A teen-rated fantasy romance, Juliette Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss (Viz/Shojo Beat) opens on a fairly bleak note: heroine Nanami Momozono, a second year high school student, has been abandoned by her degenerate gambler father and evicted from the shabby apartment she used to call her home. Left to fend for herself in a city park, she happens upon a seemingly young man named Mikage who has been treed by a snarling dog; our girl shoos the beast, and in a dubious show of gratitude, he kisses her on the forehead and offers Nanami a place to stay.
That offer turns out to have major strings attached: Mikage’s home is a Shintu shrine that he abandoned twenty years ago. By bestowing it on Nanami, he has made her a tochigami, a deity tied to the shrine. As the new godling, her primary duty is to answers the prayers of those who look for divine guidance in love and relationships. Naturally, our young heroine feels like she’s in over her head.
Also inhabiting the shrine are two masked onibi-warashi (like will-o’-the-wisps, the helpful glossary at the back-o’-the-book tells us) named Oniki and Kotetsu — plus a fox-like familiar named Tomoe who is still p.o.ed over Mikage’s abandonment. Apart from a pair of fox ears and some pointed fingernails, Tomoe looks like your typical dreamy shojo male lead — and true to romance conventions, he wants nothing to do with Nanami. To him, she is a “shabby” human incapable of even weeding the shrine garden properly.
In addition to Mikage’s kiss on the forehead, though, there’s another significant buss in the book: the one way our girl can force Tomoe to remain at the shrine. If she kisses the fox shinishi, she’s told, he will be forced to do her bidding. Much of the first volume, then, is devoted to establishing both characters’ place and relationship in the shrine. And for all his crankiness, Tomoe clearly has begun to feel an attachment to our heroine with or without that kiss. When she follows him into a land inhabited by all manner of voracious supernatural creatures, he can’t help seeking her out after he hears that the girl is being menaced by an old woman ogre called an onibaba. Though he says he’s doing so to watch the girl get eaten, we know differently.
Typical girl meets rude boy romance, in other words: amusingly detailed and steeped in the specifics of Shintu shrines, where writer/artist Suzuki says she used to play when she was a child. Though the first volume features some demonic figures (the most dire being the old lady ogre who states, “If I eat the flesh of a tochigami, I may be able to live a thousand more years”), the lightly lined art downplays this menace in favor of wispy romance. As a godling overseeing relational prayers and wishes, it’s Nanami’s role to play cupid to the timid and unconnected — which we see her do for the first time in the opening volume’s final chapter. Whether our newly enshrined heroine will be able to make it with the slightly softening Tomoe is a question that will doubtless be answered many volumes in the future, of course.
I can see plenty of shojo readers — the ones who made Fruits Basket a success, for instance — wanting to read on to find out how this human/demon romance comes to full fruition.