“Quoth The Raven” – Black Bird (manga) – 4/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kanoko Sakurakoji

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/19 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Shoujo Beat.

Art: It’s standard. I liked the judicious use of toner, backgrounds, and really thought the tengu designs were interesting. But the art really doesn’t stand out in any way.

Summary: There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend her cuts – with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves – by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive…and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This is one of the Shojo Beat titles I hear thrown around a bit, so when the opportunity to check it out from the library came up, I took it with few expectations about what it was. I figured it might be a slightly smuttier version of Kieli, one of my favorite supernatural romances. I was a little off; Sure, this girl might be able to see spirits, but that’s about it!

Misao is just an average teen girl who happens to see spirits, and when she’s attacked one day, she’s rescued by a super-handsome guy that is deeply in love with her and wants to get into her pants.

Still with me?

So far, these four volumes have centered around how she’s the DESTINED ONE and sex. Not necessarily in that order, though, and not necessarily separately. The big deal is that if she has sex, then the clan of whomever manages to have bedded her will prosper. This is a big draw for Kyo (though apparently there’s some childhood friendship there that’s blossomed into love as well, but there’s a big mystery surrounding this). It’s also a big draw for a few other clans, so they’re completely willing to fight over her. Honestly, how it’s carried out is a major teen girl fantasy, and not unlike…I hate to say this… Twilight. It’s so full of near-sex and sexual tension it’s hard to believe they managed to squeeze anything else in.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t that much else here. Misao and Kyo are as standard and uninteresting as possible, and while I’m intrigued by some of the side characters (the brothers seem like awesome people and I’d love to have more of them!) we’re only treated to brief glimpses of their personalities, making them one-note characters. The story also assumes that knowing absolutely nothing about them, we’re supposed to adore them and understand they’re Misao’s New Best Friends. Even the bad guys are completely boring! This is as average as average can be, and definitely uses it to its full advantage.

Overall,  it’s a teenage girl’s ultimate romance story, mixed the angst of having sex for the first time with being the sexual fantasy of a really hot guy and adding some supernatural drama. I got over this stuff long ago. There’s so much sexual angst that it’s hard to see the character development. I can’t even mention the plot development because it’s all about the sex.

Recommended: 18+. It’s not hentai, but it comes darned close quite a few times. There are a number of highly sexualized scenes, where they are kissing half-naked and whatnot, but I suspect that when it gets to it the actual scene will be mostly stylized editing. I’d probably label it ‘softcore porn’.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (manga)

Bride of the Water God (manhwa)

Love Monster (manga)

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“Devil On My Shoulder” – Stray Little Devil (manga) – 5/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kotaro Mori

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Action/Supernatural/Shoujo-ai

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by DrMaster Publications.

Art: It’s modern, it’s simple and unremarkable. But the characters do look pretty unique, and the clothes look pretty cool.

Summary: Meet Pam Akumachi, an energetic 13-year-old junior high student who has just turned into…a little devil! One day, when Pam and her friends try to summon the “benign devil”, the magic circle goes out of control and Pam is transported to a strange parallel world where angels and devils reside in an uneasy coexistence. Now Pan’s only means of returning home is to become a full-fledged devil. This is no easy task. The rules and precepts are so hard to follow, especially since Pan can’t read Devil Scripts. But first, Pam needs to claim a “familiar.” No devil worth her wings can go without one. (Back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This managed to grab me from the beginning with a solid, intriguing premise: that a magic circle goes wrong and a girl is drawn into a magical world, where the only way for her to stay safe is to be transformed into a devil, and then for her to be enrolled into a school to make a surefire devil out of her. But there’s a few catches: the mysterious stranger who greets her upon entry has no intention of telling her why, and humans are beings out of fairy tails…so how is she going to get home?

