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REVIEW: Manga: Sorcerers, Demons, and Smut, Oh My: The Crimson...

CS coverThe Crimson Spell by Ayano Yamane. Published by Kitty Media. Retail: $11.99. 1/2+ volumes. Rated: Mature (this title is adult-only, sexually graphic yaoi (MxM).)

Dear Readers,

This is my favorite manga release of 2007. There are some with loftier ambitions that I might admire more, like Town of Evening Calm, but when it comes to pure enjoyment of a book, The Crimson Spell wins hands down.

The story is a fairly simple one. Prince Vald’s country is overrun by demons and there’s only one way to save them, to take up an accursed family sword. For the sake of his people he does so, but the sword’s demon begins to take him over. At first it’s only at night, when he changes into an erotic beast-like version of himself (and whoo boy is he one erotic looking beast). His country’s wizards are able to give him ensorcelled shackles that keep the change at bay each night. But he knows it’s only a matter of time until the demon takes over, endangering everyone, so he sets off to find the one man who could remove the curse, the sorcerer Halvir.

Halvir (Havi) is beautiful, but he isn’t what I’d call an upstanding citizen, being greedy and lascivious. He not only wants the magical sword for himself, but once he finds the demon-controlled version of Vald at night and realizes he can absorb its power (through sexual contact of course), he begins an affair with the beast-half of Vald that the human half doesn’t know about (read right to left as usual, and don’t worry, I stopped right before the naughty bits)(sorry for my crappy scans):

CS_samp3 CS_samp2 CS_samp1<- start

To gain the sword and keep Vald nearby, he makes a deal with him. He’ll break the curse if Vald helps him gain certain magical objects. Vald agrees and they set off on a journey.

However, the journey, like in all good books, isn’t just a trip from here to there, but one of change for both the characters. Halvir is immediately touched by the prince’s beauty and spirit, and he’s captivated by the beast’s sensual nature, and he begins to fall in love with both. For the first time in a long time, he starts to think of another. The changes to Vald aren’t all that pleasant. His demon and human forms slowly begin to meld as the change approaches a time when it will become irreversible and control him completely. But this also brings a growing realization of an attraction to his companion, one that at this point he still pushes away in denial as a human but which he fully embraces as a beast.

Concerning the sex in the book, I’ve never heard anyone complain about it, but the fact that Halvir is having sex with the beast half of Vald while keeping it a secret from the human half might bother some people. Also, while the first sexual encounter between Halvir and the beast verges on non-con, that primal side of Vald loves his sex and jumps Halvir if he isn’t getting enough. The beast Vald doesn’t have the inhibitions of the human half and thoroughly enjoys himself no matter what they try. One side note, there is an extra story in the volume that has that staple of hentai, tentacle sex, when Vald encounters an aphrodisiac plant that works on him in more ways than just chemical. One friend labels that chapter “Tentacle Sex Done Right”. …. There’s really nothing I can add to that.

While sex and romance are an important part of the story, there are a lot of parts to the story that are just plain funny. Yamane-sensei has a way of drawing humor from the characters: Halvir’s greed and utter lack of concern for anyone but himself and Vald; Vald’s naivety about what’s happening to him each night. And then there’s Rulca, a very sexy spiritual being who likes to take the form of a bunny, and who delights in annoying Halvir and in trying to seduce Vald. This adds up to a story that’s much lighter in tone than the other work of Yamane’s released stateside, the Finder series.

Then there’s the artwork. Yamane-sensei is renowned in yaoi circles for it. The attention to detail makes each panel gorgeous to look at. She obviously revels in drawing the trappings of fantasy. (click for a bigger view)

CS_art1 CS_art3 CS_art2

Yamane’s men are breathtakingly beautiful and masculine. No emasculated ukes (bottoms) here, as happens fairly often in yaoi. Vald has fire and strength in both his forms, enough to make me suspicious that he’ll be turning the tables on Halvir before the end of the series.

Finally, the book’s quality deserves recognition. In the past Kitty has put out volumes that are on par with TokyoPop, quite average though great value for their low price. But for this book they worked directly with Ayano Yamane, and at her direction turned out a top of the line volume. This book is gorgeous with color plates, a high paper quality, and an exceptional translation. There were one or two typos, but really this is a premium piece of manga that’s a pleasure to hold and read. Honestly, the only thing that will be nicer than having this book in my hands will be to have this book plus volume two (hint hint, Kitty).

