Happiness vol. 4



This is the volume where everything hits the fan.  Makoto’s plan to get Nora to help him and the newly-turned Yuuki hits a big snag when she tries to kill him.  She smells “a deep black scent” on him and tells Makoto that he’ll be doomed if he continues to hang around with this guy.  Yuuki doesn’t take this news well at all and bites off a chunk of Nora’s leg before escaping to find Nao.  Meanwhile, Gosho keeps looking for Makoto, spurred on by the still-painful memory of her deceased brother.  This leads her to meeting a beyond-sketchy individual who also has some knowledge and experience with vampires in this world.

 

There’s even more than this to take in as well.  Yet there was one small moment about a minor character introduced in this volume that really got me.  It really came from out of nowhere and also drove home how much mangaka Shuzo Oshimi’s art has come along since her previous series.

 

(Spoilers for the parts involving Nao’s family follow after the break.)

When Nao comes home after encountering Yuuki, we’re introduced to her parents before she can let her boyfriend in through her bedroom window.  Her parents aren’t named but they still make impressions for diametrically opposed reasons.  Nao’s dad is already drunk and still drinking when he belligerently asks about where she’s been, why she was out all night, and if she could at least introduce them to the guy they assume brought her home.  He’s drawn with shading on his cheeks to indicate that yes he really is that drunk, sloped eyes and enough stubble to drive home the point that he’s way past politeness and that his expression of concern is more out of self-interest than anything else.

 

At the other end of the spectrum is Nao’s mother.  She wears an expression of quiet concern in the two panels she’s seen in when her daughter returns home, but it says a lot.  Pitched against her husband’s drunkenness and Nao’s disregard for rules, it says that the mom is someone who really wants to avoid conflict.  The mother’s only words here are a request for her daughter to apologize to her dad for coming home so late.  It’s a brief statement, but it comes after a single panel where Nao stands in silent response to her father’s questioning.  You really get the feeling that the mother is trying her best to keep the peace before things get really ugly.  As this is her only appearance in the manga up to this point, it’s not hard to believe that this is her sole purpose in life either.

 

All this makes her next appearance in the volume that much more heartbreaking.  The mom is later seen gingerly knocking on Nao’s door to let her know that dinner is ready and if she was feeling any better.  Nao had claimed illness to get out of going to school when in actuality she and Yuuki were having sex all day.  In an “I guess that works” case of self-control, Yuuki had managed to sublimate his bloodlust into actual lust to keep from killing his girlfriend.  Back to the scene at hand, Nao yells at her mother to stop bothering her, which winds up getting her father’s attention as well.

 

Here’s the part that almost destroys me.  In the panel after the father shows up, we see the mother with barely contained fear in her eyes.  She knows what’s coming next and is unable to do anything about it.  That conflict she has tried so studiously to avoid is about to boil over right before her eyes.  It’s a small panel in this volume, but Oshimi manages to make the mother’s fear eminently palpable.  The kind of emotion that jumps off the page in a rare way that few creators have managed to pull off in my eyes over the years.

 

In case anyone was wondering how Yuuki responds to being interrupted by Nao’s dad…  Actually, you’re probably not since the dad’s response is pretty easy to guess as well.  Yet there are some very trippy visuals to have as Yuuki absorbs the beating while his bloodlust reasserts himself.  Nao’s dad becomes a freakish monster in Yuuki’s eyes, bringing his worst fears back to haunt him.  When the boy loses control there’s an awful catharsis about the scene as we see it play out in the gory bloody glory that we all knew was coming.

 

What of the mother in all this?  In the next-to-last panel her appears in this volume it honestly looks like she has finally snapped.  Not only did the conflict she so desperately wanted to avoid actually come to pass, but it was even worse than she could have imagined.  It’s also very apparent that she and Nao’s father were created solely to die for the progression of Yuuki’s character arc.  Usually such obviousness is a bad thing in storytelling, but Oshimi invests the mother’s character with such strong emotion in the few scenes she has that her presence is genuinely affecting.  I didn’t want to see her die, which I’m sure is the reaction the mangaka wanted me to have.

 

Yuuki ends the volume in a very bad place, confirming Nora’s initial suspicions of him and potentially setting him up as the big bad of the series.  He’ll be a formidable challenge for Makoto to overcome, assuming he can even get past his unwillingness to kill.  I was honestly surprised to see him realize that he really can’t stay with his human family any longer and had to fully throw in his lot with Nora.  What grates is that he apparently feels that he can dictate terms to the (much?) older female vampire as he asks her not to kill any more humans.  While she agrees to this condition, the reasons why she’s doing this aren’t entirely clear.  Is she genuinely sympathetic to Makoto’s request because his presence has caused her to remember some of her human memories?  Or is she humoring him in the way that only someone who is holding all the cards can?

 

I like the uncertainty there and am very interested to see where the story goes from here.  Not just because of the bullet-riddled cliffhanger ending this volume presents, but because Oshimi really showed what she’s capable of as a creator in this volume.  Yes, the role of Nao’s mother was only a small part of the story here.  It still managed to really get under my skin like nothing she’s done before.  Was it a fluke, or the sign of something greater?  I really want to know.

 

jason@glickscomicpicks.com


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