This decides to slam right into the Shoujo-ai right at that moment, with Pam confused about an Angel that looks just like her friend back home – a friend that we see for all of two panels, mind you – and desperately wants Linfa to acknowledge and recognize her, and never really gets it out of her head that she’s some sort of alternate spiritual whatever of her friend and that if she tries hard enough, she’ll get Linfa to remember her. This really forces the romance aspect, especially since we have NO idea how deeply she was in love with her friend (if she was in love with her), and it never seems to cross into the realm of realistic romance.

Thankfully, I wasn’t reading it for the romance, it was more for the friendship that Pam develops in the school for Devils. Most of this really revolves around school and that friendship is really well-developed. I adore how mixed reactions are to her – Raim instantly thinks she’s an utter ditz and will hold her back, while Vine is willing to help her out. They have such a dynamic relationship! None of it feels forced or awkward.

Unfortunately, these characters were really forced into a plot that is too ambitious for its length. It decides to hide the true plot for over three volumes, which leaves one and a half for a slammed-in story about how the spirit world is falling apart and how ~true love~ can save it. With minimal explanation for what’s happening and why it needs to happen, plus the forced romance, it really makes this feel silly and melodramatic.

Overall, these characters deserved a better story.

Recommended: 16+. There’s the shoujo-ai, and some fairly brutal injuries that are only briefly lingered on but are clearly gory.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

I really don’t have anything for you here. Sorry!

“Innocence Lost” – Lament of the Lamb (manga) – 9/10 Desks

If you don’t believe in ghosts, you’ve never been to a family reunion.  ~Ashleigh Brilliant

Mangaka: Kei Toume

Genre: Drama/Horror/Psychological/Supernatural/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (7 Volumes/7 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed in the US by Tokyopop.

Art: This starts out with a few color pages in the beginning of each volume. These are lovey, looking like oil pastel pictures. The pages themselves have a vaguely charcoal sketch look to them, which works because there’s a strong art theme through the series.

Summary: The members of the Takashiro family share a terrible curse — they have a thirst that only human blood can slake. Sent away after the death of this mother, Kuzuna Takashiro has long been blissfully unaware of his ‘condition.’ When Kazuna’s teenage hormones begin to rage, his uncontrollable bloodlust suddenly rears its head … (Source: Tokyopop)

Review: This manga treads a fine line between Slice-of-Life and Horror, and that is a line that very few manga manage to tread successfully. Actually, this is the first manga I’ve encountered that does it well. This weaves together a story of twisted love, familial ties, and isolation to create a very compelling story of a tragically ‘cursed’ family.

Kazuna, our main protagonist, is also the object of affection for a girl in art club. She’s a bit of a loner, but sweet, and he’s vaguely attracted to her… at least, until he discovers that he’s got as much of a craving for her blood as he does for her. He’s horrified and has no idea why he has this craving and proceeds to reject everyone from his life. That is, until he goes on a search for his past and discovers a long-lost sister who reveals that his condition isn’t unnatural; it’s a disease that’s been hidden in the family and passed down through the generations. Not only did the aunt and uncl who were taising him know about the possibility of him having it (though since it rarely appeared later in life they had reason to believe he’d never come down with it), but there is also no cure.

Thus begins his exploration of what it means to be a monster. He isolated himself and is determined to live out his life as someone who has no reason to do anything or be anyone. He sees it as his only option. From the outside, his family and friends try depserately to tell him that he’s not alone. Even though they don’t know what exactly is wrong with him, they still want to be his friends. His family might also know what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love him nonetheless.

Enter his sister. She’s dark, enigmatic, and knows exactly what her fate will be. She knows how horrific their past is, even within the tragedy that haunts their immediate family. A father, driven mad by the loss of his wife, made his daughter the number one woman in his life. A mother, drvien mad by the curse that haunted the family. The idea that the illness might be merely the warped desires of warped consiences. The inability to love those outside the family. Kuzuma may be the main character, but his sister is truly the driving force of the story. She’s at the crux of his desires to leave, and unable to offer any hope for the future. The only thing opposing her is a man who she’s unable to bring herself to care for as more than a friend and the art student who’s vying for Kazuna’s heart.

