Story/Art: Akira Hagio
Translation/Adaptation: Christine Dashiell
What They Say
Aoi Narinomiya, the last daughter of a prestigious family, suddenly finds herself the “pet” of the rebellious Kei Katsurai in order to repay her grandfather’s debts!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Both the summary from the cover and the master/pet relationship tends to make the book seem more unsavory than it really is. Still, this gentle shojo romance has a few disturbing elements that some might question. When I began reading, I realized I felt a vibe I get from reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and I believe that the tone of metaphorical stories told from a fantasy perspective apply to this omnibus.
Our princess is Aoi Narinomiya, the last in a bloodline of a family related to the emperor. One day she returns home to find people removing the furniture. A boy from her class, a quiet outsider with pierced ears and foreign hair color, tells her he is collecting on her grandfather’s debt. When she asks him to take care of her dog, Sakura, he also takes her home to be his black pedigree cat. Aoi follows him with the intention of paying off the debt, so he tells her she will be his pet.
Over the first seven chapters, we see Aoi conflicted about her situation in life. We find out quickly that Aoi has lived an insulated life of privilege after her mother left her with her grandfather. We know Aoi’s father died, leading to her abandonment. Now with her grandfather gone, all she has is her dog and the promise to be a pet for Kei.
Kei is the son of a wealthy Japanese man, but his features show signs of western blood. Before meeting him, Aoi liked that his orange hair was the same as Sakura’s. Educated outside of Japan, Kei returns and faces the scorn of his classmates. On campus, his persona is like a raptor staring down prey. He seems to be a loner. At home with Aoi, he treats her gently and cares for her like a pet. We learn he is distant from his father, but his backstory is not fully explained until the final chapter. We know Kei’s father wants him to be involved with Aoi so that he can use her family name to help his political climb.
The master/pet relationship may make some people may feel uncomfortable, but this trope is not a blatant sexist relationship. The same premise was used with the genders reversed in Tramps Like Us. In that josei series, a sexy, accomplished professional woman takes in a homeless man and treats him like a pet. The master/pet relationship acted as a buffer from the real world and gave her time to examine her life. In this story, that aspect of both Aoi’s and Kei’s lives does create a liminal space between their public lives and their pasts. Aoi is not demeaned by Kei, and even though she tries to be catlike for him, the concept never dips to neko fetish. There is something sad about both characters, and the only thing disturbing about the scenes is the unspoken distance each has from the world.
The artwork is clean and vibrant. There are very few panels with a detailed background, but the story is told with faces and eyes. The mangaka does a good job of manipulating the image to convey the characters’ internal emotions. The book includes all chapters of the series and an extra section that was not in the original run. There is one color page (front and back) with images of Aoi and Kei. With gentle reading, I did not break the spine. All pages were printed with whitespace in the gutter so no part of any image was obscured. Kudos for quality.
While this would certainly fit the shojo romance category, it feels more like a coming of age story where both characters begin to awaken into adults who can address their feelings and make peace with their pasts. Outside of the openings of each chapter that set the stage for the story, the chapters flow. Even though the narrative construct of master/pet makes one think of debasing and degrading attitudes, I think a reader familiar with the trope in manga will see it as a metaphor that allows characters to develop in a space insulated from society. This manga was not “fun,” but the characters were engaging, the psychological drama had an edge, and the development conveys something akin to the character studies of French New Wave film. I know I will read this again because even though I have just put it down, there is something more for me to find.
Recommended for a shojo fan with patience and for other readers who want to look at experimental ways to convey psychological development.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: A-
Age Rating: Teen
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: December 15, 2015