So, who is this one recommended for? Any adult who wants to see a great example of the sexier side of yaoi manga as done by one of its most popular mangaka. It’s beautiful to look at, a pleasure to hold, full of engaging characters, and funny and sexy to boot. That’s why it is my favorite of the year. Grade: A.

Sincerely,

ジェーン

(Jān)

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

32 Comments

  1. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 17:46:14

    Yamane Ayano is in my top five mangaka, and this series is my favorite of hers after Viewfinder. Her artwork is just beautiful, and she draws the most detailed male anatomy yet with style. What strikes me most with CS is the twist on the seme/uke dynamic with the “taming of the beast” theme. That, and these guys are just hot, particularly with Beastly!Val’s monstrous, erm, proportions! (I’ve been reading this series since the pre-licensed scanlations so I still use the fangirl name.) Thanks for recommending this wonderful series to more readers! When it comes to Japanese yaoi, Yamane Ayano is considered to be at the top of her field and paving the way for the genre to emerge into mainstream manga.

  2. Gwen
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 17:55:16

    Is it my imagination that Halvir is reminiscent of the InuYasha character, Sesshomaru?

    The art in this manga has a similar feel to Takahashi’s. And that’s a really good thing, in my opinion.

    Thanks for the review!

  3. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:05:44

    I love her Finder series the best too, but the third volume of that which was released last year by BeBeautiful didn’t compare to this volume of The Crimson Spell IMO because the quality of this release just blows the other away. (Not to mention I’m not reviewing a series that currently costs $100 a volume on EBay.)

    I do hope people read this though. And her Ikoku Irokoi Romantan (A Foreign Love Affair) coming out in March. She just has a beautiful style, and it’s highly erotic and romantic, at least to this yaoi fangirl. (and I hope some quality publisher picks up the Finder series so that people over here can actually read it!)

  4. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:12:30

    Hi Gwen, Yamane-sensei has a love for long-haired powerful men, and she’s been drawing them from the time of her earliest published commercial art that I’ve seen, from about 1996, the year Inu Yasha also started. It’s possible that Sesshomaru inspired her. Takahashi-sensei has had a powerful effect on other mangaka

    I know she loves computer games though, especially Final Fantasy VII and VIII, so I’ve always thought that Sephiroth might have been what was behind it.

  5. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:28:42

    Katrina, are you a member of the Yamane community on LJ?

    (You like B-T? I love them! Another beautiful man with long long hair. Atsushi was at his prettiest in those days. I think he looks much like Fei Long of the Finder series.)

  6. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:41:12

    I actually only maintain my LJ to keep up with the yaoi communities now. *laugh* I’m a member of yamane_ayano. I also used to be a member of club_vogue but cut back to the first group since there was so much crossposting. And yes, Atsushi is beautiful and has aged like fine wine. There was speculation on the YA community a while back as to how Atsushi’s long haired stage may have well inspired Fei. I also suspect Sephiroth may be an influence behind Halvir. I came across some of Yamane-sensei’s FFVIII doujinshi and wonder if she has some FFVII floating around out there? If so I think my brain might implode!

  7. Keishon
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:46:36

    Jan, you’re going to bankrupt me. Srsly.

  8. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 19:00:21

    Keishon, you can get this volume for $9 at Kitty’s store on ebay. Here: The Crimson Spell at Media Blasters. This one is really good.

    Katrina, CS chapter 14 was just released over on LJ. :)

    I’ve not seen any FFVII doujinshi from her, darn it. I’ve only seen Slam Dunk and FFVIII. But I know she did doujinshi for Saint Seiya and Captain Tsubasa because she’s said so in interviews. So who knows, they may be out there.

  9. Michelle
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 19:03:10

    The artwork is gorgeous. Any news when the next volume will be released in the US?

  10. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 19:48:01

    Michelle, it’s not even been licensed yet. Yamane-sensei got burned by her contract with the US firm BeBeautiful Manga, who her Japanese publisher Libre claims is selling her Finder series illegally and at an unacceptable level of quality (BB claims they bought the rights from Biblos, the company that owned them before Libre, and that they have the rights to the books).