There are very few ways for a story like this to end, and the slow march to it becomes clear at the halfway point. That hardly ruined my enjoyment of the story, since this is really more of a character study than anything else. These really are some broken characters that I felt for. At the same time it’s fascinating to see how societal pressure also explains a lot of why Kazuna and his sister feel about their sickness, not just the familial alone, though the traditions of centuries also weigh on how they deal with certain issues. That combined with the character’s psychology – and this really made sure to let you into their minds to see how they thought and felt about issues – really just made this story what it is.

Overall, this is very mild on the horror and is heavy on the tragic. It’s not Dracula, but it’s certainly a good take on the vampire theme!

Recommended: 16+. There’s an implication of incest between their father and Chizuna, and possibly between the two mains. There’s a few panels where you see the dead body of the mother, where she attempts to kill her daughter and where she’s lying under a tree. The most you see is some blood.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Monster (anime and manga)

Koi Kaze (anime and manga)

World Embryo (manga)

“Ribbon In My Hair” – Ribbon of Green (Visual Novel) – 9/10 Sunflowers

The death of a friend is equivalent to the loss of a limb. ~ German Proverb

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Supernatural

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: This is fre for download on Ren’Py

Art/Animation: The art looks very good. The colors are deep and vibrant, and the character art is some of the best I’ve seen in a free VN.

Summary: A friend meets you in the park about a very serious matter. But she has a secret about why she’s so urgent about helping you.

Review: As short as this is, I have to admit this is one of the better visual novels I’ve played. It’s story is simple: a girl is trying to get her friend out of her depression and goingback to school. There’s an underlying desperation in her actions, and a background behind it all that is never really explored. The background isn’t that important, though. What is important is whether she succeeds at helping her friend. There are two endings to this: you either get out of the depression or you don’t. Either way, there’s a whole lot of tragedy in what she’s trying to do, and if you reach the good ending, it’s bittersweet.

The dialogue is very good, and I was completely drawn in to these characters. I’ve been depressed, myself, and know the funk that comes with being down. I have also been on the other end, coaching another out of it and providing a shoulder when needed. Cmbining that with solid story development, I can’t help but really like this, and am definitely will be playing it again! Both endings really got me, and I am hard to impress like that. I usually favor one ending over another, but both of them ended up being fairly satisfying.

Overall, this is a great short visual novel, and a lovely story about a friend trying to save another from going down her path.

Recommended: 14+. There is suicide, even if it’s only mentioned.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ano Hana (anime)

“Seven Sins” – Re:Set, Chapter 1 (Visual Novel) – 8/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Romance/Supernatural/Spiritual/Action

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, this VN is licensed and available for download at Ren’Py (free).

Art/Animation: This stands out with some lovely backgrounds that were made to look like paintings. They look very good. While the character designs are fine, they are a bit rough, style-wise. This VN stands out because it’s the first one I’ve come across with opening animation, and it’s done very well, with a great background song. The dialogue screens were also really unique, though the various colors and switches between POV during the game made it hard to tell who was saying what on occasion.

Summary: Two kids show up in town looking for something. Their paths cross with a girl who’s boyfriend disappeared last night.

Review: This is almost as much of a kinetic novel as a visual novel, with lots of exposition-based scenes and story to it. Chapter 1 is mainly a prologue, as explained in the scenes in the ending credits, and introduces you to the two characters that you’ll be following through their adventures trying to recapture the demons representing the Seven Sins.

This is a little trickier to play than some other VNs. You need to make very specific choices to end up with the ending where you see everything through to the end. There aren’t that many different endings to get, and aren’t that many choices, so if you pay attention on your runs through it, then you should figure it out pretty quickly. What’s nice is that for the incomplete endings, the creator added in little clues to how you can get the main one in the ending credits. And the ending credits aren’t that boring, to boot- they interspersed little scenes to keep you going through them! I was very impressed.

