moment we meet them, whether or not we actually know the first thing about them. Everybody's guilty of it, and they're guilty of it every single day. These are things that we've learned through a life's worth of experience; the opinions of those around us, our own interaction with the world. They shape our relationships and reactions to those around us. My grandmother, to her dying day, referred to the Japanese as Japs, a practice that I could never understand – but I didn't grow up in the 1940's, as she did. Pearl Harbor especially, and the second World War, shaped her world to such an extent that she was unable to speak of the Japanese without using the racial slur. She wasn't using the word with malice – she used it because it was the only word her life experience allowed her to use. I'm not trying to excuse it, folks, just trying to get my point across – no matter how hard we try, our interactions with others will always be defined by the experiences we've had, and the biases we hold, intentionally or not.
Maria Kawai is something of an unusual girl. She's wickedly intelligent, and extremely observant, with the sort of insight that's usually reserved for people with a long life of experience behind them. She's independent, self-driven, and remarkably resilient, and she's serious to a fault. She is also one of the single most straightforward and blunt characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading about. Maria is that person at school you knew you could always trust you'd get a straight answer from – whether you wanted one or not. She pulls absolutely no punches – when she has something to say, she says it straight out, with no consideration at all to how her words might effect others around her. It's not that she's trying to be harsh, or rude, although she's often both because of just how brutally honest she is; she just doesn't know any other way to be. Usually by the time somebody gets to high school, they've learned to temper their words and opinions somewhat, to offer their ideas in ways that won't offend others. Maria? Not so much. As pointed out in the first chapter of the narration, she is, in many ways… a devil.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that she walked into her first day at her new school – Touzuka High School, a public school with a fairly low GPA – and ran head first into trouble. As I mentioned above, she was expelled from St. Katria Girls' School, a Catholic-esque private school known in the series as being an absolute top-flight school. For those keeping score, that means that she's a transfer student, beautiful, brutally honest, was expelled from a private school, and is now entering a public school. And of course, the rumors that she was expelled proceed her in her new class. She doesn't help matters any when, in response to the general hubbub of quiet gossip among the students, responds, "Violence. I got expelled for punching the teacher," when one girl guesses that the expulsion was probably something sexual.
This is the first five minutes of the class, folks. It took all of five minutes for a whole gamut of assumptions and expectations to settle in on Maria, and that was before she chipped in with her own variety of straight forward, brutal honesty. Things actually get worse from there. It's a perfect storm – on the one side, you have a group of teenagers that for the most part are one hundred and ten percent willing to believe any and every bit of gossip and rumor, and fill in the blanks with their own assumptions rather than find out the truth. On the other, you have Maria, a terribly socially awkward character who doesn't understand how to sugar-coat the truth and is such a loaner that she's never learned to respond to others kindness – yet at the same time does things like protect complete strangers from pickpockets, at the cost of looking like a complete bitch to outsiders that will never, ever know what really happened.
Needless to say, most of the cast is formed by the students in the cast around her. The lead male is Shin Meguro, who starts out as a fairly standard class delinquent type but quickly finds himself being drawn into Maria's struggles. Early in the first chapter, he intentionally casts himself as the bad guy in order to give her an opening to talk to some of the other girls in the class. Maria sees right through it, of course, as we find out later in the chapter. Also in her class is Yuusuke Kanda, who is the first one to reach out to Maria. Cheerful and energetic, Yuusuke has a natural ability to build friendships and stop conflicts in their tracks – an ability completely derailed by Maria's piercing insight and blunt nature in the first chapter. Even so, he tries to help Maria out by teaching her about 'Lovely Transforming' – in other words, how to sugar-coat things and be less blunt. Shin and Yuusuke are friends, to Shin's great chagrin.
I'd normally go into more characters in a review, but frankly the series does an excellent job of things, and to do more than just touch on them would ruin a great balance between obvious traits and subtle qualities that emerge as their stories are told. One character that I do want to mention, however, is the homeroom teacher… who is quite possibly the lowest form of scum I've ever had the misfortune of reading about, and that's saying something. Every time he gets a panel in the manga, you can practically taste the slime oozing off his fake smile and completely worthless existence. He's the sort of human – if you use the term terribly loosely – that I'd feel absolutely zero compunction in feeding balls-first to a pack of rabid sewer rats. Without the benefit of anesthesia. Of course, his character is only made worse because of the fact that there are actually teachers like him out there in the real world.
The series has a pretty good, clean art style, but it's sprinkled liberally with super-deformed versions of the characters, especially Maria and Yuusuke, for non-serious scenes. Often you'll see the SD come out when either are using a 'Lovely Transform', for example. On the other hand, when events get serious in a chapter the SD disappears and the details overall in character expression get sharper and more prominent. It's a very intentional effect, not a result of artistic inconsistency. Akuma to Love Song has, by nature, moments both light hearted and painfully serious, and Miyoshi uses the artwork to great effect to help emphasize the tone and emotion behind those scenes.
Like I said in the overview, kids can be terribly cruel. The sad truth is that some portion of Maria's story plays out in every school across the country every year, if not every day. The social cliques that form around Queen Bees, the Jocks and their ilk, the loners, the nerds and geeks – my former alma matter – no matter who you actually are, you quickly fall into a stereotype, and that's how you're seen unless you manage to do something truly spectacular to break out. Then you have Maria's problem: all bets are off, and everybody's eager to get a piece of your hide so that they can figure out where you 'fit in'. There's nothing people hate more than somebody that doesn't fall into a nice, ordered worldview that they can easily apply their expectations and assumptions and prejudices to. Nothing people hate more than somebody that forces them to actually stop and think about somebody else for a minute.
I've been loving every minute of Akuma to Love Song – it's got an extremely strong plot and interesting characters that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. None of them are perfect – and some of them are anything but. The single thing the entire cast has in common – even that sodding scum-sucking teacher – is the effect that Maria's arrival in their world has. We get to see how that event acts on Maria, but more importantly, we get to see how Maria's growth and continued persistence despite all the crap thrown at her slowly starts to change the other members of her class and helps them to grow too. This is going to be a great entry for anybody that loves a good, solid story with excellent characterization and character growth. It has romantic elements, but the main focus is on interpersonal relationships, with the romance being a direct offshoot of that focus. You're not going to find any action here, so adrenaline junkies can move along, but there's a healthy serving of good humor to be found. An excellent series, very highly recommended.