Can a story be too long at just one volume? Is it worth reading Heaven's Will just to find out?
Writer/Artist: Satoru Takamiya
Translation: Lindsey Akashi
Adaptation: Lindsey Akashi
What They Say
Sudou Mikuzu has a very special talent--she can see ghosts. And because of this predisposition, she's become a magnet for all sorts of unwelcome monsters. Luckily for her she's just met Seto, a friendly, cross-dressing young exorcist. Sudou needs protection from all the creepy phantoms bugging her, and Seto needs to practice his exorcism skills. Consequently, the pair decides to team up and help each other. In return, Sudou promises to bake a cake every time a ghost gets zapped!
I don't have a lot of good things to say about this book, but at least it doesn't look that bad. There's a kind of goth vibe running through the visuals, nothing too overboard, though. There are really only three characters, but they look alright for what they're supposed to be. The artist's ablility to meet the demands of the story are never exceeded. (These are not great - very little actually happens.) The one area that could use some work is layout. In some sections the pages have so much packed into them it seems like the artist was getting paid by the panel. But it doesn't interfere much with the actual reading.
Heaven's Will is released under the Shojo Beat imprint and looks much like the other books in that line. The glossy cover bears the image of a pair of female characters holding hands, until you read the book and find out how wrong you were about that and a couple of other things. The back of the book has the usual writeup next to the obligatory image of the creepy vampish guy and a tagline saying that the book is a "goth teen romance." (This is a romance? You don't see any more than you'd find in a regular story.) The print quality is inconsistent: some pages look fine, others have washed-out blacks that look like partial erasures. Extras are confined to a message from the author midway through the book, and a short bio of her and her work at the end.
Not much wrong here. Lettering is good, and the replaced sound effects are approprate to their respective scenes. The story isn't easy to follow, but I'm guessing that's because the translation is an accurate reflection of the source material.
I'm not sure how bad a one-shot manga can be, but it seems at times as if Heaven Swill was written as an experiment to find out. It's a jumbled mishmash of trendy elements, the whole of which is somehow less than not just the sum of the parts, but any one of the parts taken individually. It is claustrophobic. There are only three characters in the story (four if you stretch things by including a guy who only appears in two brief scenes), and the artist seems unwilling to show anybody else at all, even people walking in the background. The only concessions made to the possibility that anyone else exists in the world are three of the heroine's friends that appear in the beginning scenes and a "client" character that shows up pretty early on and vanishes without too much ado, not counting a brief and completely unnecessary return in the final scene. After that the story might almost be taking place in a vacuum. The plot of the story is frequently confusing; but all the rest is so bad that it's hard to say whether the unclear parts are any worse.
The book begins with a girl who can see spirits, but has to keep it to herself because nobody else can see them, and if she talks about them everybody will think she's crazy. Well enough; there have been good stories made out of this idea. The trouble starts when we begin to think she's crazy. Not ten pages have gone by before we're asked to accept non sequiturs along the lines of "Why do men do such frightening things? Like stalking women...or groping them...or fist fighting...all scary things." Fist fighting? How is that like stalking or groping? If that isn't strange enough, maybe I should add that the girl has a ghost attached to her leg as she's saying this, and it's bleeding from the mouth . You'd think a little rumble behind the gym would be the least of her worries. A couple of pages later we get this gem: "Men. Ghosts and spirits. They're all the same. I don't understand them. Things I don't understand are frightening." I guess we're lucky she's a good student. Otherwise she'd spend the whole time flipping out over calculus textbooks.
Alright, so it's been established that she's afraid of guys. Apparently a homeopathic treatment is in order, because she's immediately thrown into close contact with a guy who dresses like his little sister and some sort of wolf-vampire boy with a death wish that hangs around him in exchange for being able to drink his blood. If that won't cure her I don't know what will. The odd thing is, all things considered, is how quickly the treatment works. Before long she's talking to these creepy jaspers like she's known them for years. She's also talking to herself a good deal, which is another of the book's problems. I don't necessarily mind internal monologues, but they really need to be about something, and not just used as a substitute for things happening. It needs to add something to the book besides length. In Heaven Swill it rarely gets beyond pointless or incomprehensible emotionalizing. When you know that the smallest incident is going to be followed by seemingly endless commentary regardless of whether or not is has any importance to the story, or speculations that make insufficiently explained incidents even cloudier, interest wanes. The book isn't content with making the story hard to follow; it has to go further and make you stop wanting to follow it. That's what makes the volume seem so long. By the time we get through the internal commentary on events we've forgotten what the events were.
But all of these things are just symptoms. The larger problem is that Heaven Swill is simply confused about everything. It doesn't know what it is, it doesn't know where it's going, it doesn't know who its characters are, and it doesn't know what its primary interest is supposed to be. It is also incompetent. The artist apparently has a hard time just making scenes. There are two important places where key events - one is the resolution to the first important subplot in the book - are simply passed over entirely; instead of being shown what happens, we're told afterwards in a couple of off-hand lines of dialogue. When you add all of the book's problems up, it's as if the artist isn't thinking about the situations in the story or the behaviour of the characters at all, but instead remembering what she's read in other manga and putting that in however she can. This would account for the purely fashionable and ineffectual vampirism, and partly for the cross-dressing as well, though that does actually have something to do with the story. Weirdly enough, it ties in with the only part of the story that even begins to work. I didn't entirely understand the story behind the little sister and how it tied in with the possessed piano (don't even ask), but those are the only moments that the book stops being inert and begins to approach mediocrity.
Heaven Swill comes pretty close to being an ideally bad book. Not the kind that's so bad you can't help but laugh at it - the kind that you can't even find a way to really read, you can only look at all the words. It's like a college economics textbook. You remember, the kind of book where you can take an hour to read three pages, and then you can't remember a single thing that it said. The artist even goes so far as to admit, "I wrote Heaven's Will while in a state of confusion." It'll be read the same way. It's so helpless I don't even have the heart to make fun of it. I can't think of a reason in the world to recommend this to anybody, unless maybe you don't like Her Majesy's Dog and want to see how much worse it could have been. It doesn't even go as far with the creepier elements to titillate. I can only put a red lantern in front of this one. No matter what you're looking for, you'll find it better almost anywhere else.