Shinobi Life Volume 4 by Shoko Conami
I’ve somehow fallen behind reading Shinobi Life. This is sad, because it is one of my favorite shoujo series currently being published. But also good! Because now that I’ve finished volume 4 I can run out and get the next volume and enjoy more of the story. I mean, just look at the cover of this series. Could Beni and Kagetora be any more adorable?
This volume sets up a major turning point in the relationship of the poor little rich girl from the present day and her time traveling ninja bodyguard from the past. Beni and Kagetora are prevented from pursuing their relationship due to Kagetora’s inflexible ninja honor. As long as he’s working for Beni’s father, he won’t pursue a relationship with her. The situation is complicated further by the presence of Beni’s classmate Rihito, the classmate she is supposed to marry due to a business deal between their respective fathers. Rihito has his own time-traveling ninja Hitaki, who absolutely despises Kagetora. As the volume opens Kagetora gives Hitaki a savage beatdown when he attempts to touch Beni. Kagetora is reprimanded and and then fired by Beni’s father, so Kagetora promptly announces “I owe fealty to no man. I can do as I see fit. I will protect Beni-Sama of my own free will.” With that, he takes Beni’s arm and the would-be couple runs away.
With all the time-traveling ninjas popping up everywhere, you might think that Shinobi Life is silly. Instead it is just very heartfelt and sweet. The humorous moments tend to be character-based and serve to propel the story forward. Beni falls asleep at a train station, and Kagetora is determined to seek lodging. He finds a love hotel and assumes that it is an elegant modern inn. Beni rushes him inside and insists that he stay in the room with her even though he is horrified that there’s only one bed. Beni and Kagetora are delightfully physically awkward with each other, with plenty of blushing and averted gazes. I only hope they manage to consummate their relationship by the end of the series. While they are on the run Beni realizes that there’s no way they can escape her father. She wants to journey back in time in order to be with Kagetora. He’s reluctant because he’s been branded as a traitor in the past and doesn’t want to drag Beni into a life of hardship.
One of the things I like about Shinobi Life is that the characters you might just hate in a more simplistic manga have depth, back story and motivation. Rihito discloses more of his past to Hitaki so the reader learns about his twisted childhood and his fear of losing something that he cares about. While Rihito is obviously not the right man for Beni it is hard not to feel sorry for him, especially the way Conami piles on the pathos in portraying Rihito as a little boy.
I like the subtle ways Conami’s art shifts depending on the moods of the characters. When Beni and Kagetora get into a tickle fight inside a changing room when they are trying on clothes, her line becomes more loose until the characters almost devolve into chibi form. Then, the close-ups of the characters’ faces as they become more aware of each other’s physical presence signals the shift in mood. There’s plenty of romance in Shinobi Life, but the romance is made more interesting by the revelation that Beni’s father isn’t shocked to find out that Kagetora is a time traveler, and perhaps the unusual powers exhibited by Beni’s mother also have something to do with time travel as well. I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen next in this series!