From the stack: Kamisama Kiss vol. 1

One of the bonuses of the most recent Manga Moveable Feast was being introduced to a series I really liked (as opposed to the pleasure of talking about a series I already appreciated), Julietta Suzuki’s Karakuri Odette (Tokyopop). For more points, the feast convinced me to pick up a copy of Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss (Viz), so now I have two new series that I enjoy. I also have a creator added to my “try automatically” list in Suzuki.

I’ve read good manga about supernatural boys sparking with human girls, and I’ve read some fairly icky manga about the same subject. Kamisama Kiss is decidedly on the good end of the spectrum; it’s endearingly familiar, but it has the same evidence of a quirky, distinct sensibility that Suzuki displayed in Karakuri Odette.

Nanami, a high-school girl, finds herself orphaned and homeless when her irresponsible father flees his gambling debts. Even in distress, she’s good hearted, and she helps a stranger she meets in the park where she’s planning to sleep. In return, he offers her shelter. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a dilapidated shrine, and the free rent is balanced by some heavy responsibilities.

One of those is riding herd over the supernatural staff, which includes a snide (but cute) fox demon named Tomoe. He dislikes Nanami and is reluctant to serve under her. Nanami finds him obnoxious, but she’s a responsible person, and she wants to fulfill her duties to the shrine (and not die at the hands of some rival demon). Disgruntled protagonists are nothing new, but Suzuki makes an important choice in her portrayal of them. She makes them equally matched.

Much as Tomoe would like to bully and deride Nanami for her human incompetence, Suzuki gives the girl an edge over the fox. He still has the advantage of his knowledge and powers, but Nanami gets just enough of the right kind of authority to hold her own. She approaches her responsibilities at the shrine differently, which Tomoe finds both irritating and intriguing. Suzuki finds small, surprising ways to indicate that their relationship may evolve further.

The art is appealing. After the appropriate restraint exhibited in Karakuri Odette, it’s nice to see Suzuki get a little goofy, even over the top at times. Her designs for the supernatural characters are great fun, particularly a visiting demonic dignitary Nanami tries to help. She’s a catfish priestess, of sorts, and Suzuki goes to town making her aristocratic, unnerving, and strangely adorable.

Kamisama Kiss is off to a very promising start. It’s got grumpy, likeable leads, a solid premise, and an endearing look to it.