A real fantasy smorgasbord, Natsumi Itsuki’s shojo manga Demon Sacred (Tokyopop) opens on a page-turningly unsettling note. A honeymooning couple, Rena and Ryota Ichijima, go to Finland, birthplace of a deceased music idol beloved by the bride. There to witness the aurora borealis, they’re instead treated to a more fantastic sight: a herd of unicorns galloping toward them. Hubby Ryota and the rest of the tourists suddenly vanish when they get too close to the mythical creatures, leaving nothing but their empty clothes behind. The only one to survive is Rena, whose contact with one of the unicorns “chains” and transforms it into the spitting image of her late musical hero.
Cut to fourteen years later, and we’re in Japan with Rena’s twin daughters, who are being raised by an earnest young research scientist named Shinobu. “I’m the only family they have,” Shinobu explains since their mother has apparently since passed on and Dad, you know, suddenly disappeared the night of the aurora. The father-to-be was one of the first victims of Return Syndrome, a “localized reversal of the space-time continuum” that causes most of its sufferers to rapidly age backwards and blink out of existence. Twin Rina is experiencing an ultra-rare version of the syndrome, aging backwards but doing so more slowly. Though the same age as her 14-year-old sister Mona, she has the body of a nine-year-old.
The world-wide plague of Return Syndrome is linked to the unexplained appearance of all manner of legendary creatures, called “demons” by a religio oriented media. When the unicorn/demon named Mika (after the late Finnish idol he resembles) shows up, he tells Shinobu and the girls that the key to saving Rena is for Mona to call forth an even higher-level demon, which she can do since she carries her mother’s ability to be in close contact with these creatures and develop a kind of master-and-pet relationship with one.
From here, Demon Sacred turns into A Girl and Her Demon. Spunky Mona pulls up a dangerous creature, and he turns out to be a doozy: the Beast from Revelation (the monster that John sees rise up from the sea). Once chained, he appears as yet-another dreamy looking pop idol, only this time a living one named Kaito Fujino. This adds a further complication, of course, for while Mika is able to get away with looking like a musician everybody knows has been dead for over fourteen years, “K2” has a living counterpart walking the streets of Tokyo. You know the two are gonna meet, and in volume two of the series, that’s exactly what occurs.
Unlike its typical practice of releasing its manga series one book at a time, Tokyopop scheduled the release of Demon Sacred’s first two budget-priced ($5.99) volumes for the same day. The move makes sense since the events in the second book — primarily focused on the comically K2 and his dreamy human double — are obviously meant to further pull in a teen girl readership less interested in dialog about serious subjects like “spirituology,” the history of demons in our human world or the possibly sinister company politics at Shinobu’s research lab. Those of us interested in the broader scope, however, can only hope that the series returns to some of those more lightly touched plot threads in the series’ third volume.
Creator Itsuki’s art runs the gamut from flowery light (with all the requisite sparkles and floral patterns in the background) to darkly fantastic (check out the sequence where the beastly form of K2 rises from the sea), but the shifts don’t feel disjointed. Credit the writer/artist’s commitment to her characters. In the midst of all the free-ranging weirdness, Itsuki never loses sight of them or lets her elaborate imagination pound away their individuality. That’s not easy to do in serialized fantasy like this, but Demon Sacred manages it with wit and plenty of flair.
A top-flight premiere that deserves to find its audience: hopefully, they’ll be able to look beyond the first volume’s nondescript front cover.