The story isn’t half-bad, either. Some of the dialogue was a little cheesy at times, and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the showdown with the demon. It was written well, but it was a prolonged scene with a background and character image that didn’t change at all, making it feel less dynamic than it probably should have been. Factoring in the fact that they were facing off against Lust and there really wasn’t any sign of it other than boys disappearing, you could have replaced her with Random Demon #1 and not have lost any of the story.

Even so, the characters were interesting, and there was an interesting twist on the two newcomers to town. It left you with little hints to who they were and why they were travelling around. And even better was how the story and the exposition was decently written, something that’s hard to do skillfully.

Overall, while the story had its weak points, the way this is put together makes this a top-tier free VN. Definitely check it out!

Recommended: 13+. This story might deal with lust, but there really isn’t any lust dealt with. All that’s *told* is that she ‘stole their hearts’ and made them slaves. The thing that might cause issue is Gerald fights with Lust (the demon, not the emotion >.>) and smashes her head with his boot. There are one or two instances of the d-word.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ghost Hunt (anime)

“A Ghost In The Attic” – Hungry Ghosts (Kinetic Novel) – 5/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Supernatural/Historical

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: It’s licensed and can be found for a free download on Ren’Py

Art/Animation: The backgrounds are just fine, with great pictures very suited to the atmosphere and setting. The character sprites are adorable, well-drawn, and look like something you’d find in a child’s picture book. It didn’t take away from the atmosphere much, though it did seem a little out of place for a story that was supposed to be fairly tragic.

Summary: A girl moves into an ancient house and finds a ghost – one that she has to help move on!

Review: I’m a big fan of ghost stories, and am very familiar with the term ‘hungry ghosts’. As an affictionado I have to say that this term is horribly misused in the title, since there are no hungry ghosts to be had! It’s merely the tale of a young girl’s spirit that hasn’t been able to move on because of spirit amnesia.

I liked that the story is, for the most part, pretty fleshed-out. There’s a good amount of wonderful exposition about where they’re living and why the main character comes to live there. This isn’t true for the whole VN, though. The whole story behind the ghost and who she is and all that was run through incredibly quickly and conveniently for the main character. She manages to figure everything out before dinner! That set-up made the main section feel more like a children’s story than anything, which is at an odd contrast with the rest of the writing.

The story isn’t a bad one. I did think the main girl was cute, and the ghost was fun. It reminded me a lot of Casper. But I really feel that some parts could have been expanded on.

Overall, the story isn’t bad, but the set-up isn’t that fantastic.

Recommended: 11+. The story is rather tragic (a child dies), but it’s off-screen. There’s not a whole lot of objectionable material here.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ghost Hunt (anime)

“A Spirit, A Soul” – Ghost Hound (anime) – 8/10 Pencils

I figure I basically am a ghost. I think we all are. ~John Astin

Genre: Spiritual/Supernatural/Psychological/Mystery

Review Status: Complete (22 Episodes/22 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US by Sentai Filmworks

Art/Animation: The character designs are fairly typical for around this time, with bug eyes and small facial features, making them look flat and young. This uses a dark and subdued palatte for almost all the scenes, though, which fits with the general tone. The CG is pretty obvious and not very well-integrated in most places, but the scenes it’s in are very effective nonetheless. The animation is pretty average, but that’s okay- it’s not an action title.

Dub Vs Sub: The dub isn’t half-bad. I was more impressed the longer I listened. For an anime that depends so much on medical terminology and spiritual explanations, this is remarkably accurate to the subs and gets all the information across very clearly and in a way that can easily be understood. The VAs chosen also managed to fit their roles very well. The sub is also very good.

