If Fruits Baskets was done as a yaoi manga, it might look something like this… Raizou has recently moved into a strange mansion upon the death of his last living relative. Given room and board in exchange for taking over the household chores for the half dozen residents, Raizou slowly comes to realize that the house is hiding some pretty dark secrets. Are his houseguests more than what they appear? And will his attraction to the lord and master Kon prove hazardous to his health? (from 801 Media)
One of the things we learn throughout life is that words indeed have power. We are being told about this since an early age: to be careful with what we say and think before we speak, because words can’t be taken back. It is a pretty wise advice, after all, our principal mean of communication is through words, whether spoken or written. And there is more to words than their straightforward meaning; sometimes they carry more than one, they can soothe, they can hurt, they can dominate and they can even destroy people. We can easily recognize those special beings that attract fortune with an amazing eloquence, and make us wonder if it isn’t actually a super power what they have. Therefore, it’s not strange that many cultures believe words have an intrinsic power that can influence our environment; in Japan this is called 言霊 (kotodama), translated as soul of language, power of language or spirit of word. Many of Japan’s supernatural stories and famous mangas are based on this belief, what we would call spells, an ability we even dream about sometimes. Not many of them delve on the fact that we should be really careful with how we use words, in fiction or reality, because they can come back at you. Yuki Shimizu plays with this philosophy, creating a very original twist for a boy’s love manga.
After losing his grandmother and only family, Raizou Shichikawa is taken in by a mysterious sponsor who sends him to live with a big and wealthy family. The Mitou household is inhabited by the weirdest people Raizou has seen in his life. To top it all, while he is trying to assimilate their behavior, and the fact that one of them hates him for no good reason, a new reality is revealed, one that surpasses everything he thought strange before. It turns out some members of this family have special powers and others are merely creations that act as shields for their spells. Kotodama-sama are the masters of words, what they say can become real, but they can only do damage with this ability, and they have to pay dearly for it. In order to avoid getting hurt each master has a Kami (paper), a paper doll of the same sex as his master that receives the damage through a spell or through contact with any of their mucous membranes.
The title of this manga, 是(ze), is the kanji character for right or righteousness or justice. It might be just a random name, picked as a nice sound, but the fact that the sun component of the kanji (日) was replaced by a figure that looks a lot like a moon leaves me wondering about a possible extra meaning. Am I reading too much into right and wrong? Or did I just get the wrong meaning for the character? In any case, Reversed justice would make a lot of sense when you think about the kotodama’s payback. Sadly, the English volumes discarded the symbol, which looked kind of stylish in the Japanese ones.
This volume is composed by 5 chapters and an extra. The first chapters feature the introduction of the different characters in the household and Raizou’s involvement with them, especially with Kon and a mysterious character with a fox spirit mask. After Raizou solves the first obstacles towards a comfortable family, and even love life, the mysterious character is revealed and we get a glimpse of the second featured pairing of this series. This is where Ze introduces a feeling of mystery, related to this couple that will be developed slowly in further volumes. The extra is a funny treat related to all the characters already presented. A lot of things happened in this volume, and I was honestly confused at first by the fast pace, quick explanations and matter-of-fact answers related to the kotodama and kami. It could have been worked smoothly, instead of becoming the sort of rush that seemed intended to get to the point, that is of course, the BL action.
Ze is a yaoi manga, that means a sexually explicit boy’s love story, and being under the 801 imprint (adults only!) you can expect to see the explicit part very developed. That doesn’t mean Ze has porn-style drawings, since there is some censure in the original art. However, this story seems to be created around the sex scenes, as you might have noticed with the mucous membranes system for transferring wounds. In spite of the deep meaning that could come out naturally with such a plot, Yuki Shimizu created this story as an enjoyable read, not a thought provoking one. This is a BL tinted with supernatural action drops, leaving a bit of space for mystery and meaningful situations, but just enough to spark our interest in the plot and enhance the excitement towards the featured relationships and very sensual love scenes.
The flow of the story is very simple and straightforward. We see their daily lives through several funny situations and some dangerous ones too. Only the featured characters receive more exposure through memories or flashbacks, giving us some background information about their motivations. The beginning that could have been set as a solid base for a very interesting plot, which would happen to have man-to-man action, ended up being secondary to the romantic relationships and to the comedic situations. Hence, at the end of the volume we have little information about the family and the origin or purpose of their powers, as if it was merely an excuse for any exciting situation that can be presented. Besides, the writing is also pretty straightforward and simple; an ironic presentation for a manga about the power of words.
Ze might not be a deep or intelligent story, but it is easy on the eyes and quite interesting. Yuki Shimizu’s style is really enjoyable; simple but engaging and, of course, exciting when it needs to be. Her art is not what I would call beautiful, more like a bit messy, but sometimes it looks like it; especially with certain scenes and the colored insert. It seems this mangaka has gotten better at drawing the many different types of attractive men, creating one good-looking character for every taste. Aside from that, her story-telling isn’t what I call captivating, but the quick succession of actions, likable fan-service, intense sex scenes, funny characters and the spark of mystery, only leave you hungry for more of each one of them. Yuki Shimizu tries to appeal to a wide audience, using just a bit of innovation that’s mostly represented by the character’s dynamics.
The featured characters in this volume are Raizou and Kon. Raizou is the most innocent and earnest boy, always trying to cheerfully accept whatever life brings him, always giving his best. Kon, on the other hand, is a cute boy, quite grumpy and dissatisfied with his existence. He is kami without master, so he thinks he has no purpose and that he needs to heal in order to have a reason to live. The endearing Raizou is exactly the kind of person Kon needs to have around, to remind him of his worth, even if he is hated and not able to use kotodama. The rest of the household is presented mostly as a comic relief; we don’t learn much of each member but they are all interesting and amusing in their own way. Lastly, we have the mysterious fox-masked character that is revealed at the second half of the volume. I liked him since the first moment I saw him, and it’s because Asari is the personification of mystery, he is the sort of presence Ze needed to start with. Well, at least we get to know him later, when his identity is revealed, the same moment when he became one my favorite from the lot. Asari is not only mysterious but playful, teasing, sensual and he holds a very unique presence along with secrets that look similar to Waki’s, the doll-maker, probably all related to the family’s past. Honestly, this character was my reason to look forward to the rest of the story.
In the end Ze‘s words didn’t strike me as powerful. If you consider the possibilities of its supernatural setting, it has a bland start. However it is an enjoyable enough read to make me want to know more, especially because it seems to have some potential to grow on me, even with the small bits of background given. Ze is definitely recommended for those that are looking for supernatural action along BL. The plot is very original, compared to your usual vampire stories, and there are enough characters that guarantee we will have several volumes of good-looking men in strange master-slave dynamics. Remember, Kotodama-sama can also transfer their wounds with a spell but, rest assured, they are not going to waste their powerful words when they have the chance to obtain the same result with a kiss or more. Pain becomes pleasure in Ze; don’t you find having sex while severely wounded a fancy way of coping with a deadly reversed justice?
My rating: 3/5
Special thanks to Digital Manga for providing the digital copy for this review.