Ze, Vol. 1-4
written by Yuki Shimizu
Raizou lost his house and his home when his grandmother died, but a mysterious realtor named Genma finds him a place as a housekeeper in the Mitou household. The Mitou family is a strange one, though Raizou doesn’t realize how strange until a mysterious force attacks the house. It seems that the Mitou are kotodamashi who can use the power of words to curse people. But those curses come at a price: the one who does the cursing is injured. To heal those injuries, each kotodama master is paired with a kami, a living being made of paper. The odd pairings between kotodama and kami are enough to make Raizou’s head spin, but it is the behavior of his new roommate, Kon, that troubles him even more. Kon is a kami without a master, used for his abilities, but ultimately purposeless. Can Raizou find a new home--and an unexpected love--in this strange family of paper and flesh?
Shimizu’s newest work is as character-heavy as her popular, eleven volume Love Mode series (published by Blu), so in the beginning readers may have trouble keeping everyone straight while also trying to learn the supernatural rules of the story and keep up with the plot and the smut. Readers who like Shimizu’s work, though, and are willing to give her a few volumes before making up their minds on a series will find themselves hooked and wanting the rest of the story immediately. Such is the problem--and the joy--of reading the works of a talented creator.
That’s not to say that they will love everyone in Ze. One of the things that makes Shimizu’s work popular is that she offers a little something for every fujoshi. The pairings are varied (though the kami are usually the uke), so you’re sure to find a pair you can root for, but at the same time you’ll probably also find a pair you don’t like all that much. To choose from there is the cheerful and always picked on Raizou, who falls for the morose Kon; the tough guy Konoe, who is kami to the powerful, but childlike Kotoha; Ouka, the perverted cosplay-loving kotodama who has the submissive female kami Benio; Shoui, the tortured head of the family who is terrified of losing his kami, the teasing Asari; Genma, whose involvement in shady business practices endangers his cool, classy kami Himi; and, of course, Waki, the paper master who created all of the dolls, but whose actions hint at a sad past. And those are just the main characters! Shimizu loves to move focus away from one pair to settle on another for a time, gradually building a picture of the world her characters inhabit.
Shimizu has never been one to shy away from either smut or violence and both are present here. Several characters, Waki and Genma in particular, will not hesitate to kill or maim to make a point or to protect the family. Also, apparently Shimizu has gotten hold of a sexual manual, because her sex scenes seem more detailed and inventive than ever before. Be warned, though, there is a seme who rapes his uke, several times. That violence is balanced out by humor, particularly in a pair of twins who share a kami. It is not quite twin-cest, but, like most of the sex scenes, it is long and descriptive enough to raise the blood pressure. In addition to her sex scenes maturing, Shimizu’s art has grown up to the point that readers may not realize it is her at first. Her faces are still angular, but they are more realistic now. She has the same trouble getting body proportions correct as before, but she does some great work with scenery. For example, there is a two page spread in the early part of volume four where Genma is thinking about Himi. Each of the long vertical panels is filled with a classical Japanese setting, which perfectly fits the reserved, traditional Himi.
There are a lot of psychological issues going on in here, to the point where readers might almost be reminded of Fruits Basket (by Natsuki Takaya; TokyoPop)--this cloistered family seems to almost be a cancer eating itself from within. Raizou is a breath of fresh air, but Shimizu shows how the other characters grow or need to grow in order to fully accept the love that is within their reach. Don’t rush on reading these. You’ll want to take things slowly in order to keep all the elements straight and these may need a re-read. But they’re definitely worth it.