Gamers use the term nerfed to describe something that used to have impact but for whatever reason has been watered down. Black Sun, Silver Moon feels like a horror story that got nerfed—or maybe it’s a cute story with some horror added to it to spice things up. Either way, the cute wins, and if you like cute, that’s what you’ll get in surplus. (The adorable dog and the flowers on the cover ought to be a giveaway.)
I’ve said before that if you take the same basic story outline and give it to five different people, you’ll get five entirely different stories in tone, mood, content, and execution. BSSM plays like the outcome of one of those exercises, where someone got handed a plot outline for a potentially dark story and the results were anything but dark. The summary: Taki, a young man with many siblings and heavy family debts to pay off, takes a job with a local priest, Shikimi. At first the job doesn’t seem to involve anything more than keeping the priest’s library in order and keeping his teacup full. Then one night they trek out into the graveyard behind the church, and Taki is pressed into service to kill the zombies rising from the graveyard. It’s a job he’s suited to whether or not he wants to admit it, and so now he’s serving in the dual job of house servant by day and zombie hunter by night.
Sounds like it could be the premise for a fairly grim story, right? What we get, though, is so wan and fey that there barely seems to be a story at all—it’s essentially cute byplay between Taki and Shikimi, with some revelations sprinkled here and there to keep things moving. Like, for instance, the fact that Shikimi himself isn’t wholly human, or the fact that the dog who shows up one day and dotes on both of them is the resurrection of a dog that Taki lost when he was a kid, etc. The contrast between what the story contains and how it actually plays all that stuff off is just plain strange. The zombie stuff, when it does happen, is handled fleetingly—I guess to avoid grossing out the prospective audience for the other material. If that’s the case, they should have just cut one or the other—the horror or the fluff—and be done with it.
From what I can see, the problems with BSSM are threefold. One, barely anything substantive takes place during the course of the book—in fact, there’s scarcely anything that happens that couldn’t be compressed into an opening 32-page installment with room left over. Two, a lot of what does happen is talk—and again, it’s talk that could be easily telescoped down and made more economical. Maybe by the next volume something will actually start to happen, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.
Third, and most problematic, there’s already another comic running that covers something of the same territory as BSSM and does it far more effectively: CLAMP’s ×××HOLiC. There, too, we have a hapless young man with supernatural skills, pressed into the service of a doubly-supernatural mentor to help pay off his debts (albeit of a different kind). The difference is that ×××HOLiC is, quite simply, a better story: better told, more compellingly put together from its ingredients, and every bit as beautiful to look at. It is also one of those titles I can recommend to a much wider audience, and that right there is the strongest criticism I can make of BSSM.
If you haven’t had your monthly dose of cute yet, and are looking for a relatively novel way to get that, BSSM is a passable way to do it. Everyone else, though, can probably steer clear and not feel like they’re missing anything.
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