Summary: When he was three, Taro Komori and his sister were kidnapped, but the kidnapper was run over and killed before the ransom could be delivered. The police eventually found Taro, but not before his sister had died. Eleven years later, Taro still has nightmares of the events surrounding the kidnapping and is haunted by a tall, featureless specter. Now, Taro searches for answers in the Hidden Realm, but something sinister is brewing there. The spirits are restless and a malevolent ghost is appearing with increasing frequency. In the “real” world, an out of favor religious cult is finding dozens of new converts, especially among the high ranking politicians. And just what the scientists at Dai Nippon Bio are up to is a question in need of an answer. Can Taro and his friends find the answers they need in time to save their friends and families? (back of dvd cover)

Review: How does someone deal with severe trauma at a young age? Taro really hasn’t, in a way. His mother is caught in a world where his sister is perpetually mourned, his father hasn’t considered who would inherite the sake brewery they owned, and he is plagued by nightmares of what happened. The only thing that has really moved on is that he’s gotten older. His life is the dream-like aftermath of a terrible incident… except for something very peculiar. What he’s unwilling to really tell his psychiatrist is that his dreams don’t only consist of his sister – there’s a art of him that flies. He can see anything, go anywhere in town, and no one can see him. Except for a young girl that takes notice.

Two stories start building at that point. One is the story of the girl and her strange abilities and the ties that she might have to the spirits of the mountain. The other is that of Taro and two classmates that come together, bonded in ways that they’re all unaware of, who realize that what’s happening to them is something that signals something bigger is coming and don’t know what it is or how to stop it.

One of his friends at first seems like nothing more than an obnoxious transfer student who doesn’t know how to keep his nose out of things that aren’t any of his business. He digs into Taro’s little secret – about both his sister and his astral projection – and decides for the heck of it he’ll try to becme friends with the school delinquent, who’s father is rumored to have been involved in Taro and his sister’s kidnapping and his sister’s subsequent death. All three are the most unlikely friends, but it works. Makoto feels a sense of guilt because of his father’s susicious actions and suicide, as well as feeling ostracized from this only living family since his aunt is the priestess of a cult. Nakajima is holding closely his own secret guilt as well. Their interest in Taro’s strange ability and the realization they have it as well lead them to explore the spiritual world around them and to try and discover the roots of what’s eating at the town around them.

Things aren’t good there, with strange spirits creating havoc (closely connected with what Nakajima’s father is involved in). Their investigations lead into a grand consiracy of all this leads to leads on why Taro and his sister were really kidnapped, what the horrible things at the new biotech company are really about, and what the cult really is about. All in all, it’s a vast conspiracy, with family disputes and struggles blending in with the spiritual turmoil that’s changing things.

What makes things doubly interesting is that each episode is titles with a psychology term that actualy ties in with the theme of the episode and what would be considered the ‘preview’ section is given over to various explanations and theories with in psychology. And really, psychology and how the mind works factors into this very strongly. They are all looking for their own identities, and want others to take notice. If I had to give a theme for this anime, it would be ‘identity’.

This really runs with it, and does it amazingly well up until the end of the series. The last three episodes start to take it beyond the realm of belief, without firm explanations for several phenomena, and ends quite anticlimactically. Most of the important plot threads were wrapped up, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from scratching my head at others. But it was brought to a conclusion, and the very ending was really rather sweet. For a story that was first concieved of in 1987, this was pulled off very memorably. I have no idea why it took 20 years to be created and aired, but it was very worthwhile!

Overall, while not all the questions were answered and without any real climax, this is definitely an intriguing look at people, memory, the mind, and what it means to be yourself.

Recommended: 16+. This has some disturbing imagery, from seeing the body of a dead girl, to seeing her ‘awaken’, to strange spirits that are menacing. Taro’s family owns a sake brewery, so there is some discussion about that.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kaiba (anime)

Serial Experiments Lain (anime)

Dennou Coil (anime)

Hell Girl (anime)

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