With the spring announcement that mainstay American manga publisher Tokyopop was closing up shop in the states, the wisdom of cracking open the first volume of a recently launched T’pop series is slim at best. Yet Koge-Donbo’s Pavane for a Dead Girl is such a strange misfire that I can’t help wanting to look at it more closely. “What were they thinking?” the stunned manga reader wonders after they’ve reached the end of the first volume. Damned if I could tell ya.
Set at the end of the Meiji Era at the start of the twentieth century, Pavane concerns Takenomaru Sagami, a young violin prodigy living at the Marianne Music Academy, a school for girls overseen by Takenomaru’s adoptive father, himself a former musician. Gifted with both preternatural beauty and the ability to play the violin “like a dazzling jewel overflowing with love and radiance,” Takenomaru has a dark secret. His looks and talents are “gifts from heaven” that have been bestowed at a price. To keep them he must regularly gather the Tears of Maria for the Great Angel. This entails finding young girls who will be willing to sacrifice themselves by allowing the young musician to remove “a crystal of feeling” from their hearts. Though the details of this process aren’t shown in the first volume, it’s pretty clear that it’s at the expense of each girl’s life.
We’re shown this in the first half of volume one through Nanao Kaga, a cute-eyed young girl who has come to the big city music academy in search of a musician she calls the “Prince of Harmony.” Though the back of this self-billed “romance/fantasy” makes it look as if Nanao is going to be the series heroine, in actuality she’s Marion Crane to the violinist’s Norman Bates. Second half of the first book is devoted to our anti-hero’s back-story, wherein we learn how he got to make his less-than-heavenly deal — and also discover the roots of the deep misanthropy which provides him the capacity to extract the Tears of Maria from young innocents with a sword and his bare (surprisingly bloodless) hands.