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July 18, 2011

Bento Bako Weekly: A Strange and Mystifying Story 1 & 2

Title: A Strange and Mystifying Story
Author: Tsuta Suzuki
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Volume: Volumes 1 and 2 (of at least 3), $12.95 each
Vintage: 2006 and 2007 by Libre Publishing Co., 2008 and 2009 by DMP
Genre: Yaoi (18+), romance, drama, historical

They say that Akio Yamane’s family is cursed. For generations, members of his family have died from strange diseases or accidents, including his own parents. His grandfather recently died, as well, leaving Akio all alone. Soon, Akio himself becomes seriously ill and checks into a hospital after coughing up blood. The doctors tell him there is no cure, so he goes home as soon as he can move again. However, once home, Akio suffers a violent attack and finds himself helpless and alone, unable to breath or barely move. In desperation, he reaches out for an object on the family shrine that his grandfather told him about just before he died, but finds only an old, fossilized tooth. In despair, Akio collapses onto the floor in a fit of coughs, his blood falling onto the tooth which suddenly begins to transform. In horror Akio watches a human-like creature grow out from the tooth, and finally become a strange looking nude human male with wolf ears (and occasionally a fluffy tail). The nameless man quickly realizes that Akio can’t even speak, and bites into his neck, withdrawing a bizarre black substance that he then eats. Once Akio calms down, the stranger explains who he is. Generations ago, Akio’s family became cursed, and this man took it upon himself to protect the family’s blood line, consuming the curse whenever he is called upon. Without a name of his own, which was given up as part of the contract, Akio names him Setsu. Setsu claims to be able to grant Akio’s wish, if it’s within his power, so Akio immediately asks to be cured of his illness so that he will no longer feel pain, and so he can return to a normal, functioning life. Setsu agrees, but it’s going to be on his terms, which unfortunately for Akio includes the young man’s body being ravaged by Setsu as he removes and devours the curse. Still, Setsu does hold up his end of the deal, and gradually removes the curse from Akio’s body piece by piece, and Akio begins to get stronger each day. Fortunately he can find solace in his job, surrounded by three caring coworkers – his childhood friend Hatoki, the outspoken and cheerful Museum Director Minamiura, and the newly married and happy-go-lucky Sasaki. However, when his coworkers come over to his home to celebrate his improved health, Akio has an attack and Setsu is forced to transform (having adopted a more human look for company) and devour the blockage in front of Minamiura and Hatoki. Even with the constant humiliation at Setsu’s hands, when Akio learns that Setsu will simply disappear once Akio is cured of his disease, he grows depressed and becomes confused. As a result, his wish changes, and when Setsu consumes the last of the curse, he is shocked to find that he doesn’t disappear. The story could easily end here, and it may have initially, as the rest of this volume is made up of unrelated bonus stories, and one very short bonus story concerning Minamiura and Hatoki. In “Nylon Vinyl” high school teacher Kuroki finds himself taking an exceptionally introverted student under his wing; however, his kindness has a bit of a bigger impact than he had planned. It’s a rather touching story about a young boy who has trouble breaking through the barriers around people’s hearts, feeling continually rejected by them, so he’s given up all together. “Is There no God of Buddha” is a bit darker, focusing on a young man who has been locked away and sexually abused by his master’s grandson, who manages to escape to and find solace at the house of an engraving craftsman.