    Because of that she seems to be checking out other US companies carefully to see with whom she likes working. Kitty did a great job though and I hope she sticks with them for subsequent volumes. :)

    In the meantime, the Japanese volume 2 and subsequent chapters are available at some US stores like kinokunia, or overseas from Amazon.jp or jpqueen.com. There are translations for these floating around the net.

    They truly are beautiful books. Visit Forbidden Fruit, a Ayano Yamane fansite, for more examples of her works.

  11. Michelle
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 19:57:43

    Thanks for the link. I am new to manga/yaoi. Besides Crimson Spell, I have the Black Knight series, Wild Rock, Man’s Best Friend, Saihoshi and Gerald and Jacques. I do like happy endings.

  12. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 20:19:35

    I love happy endings too. Luckily most yaoi released in the US has them. Though there are a few books that don’t. It looks like you’re buying a lot of books from BLU? Have you tried their series Love Mode, which is one of the most romantic ever IMO (you have to get to the second book which has the main couple in it, though the first book is funny)? I cry happy tears throughout that every time I’ve read it. Or Shout Out Loud? Both are outstanding.

    June manga is the biggest producer of yaoi manga. Their books almost always have happy endings. Well their manga does. Their yaoi novels don’t always. But I like their books by Momoko Tenzen, and Makoto Tateno, and Yugi Yamada among lots of others.

  13. Eirin
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 03:21:36

    *Looks at scans*

    Oh my.

    *Fans self*

    Definitely have to check this out ;>

  14. Jules Jones
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 04:07:38

    And it’s available on Amazon UK. [Adds to wish list]. Thanks, Jan. That looks like something I’ll enjoy.

  15. Amylee
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 06:20:02

    Jan,

    OMG Yamane-sama!! *pants* Crimson Spell! *swoons* The finder series!(are you going to review the Series as well?) I love them all like decadent Godiva chocolates but they have to remain my top secret reads. You see, I have to hide them very well from my two very curious and very underage girls at home.

    Really, Jan, you pick the best of the best to review.

  16. (Jān)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 07:29:22

    Amylee, I’ve found a lot of romance readers don’t like the Finder series because of the non-con elements in it. I think you have to be able to read from a Japanese perspective to enjoy it, and that’s not possible for most of the readers of this blog because they haven’t learned how to, and most won’t want to. And not just the Japanese perspective culturally, but the Japanese method of understanding what’s on the page in terms of subtext. Japanese manga uses a subtler method of storytelling than American comics, and many Western readers just never grasp that and so miss the points of stories and characterizations. They think they get it, but conversations with them about the works show they don’t. Someone on the Yamane LJ community once referenced this article by Cathy Hirano that says it so well:

    Whereas in English we stress clarity, in Japanese subtlety is preferred. The Japanese writer dances around his theme, implying rather than directly stating what he wants to say, leaving it up to readers to discern that for themselves. He or she appeals to the reader's emotions rather than to the intellect, and tries to create a rapport rather than to convince. The Japanese reader, in turn, is quite capable of taking great leaps of imagination to follow the story line. Direct translations of English into Japanese, therefore, often appear crude and abrasive, insulting the reader's intelligence with their bluntness, while direct translations of Japanese into English are often frustrating to read because they come across as emotional, even childish, and without any point or conclusive ending.

    I’m not saying Western readers are stupid; heck, I’m one of them. We’ve just been trained to read stories differently and have to learn to read another way to see all the implications of much of Japanese literature, including its manga. It’s not so important in some manga, but in the Finder series it seems to be a must.

    So while it’s my favorite series of all time (and contains men so hot it should be illegal^^), I probably won’t review it here because it’s just chock full of potential misunderstandings.

    And too, since the volumes aren’t available anywhere except on Ebay for $100+ each, I don’t want to tempt people only to tell them they can’t legally get them unless they skip their rent for the month.

    Hopefully though, interested readers will find their own ways to the dark side and the altars of Asami and Fei Long. ^_~

  17. Katrina Strauss
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 08:58:19

    Jan, I agree with you on Viewfinder. I generally do *not* recommend it to the first-time yaoi reader unless I know they like their romance on the rough and torrid side! I’ve recently described it as reading like one of those 70’s bodice rippers, only it’s a not-so-unwitting uke, rather than a hapless maiden, who gets kidnapped, restrained, and molested every time he turns around. If you can’t make it through those first few chapters, it is *not* the series for you, but do know there is lighter yaoi fare to be enjoyed! (Light yaoi is beyond me but yes, different strokes for different folks…) Though if you find those first few chapters to be sheer seduction (like I did!) then brace yourself for a deliciously wild ride.

