Demon Sacred Volume 1 by Natsumi Itsuki
I read so much manga that it is fairly rare for me to finish a volume feeling super-excited to find out what comes next. But the first couple volumes of Demon Sacred are enough to reinvigorate even the most jaded shoujo fan. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to read a manga about a world stricken with an incurable disease that reverses the aging process in seconds, tortured yet handsome scientific researchers, unicorns from another dimension that manifest themselves as hot men on Earth, angsty twin girls, tear licking, and the occasional manacle? Demon Sacred gathers together a bunch of plot elements that might seem somewhat cracktastic and weaves everything together into a story with a lot of heart.
The first volume opens with a prelude. A Japanese girl named Rena is in Finland with her husband on their honeymoon. She wanted to visit Finland due to her long-time fascination with a brilliant but dead Finnish piano prodigy. As the tourist group views the aurora borealis a herd of unicorns appears. One of them suddenly transforms into the Finnish piano prodigy Mika. He embraces Rena and says that she’s mastered him. The rest of the tourist group has vanished, leaving their clothes behind. Only Rena and her unborn twins are left.
Years later, the twins Rina and Mona are attending the concert of their favorite singer Keito. The twins are 14 years old but Rina looks younger because she has a rare case of Return Syndrome, a mysterious disease that reverses the aging process until someone is whisked out of existence. Instead of reverse aging and vanishing in a second, Rina grows a little bit younger each year. The twins live with Dr. Hanzawa, a distant relative (or is he!?) who capably reviews data about Return Syndrome in his lab while fending off the advances of his female co-workers. The girls’ memory of their past with their mother is hazy, but they start describing Mika to Hanzawa. And speaking of the devil, he happens to be outside their apartment, billowing coat and all. The twins have a joyful reunion with their former father figure, who explains his long absence with the comment “After Rena died, I fell asleep.”
Demons like Mika are the source of Return Syndrome. Although they exist in another dimension, when they manifest on Earth they initially take the form of mythical animals like unicorns, dragons, or oni. A human with the ability to master demons is called a chain. Rina was Mika’s chain, locking him into the human form of her choosing and giving him the ability to communicate with human language. Rena was stricken with her slower form of Return Syndrome because Mika encountered her mother when she was in utero. Mona is immune because she inherited the ability to chain a demon from her mother. Mika encourages Mona to possess her own demon as a way of arresting the process her sister’s disease.
Mona’s determined to help her twin, and summons a demon that takes the form of the idol singer Keito. Mona struggles to tame her new demon while Hanzawa deals with company politics. When Mona does tame her beast, she then has to use him to give Mika sustenance. The first volume of Demon Sacred felt somewhat dense. There was a lot of world building and exposition to get through, but it didn’t feel tedious while I was reading it. Itsuki works a lot of character building moments into the story. Mona reflects that while her sister appears physically younger than her, she’s actually more mature due to the forthright way she accepts dealing with her disease. The twins give their guardian a boisterous welcome home that involves plenty of tumbling and wrestling. Rena suggest to Mona that she use dog training technique to master her new demon. The art is clear and expressive, and Itsuki’s character designs for the demons makes them look incredibly attractive and dangerous. Itsuki also knows how to draw a good looking man in a billowing coat. I usually rely on You Higuri for hot billowing coat action, but Itsuki acquits herself well.
Demon Sacred Volume 2 by Natsumi Itsuki
While the first volume was mostly set-up, the second volume highlights more character interaction and incorporates more light-hearted episodes. Mona names her demon K2. While he can now speak Japanese, he acts like a big kid. He isn’t clued in to the basics of human interaction, and his resemblance to the popular idol singer Keito could draw too much attention to the family. Hanzawa wants to keep the girls hidden to prevent them from becoming lab experiments, but he’s worried about time running out on his ability to keep them secret. Itsuki blends humor and pathos in Demon Sacred very well. K2 proclaims to Hanzawa after getting a video game system “You’re not half bad! I won’t tear you to pieces after that brat dies!” The glimpses we get of the demonic society and power rankings are intriguing. K2 was born a higher level demon, but he’s relatively young. Mika seems to be much older and sneakier, preying on other demons to restore his power after Rena asked him not to feed. One of Mona’s classmates disappears from school because her father was afflicted with Return Syndrome and the family is ostracized – Mona is the only one who goes to visit her friend.
Mona struggles with containing K2. When she’s harassed by a group of boys K2 flies (literally) to her rescue and she has to stop him from tearing them apart. He’s unwilling to don a disguise to make him look less like the famous Keito, and obsessed with snacks because he likes the flavor of food even though the only thing that can nourish him is consuming other demons. Mona’s life is complicated even further when she gets the chance to meet the real Keito, who seems to be struggling with the pressures of fame. Itsuki does a great job distinguishing between the identical looking men by giving them completely different facial expressions. K2 is filled with energy, with no filter on his emotions. Keito is more reserved and self-contained as he struggles to deal with his management company and a disastrous photo shoot.
I think it is interesting that Tokyopop is releasing the first couple volumes of this series with a lower price point of $5.99. Having both volumes available so quickly does let the reader get more invested in the series, I know I’m totally hooked and looking forward to the next 9 volumes. Itsuki has set up so many plot elements that she can explore. The medical mystery aspect of return syndrome could be expanded on as well as the problems with trying to fix Rina’s condition. I’m curious to find out more about Hanzawa’s relationship to his charges. Mika says that he senses no blood tie between them, so how did a young scientific prodigy manage to adopt two girls? The growing presence of other demons points to an increase in Return Syndrome as well as more enemies for K2 and Mika to fight. Hanzawa’s relationship with his bosses seems tumultuous, as does Mona’s with K2. After reading these volumes, Demon Sacred is rocketing up my list of current shoujo favorites.
Review copies provided by the publisher.