The first chunk of the second volume focuses on Setsu’s past when he first met Akio’s ancestors. Setsu became friends with a man named Kota with a strange power that draws the attention of some less than friendly folk at times. Kota can mend broken crockery. Rather than keep his power a secret, Kota takes on jobs so he can handle beautiful pieces from wealthy clients. Unfortunately, despite having such an incredible power, Kota is ridiculously naive and an obvious simpleton, and easily gets himself into all sorts of trouble. Setsu decided to stick around to protect him. Kota’s son, Koji, quickly becomes friends with Setsu, but his daughter, Ichika, has developed a crush on the mysterious man. Unfortunately, Kota has drawn a good deal of dangerous attention, and it’s all Setsu can do to protect him and his family. Eventually he is forced to transform to dispatch some troublesome elements, and Koji learns the truth about his dad’s friend. Around Setsu’s neck is the elongated coat of a wolf, which happens to be a powerful wolf demon named Banshō that he has barely managed to contain. One day, while the family is visiting the local market, Setsu and Ichika come across a man selling charms. Desperate for Setsu to notice her, Ichika goes back to the market to find the man and buy a love charm, but finds him dead. Unfortunately, the man was cursed by some rather sadistic spirits, who are now anxious for a new body to inhabit. Ichika, in the wrong place at the wrong time, becomes their target, and thus is Kota’s family so easily cursed for generations, on down to Akio. When Setsu learns of this, he becomes desperate to save his friend, and so makes a pact with Koji to protect the family through the generations until the curse ends by absorbing Banshō’s power into himself. There’s a flashback chapter that follows this…flashback…that takes place shortly after Setsu arrived in Akio’s life, but it’s not much more than an excuse for another sex scene, to be honest. Though there is some nice dialog between Akio and Setsu that highlights Setsu’s strong attachment to Akio’s family line. Back in the present timeline, some supernatural elements slip in as Setsu interacts with the spirits living in Akio’s garden. Meanwhile, Akio begins to wonder what it is that ties Setsu to him, and realizes he knows very little about the man living with him. Akio isn’t the only one having such thoughts, however, as during a party with Minamiura and Hatoki Setsu realizes that there’s a lot he doesn’t know about Akio, as well. But to top it off, he’s feeling guilty about his relationship with Akio. Setsu’s sole purpose in life is to protect Akio’s family line, but if he remains with Akio, the family line will die out (for obvious reasons). The final chapter of this volume goes back in time once again, and depicts the day when Setsu first came upon Kota as a young child, accompanied by a medicine pedlar who enjoys composing erotic stories while he travels.

This one is a lot more charming that it seems. There are some odd moments, but overall I quite enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to the third volume which should come out this fall (it was solicited in July’s Previews). The sex that Setsu initially forces onto Akio is eventually explained. And to be perfectly honest, to say that it was “forced” on him is stretching it a little. Akio doesn’t put up much protest, lost in Setsu’s beauty and tantalizing scent. I’d say he hates it more because of Setsu’s attitude toward it, as Setsu behaves like a horny pervert with seemingly no concern for Akio’s feelings. Akio is embarrassed more because, I think, he finds himself with some strange new feelings that he doesn’t understand, and so he lashes out at Setsu. It’s not until he realizes he might lose Setsu that things start to click for him and he discovers that he cares deeply for his savior. That aside, Setsu eventually explains that being able to explore Akio’s body thoroughly helps him to find the chunks of the curse easier, and he also uses the act of sex to distract Akio from any pain removing the curse might cause. Sure, it’s kind of a silly mechanic, but it works. While Akio is the center of the story, in that Setsu wouldn’t be around if not for him, Setsu really carries the series. It’s not that Akio is boring, but he’s not super interesting, either. He’s a bit generic, to be honest, but the way he gets flustered and angry is pretty cute, as is the way he deals with Setsu and the feelings he tries so hard not to reveal. Setsu, though, easily draws attention. His baffled observance of modern culture is quite amusing, and he has a charming arrogance about him that plays off very well against Akio’s more subdued manner. Yet what really defines Setsu, is the immense loneliness that clouds his face and his false demeanor of detachment. This is a guy who bound himself to one particular family because he cared deeply for them, but who simply use him and discard him time and again. That sounds more brutal than it is, as that is simply the terms of the contract. When Setsu is called upon, he appears and grants his master’s wish, then immediately goes back into hibernation. He never gets to stick around for long, and it’s useless for him to form an attachment to anyone. It’s a very lonely way of life. Yet as the time for Setsu to leave Akio grows closer, Akio isn’t the only one starting to regret the contract’s terms. An air of sadness falls over Setsu, and his entire manner changes as he prepares to depart from yet another person he has grown to care deeply for. He isn’t the only lonely one, of course, as Akio, whose family has died off and who lives in a house by himself, is also a lonely person, and his life is turned upside down once Setsu starts to live with him. He only realized how lonely he had been once the void was filled. The art is solid enough, if a little too straight and angular. The characters are designed well, and their facial expressions are clear. The translation can be a little odd at times, but it’s nothing too detracting. More irritating is the way the pages are cut, as occasionally a piece of text will be cut off (though it’s not illegible). It does get dangerously close to a furry/bestiality story on a couple occasions, but somehow it just manages to skirt that line so it remains enjoyable.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_kris

Review copies provided by DMP.

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