Story/Art: Yun Kouga
Translation: Ray Yoshimoto
Adaptation: Lillian Diaz-Przybyl
What They Say
When his beloved older brother is brutally murdered, Ritsuka is heartbroken but determined to search for answers. His only lead is Soubi, a mysterious, handsome college student who offers him an intimate link to his brother’s other life: a dark and vibrant world of spell battles and secret names. Will Ritsuka’s relationship with Soubi ultimately lead to the truth or further down the rabbit hole than he imagined possible?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I missed Loveless it’s first time around the block, when Tokyopop originally released it. It’s one of the those long running, and slowly released, “Monthly Comic Zero Sum” manga magazine titles. That alone is enough to tell you who the target audience is; Zero Sum loves titles that feature violent and beautiful boys engaging in dangerous activities and skirting the line between bromance and actual romance.
It was a different sort of relationship that made the alarms go off in my head and made me avoid the series years ago. All I knew going into reading this series for the first time was that virgins had cat ears, and that it involved and older guy and younger boy. Emphasis on boy. At the risk of feeling like a dirty old woman, I decided to see if there was more to the story than creepy pandering.
Yun Kouga loves weird and complex relationships in her works, and loves to cram as many in as she can. Nothing is ever simple, and there are a lot of strained and strange relationships in Loveless.
Yes, people in the world she created apparently have ears and tails until they loose their virginity. This hasn’t been elaborated on yet, and it seems to serve as a safety net showing that Soubi hasn’t committed a sex crime against Ritsuka. (The term pedophile does get thrown around a lot by Soubi’s friend Koi, although Soubi claims he’s not one.) As for the ears, well, Kouga admits in the extra interview in the book that she wanted to draw characters with cat ears. As much as I want the plot to delve into the deeper sociopolitical consequence and culture of a world where a person’s virginity is always on display, we don’t get much of that yet.
Nor do we find out what the magic words and the magic battles signify yet, an ongoing fascinating mystery left to be explained.
I feel that Ritsuka’s secret name should really be love-starved instead of loveless. It’s not that the boy is hated or was ever unloved, he even makes some friends in these two volumes. In fact he seems to be both craving and fearing the affections of whomever will give him an ounce of love. Even if that person is a potential creepy pedophile friend of his brother. The reason why becomes apparent almost immediately, when we see Ritsuka visit a therapist and attempt to fend off abuse from his mother. Unknown events from two years prior left Ritsuka with amnesia, which had a profound psychological effect on his mother. The death of his brother left Ritsuka without a protector, and Risuka’s father is shown being amazingly useless and indifferent to his wife’s issues and son’s abuse at her hands.
Ritsuka puts an unusual amount of faith in Soubi in order to discover the truth behind his brother’s murder. At first I wanted to scream at Ritsuka for being so trusting, even after being thoroughly creeped out by Soubi’s overly familiar overtures. It’s hard to understand what’s going on in that kid’s head, but considering his screwed up family life, his venerability becomes more believable.
That’s where the majority of the plot of this volume lies, in showing Ritsuka’s burgeoning relationships between his new friends. Strange relationships, but there is one thing I can say with certainty about the characters, they aren’t dull! Yuiko starts off as a fairly obnoxious character (she refers to herself in third person), but she actually reminds me of a friend of mine from six grade. Kouga really sells these kids as sixth graders, with all the insecurities and gawkiness that come with it.
Yun Kouga’s artwork has come a long way over her years as an artist. The magical word battles are ethereal and lovely. The characters are all attractive, and the panels flow across the pages in a cohesive whole. It’s a nice book to look at.
Viz new how popular the series was, and has pulled out all the stops in rereleasing it for a new and continued audience. They started by combining the previously released volumes into two volume omnibuses, and retained the color pages that were present at the beginning of each volume. They also made sure they used the ‘special edition’ releases, which contain a large amount of extras. The extras include short comics, fan art from fellow Zero Sum artists, short fiction written by a friend, and informative and playful conversations between Yun Kouga and her editor. It’s should be enough to send those fans that already own the Tokyopop editions back to the stores to pick these new editions up.
Loveless isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly catering to a certain subset of female reader, and some of the themes present in the story are going to try their hardest to make readers uncomfortable. Despite the obvious pandering there’s definitely an interesting, if not somewhat schizophrenic, story playing out here. Ritsuka has one of the most complex and troubled lives I’ve seen in a lead character, and the mysterious word battles are far more visually engaging than I would have initially guessed. It’s also surprisingly dark, with overlying themes of abandonment and abuse. The beginning is a bit uneven and feels a bit rushed, but it is still fascinating in that strange way that many of Yun Kouga’s series are. Viz has done a wonderful job bringing this series to new readers by putting these extended editions, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.
Content Grade: B
Art Grade: A –
Packaging Grade: A –
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: October 2nd, 2012