  18. (Jān)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 09:17:54

    Another big problem is that the first four chapters of the Finder series (aka Viewfinder) were written as standalone shorts, so people sit there trying to figure out where the plot went, and it’s not really until the third volume that an overall arc begins to be apparent because it wasn’t until then that she knew she could write a long manga and developed a plot which included some earlier stories.

    So reading just the first or even the first and second volume doesn’t tell you much about the story Viewfinder really is.

    I do love light yaoi too. Stories like The Paradise on the Hill, Rin, Seven, Our Everlasting, Loveholic, and the hysterically funny I’ll be your Slave just make me feel warm all over and they’re keepers for me. But the Finder series is my obsession.

  19. Estara
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 13:54:27

    Tasty indeed. Still, I wish that Naono Bohra also would get a deal to be published outside Japan, her males are even less idealised and still very beautiful. She also allows older men to enjoy a healthy yaoi love life, mostly with guys in their twenties, so no age abuse part.

    Oh well.

  20. (Jān)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 14:16:10

    Hi Estara! Naono Bohra has at least one book licensed so we’ll be seeing some of her work over here. I like her stuff too. It’s almost always very sweet, and I like that a lot of her men are in their 40s.

  21. Amylee
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:30:11

    Jan,

    Yes, coming from Asian background,(I am a first generation Korean-American who first had been exposed to the world of manga many many years ago) I tend to forget how utterly Japanese Yaoi/manga is. It is just that I just “know” how to read it from years of exposure to that particular genre of yaoi as well as Manga in general. I also agree that the narrative of Yaoi or any other Manga is strongly dictated by Japanese culture and its literary and visual tradition.
    As for the Viewfinder series in particular, I can now see why it can be especially troubling to many of readers in the West. I have to admit that the non-con elements were non-issue to me when I read the series because I tend to see the non-con elements simply as another of manga conventions used to portray love/physical relationships.In other words, it did not occur to me to think about them in terms of right or wrong. (Please understand that I DO NOT condone the non-con sexual relationship in real life. In real life, a non-con physical relationship is not a relationship but a rape.)

    I don’t know if I made any sense here but thank you for giving me a chance to reflect on who I am as a yaoi/manga reader today.

  22. (Jān)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 18:17:46

    I tend to see the non-con elements simply as another of manga conventions used to portray love/physical relationships.In other words, it did not occur to me to think about them in terms of right or wrong.

    That’s because it’s not intended to be considered in terms of right and wrong. It’s pure entertainment, female fantasy, warts and all. The idea that BL should reflect some agenda is a very Western one that the Japanese just roll their eyes at. It is what it is, a playground for Japanese women with a MxM kink, and nothing more (though the genre can have stories as deep or as shallow as they wish to tell in pursuit of their aesthetic).

  23. Estara
    Jan 27, 2008 @ 13:58:50

    Wah, I hadn’t realised. Dramaqueeen, nice! However they’ve become very lagging with their releases, I’m waiting for some of their manhwa licenses for a year now, hmm. Still, thanks for the tip.

  24. (Jān)
    Jan 27, 2008 @ 14:22:54

    Dramaqueen is waaaaaay behind. They were supposed to have some books out by Christmas. I did just get Audition 2 in November I think. That was about a year after it was supposed to be released. I wonder if they’re going to make it.

    I was just reading their almost-dead forum, and they say they’re waiting on a third party to let them continue releasing, and it doesn’t involve the printer. Sounds like license, distribution or money issues. I hope it’s not the last. Desire Boy is just one of their many releases that I really want.

  25. Estara
    Jan 27, 2008 @ 18:13:24

    I was just reading their almost-dead forum, and they say they're waiting on a third party to let them continue releasing, and it doesn't involve the printer. Sounds like license, distribution or money issues.

    Gah, I hope not. Third party issues makes me think of the Libre-June storm-in-a-teacup. Well, I have put the Naono Bohra on my wishlist, and we shall see when it actually is available for order.

  26. (Jān)
    Jan 27, 2008 @ 20:38:57

    Third party issues makes me think of the Libre-June storm-in-a-teacup.

