There is no point in denying that most manga that hits popularity in the States is based on Japanese high school students and various stereotypes thereof. The classic coming of age tale, in all the various flavors (both tame and tawdry) play out in the crucible of “near the end of middle school” and “through the years of high school”.
I mention this because Hekikai no AiON is “yet another high school urban fantasy with romance” kind of story. Frankly, most manga hits along those lines one way or another because that’s the target age for their market, especially if you recognize the “urban fantasy” bit as interchangeable with “science fiction mecha” or “sparkly vampire” or any other “hook” that may be in play at the time.
And yet, Hekikai no AiON is yet another case in point that proves the assertion that the characters and story (coupled with art in manga) are what drives the story, not genre or the presence or absence of cliché.
Mangaka (female manga creator) Yuna Kagesaki is best known for her teenaged vampire romance series “Karin” (which goes by the name of “Chibi Vampire” here in the States for some inscrutable reason known only to TokyoPop’s clueless herd of marketing bovines.) “Karin” enjoys extreme popularity both in Japan and the States due to the extreme affability of its main characters and Kagesaki-sensei’s characteristic “sexy-cute” art.
Hekikai no AiON (marketed as “AiON” here in the States by TokyoPop) is, frankly, more of the same in some sense as “Karin”, but not entirely so by any stretch. The story opens with the main male lead, Tsugawa Tatsuya, heading out for school on his first day back a week after his parent’s untimely demise in a car wreck. First thing out the door he gets rolled for his lunch money by some neighborhood bullies. Worse yet, when he goes to pick up the money, a lead foot comes down on the biggest coin.
Enter our heroine, Seine Miyazaki. She’s a cool beauty who apparently doesn’t even get the fact that she almost smashed Tatsuya’s hand and couldn’t care less anyhow. Not to worry, though, because she’s going to get even worse before she gets better.
The thing is, Tatsuya had the opportunity to have a few last words with his father. Those words basically boiled down to, “Don’t be a wimp! Be a strong, upstanding man!” Thus, when our hero spies Seine being bullied in a hallway at school later, he throws himself into action to shield her from the bully’s kicks.
And immediately after, Seine smacks him away and tells him to butt out. She likes being bullied.
Trust me, it confuses Tatsuya just as much as it confuses the reader at first and it calls into question his whole quest to live up to his father’s last words.
As things go forward, we find out there’s a reason for Seine’s desire to be bullied, because it’s only when she’s goaded her target into a killing rage that she can finally use her attached familiar “AiON” to consume the sea-born parasites that have attached themselves to human hosts. So, since that the way she has to hunt, it’s probably a good thing that she’s been equipped with an immortal body that can take any sort of abuse a homicidal maniac might dish out at her.
As skimmed over as that summary of the opening is, I actually find the characters and situations in AiON to not be cliché or boring at all. Kagesaki-sensei does a very good job of really looking beyond the surface of characters and that comes to the fore in AiON. Everyone has come from somewhere, and those journeys have been through various degrees of hardship. Even the villains are developed enough to empathize with, including the mermaids that are gunning for Seine’s life even as she seeks to exterminate them. There’s a lot of pathos in Seine’s revenge-driven worldview. Yet she is still vulnerable in ways despite her long life, still very much a maiden at heart despite being a committed killer of otherworldly things. Tatsuya starts out very much as the classic wimpy male manga character, but there’s more to him than meets the eye and that only starts coming through via his efforts to redeem himself to his father’s vision. Other characters join in the fun, of course, and that makes the journey all the more intriguing and enjoyable.
I’d be happier with this if TokyoPop wasn’t the main publisher for the series. They have shown an annoying tendency of late to drop project uncompleted without explanation or apology. Still, it’s good to see this series finally coming out in the States and I enjoy reading it as much in hardcopy as I do following the releases online. If you like intriguing tales that wind as much mystery as they do romance into the telling, you might consider giving AiON a try.