    That’s the first thing I thought of too, but I checked the license holder for The Tyrant Falls in Love, which is one title I know being held up, and it’s not Biblos/Libre. Still, who knows what’s going on? I just hope they get it settled, because of all the BL publishers the books they put out are consistently highly quality and titles I like.

  27. J Oponce
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 16:37:06

    I just posted in the “Manga First Impressions 3″ thread, and then continued to go back in the archive to realise you already reviewed Kyoko Hikawa and yaoi both… *facepalm*

    Well, more than a year has gone by, Kitty Media released Crimson Spell #2, Dramaqueen raised everyone’s hope in november 2008 before lapsing back into silence again, and Naono-sensei’s “Yami ni Tooboe, Mune ni Toge” was licensed by Kitty Media (as “Yokai’s Hunger”).

    …the wheel turns turns turns and life goes on, on, on…

  28. (Jān)
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 17:15:33

    And since Crimsons Spell 3 should be out in Japan in a couple of weeks, it might make it here by next spring. :)

    I just went over to DQ’s forum. Still no word. I’ve given up on them. I guess we’ll never see Tyrant, which is a shame because it’s so much fun.

    Yokai’s Hunger was originally supposed to be released next week. I hope it’s on schedule. She’s another mangaka I truly love.

  29. J Oponce
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 09:10:09

    Crimson Spell #3 released soon?? Yes! I have Viewfinder #4 in my shopping basket over at amazon.co.jp, I’ll add CS#3 ^^ So many great book, so much time before I amass engouh monies for an order big enough to be worthwhile… I’ll have to sort and choose a lot when the time to buy comes…

    I have a licensing gossip tidbit actually. I almost put it in that humongous post over at “Manga First Impressions 3″ thread but it was so long already (and so pedant, dear God; sorry about that).

    It’s about Dramaqueen: I check their forum regularly, and last August (2008) Taisa posted something about issues with orders, and put in an aside about the dragging on, mentionning that DQ had lost a license due to the delays in publishing. I was the first to post in the thread. A few hours later, the thread had disappeared and I had a message from Taisa in my inbox, telling me she’d heard from LadyQ that there was no issues with orders – so she’d deleted the thread and my comment with it.

    So. DQ started licensing in, what, 2004, 2005? 2001 at the earliest. It took ~4-7 years for one of the licenses to be up. BeBeautiful went missing in 2007, their troubles with Libre began in 2006 (?) so if they’re not locked in court (doesn’t seem to be the case, we would’ve heard of it otherwise), the licensing rights should be up for grabs soon… unless they had something like decades-long exclusivity (I know nothing of licensing contracts and their standards, I can’t say if this is a possibility of not).

    I’m one of the happy ones that have all the published BeBeautiful titles — I discovered yaoi in 2006 and bought everything available without really thinking about it. I can say it: for me, reading the book is just much, much better. I linger and re-read a lot more when reading a book than on-screen. I wish for everyone to have the opportunity to get the books if they can. I can imagine it from here, the web party the licensing news would generate… *.*

    Oh, maybe it’s why I don’t really like Fei Long, I mostly know of him from the first 3 volumes of Viewfinder. I remember finding his interactions with Takaba in the 4th volume very interesting, and I know I wanted to go back to it but I never did.

    To finish: thank you for the link to Cathy Hirano’s article. It was very, very interesting.

  30. J Oponce
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 09:11:09

    Darn. Another long post. I’m never again talking of yaoi on this blog, I’m unstoppable.

  31. (Jān)
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 10:22:47

    CS3 comes out 3/25. And a new chapter of CS is in Chara Selection that same week, if you buy the magazines.

    I think DQ started publishing in 2005(?), so licensing probably started in 2004. Llicense terms that I’m aware of typically run from the first publication of the volume for a set time. I’m sure there’s a rider that says the publisher has so long to get the books out in the first place. The typical term I’ve heard is 4-5 years, but that may not be correct. But that’s why I think BeBeautiful is going to lose their licenses soon.

    I bought all their books from their store, too, so luckily I have everything they released. I feel bad for the people paying $100 on ebay for one used book. Especially when they can get scans of most until they’re sold again. I heard from one industry person last year that his company was trying to license the Finder series.

    BTW are you aware of the Yamane community on LJ? If not you might want to look into it.

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