While Shinshoku Kiss's artwork is clean and attractive, the writing failed to draw me in.
Writer/Artist: Kazuko Higashiyama
Translated by: N/A
Adapted by: N/A
What They Say
Aspiring teen dollmaker Kashiwagi Kotoko runs into her favorite doll designer, Fool. He curses her with a shinshoku kiss. Now Kashiwagi has to make dolls for her or else Fool will turn her into an old lady!
The front cover artwork features an attractive full-color portrait of protagonist Kotoko Higashiyama, for some reason drawn here with a blood-red dress and black wings. The artwork looks very nice -- assuming that's mistletoe in her hair, it's a clever touch -- though it's a little odd to see Kotoko drawn with such devilish overtones, considering that there's really nothing in the plot to suggest that she's an evil person. (Actually, there's not much in the plot to suggest that she's much of a good person either, but I'll come back to that point later.)
Tokyopop is clearly trying to pitch Shinshoku Kiss as a tie-in with Higashiyama's tactics, as there're two positive critical blurbs for tactics on the back cover and a 10-page excerpt from tactics in the backmatter. Besides this excerpt, the only other extra is a two-page commentary from Higashiyama that highlights several first-draft character designs.
Like the cover artwork, Higashiyama's interior artwork is attractive, albeit in a way that's difficult to put my finger on. It might just be the simple consistency and fluidity of the art that I find appealing: Higashiyama pulls off without a hitch artistic techniques like angled views of characters that other artists frequently struggle to pull off convincingly. I also like some of the compositional techniques that strike a nice balance between giving zoomed-in reaction shots and being too claustrophobic; again, while none of this is really breaking new artistic ground, it's the kind of thing that I often see other titles fail to do right.
Tokyopop's has an annoying habit of using exotic but borderline unreadable fonts in many of their releases; and Shinshoku Kiss is no exception. The poor choice of typeface makes the lettering ugly and difficult to read. While I'm all for establishing mood, there are better ways to do it than by picking fonts where it's hard to tell certain letters apart. Tokyopop also revisits here their unfortunate habit of using tiny fonts for asides, rendering them nearly unreadable.
Setting aside the typesetting choices, the English script reads fine. As is standard for most Tokyopop releases, honorifics are removed from the English adaptation and SFX are left untranslated.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Once again proving that manga artists can make almost any unassuming activity into a life-or-death situation, Shinshoku Kiss drops high-school student Kotoko Kashiwagi headfirst into the surprisingly cutthroat world of doll-making. Kotoko's entry in a doll-making competition attracts the attention of a world-famous doll maker (and Kotoko's personal idol) who goes only by the moniker of "Fool". This attention turns out to be a double-edged sword when Fool (real name: Yuta Kujyo) abducts Kotoko, places a curse on her, lets her suffer a day at school, and then presents her with a choice: work for him or die. Charming guy, huh?
Needless to say, Kotoko picks the first option, opening herself up to a daily barrage of menial tasks and berating from Yuta -- not to mention borderline sexual harassment, like when he kisses her immediately after introducing her to her new coworkers. Besides being creepy, this kiss implants Kotoko with a tendril-like entity called an "encroacher" and a compulsion to perform her real job: planting a kiss (presumably the titular "shinshoku" kiss) on targets selected by Yuta. These kisses extract the souls from their helpless victims and transfer them to Yuta's dolls, infusing the "Fool Dolls" with the lifelike spark that makes them so sought-after by collectors.
The four chapters in this volume develop in an unusual way that's neither exactly serialized nor exactly episodic. After the premise is established in the first chapter (to be later expanded in the second), the second and third chapters deal with stand-alone stories involving colleagues whom Yuta sends Kotoko to take care of. A loose thread from the third chapter then leads into an extended subplot in the fourth chapter, with Kotoko trying to find out why her previous victim was so obsessed with Yuta's prized "Star" doll.
Reading through the four chapters here, I got the impression that Higashiyama couldn't decide whether to go with an episodic approach or not; and the wishy-washy results don't work very well either as stand-alone episodes or as a coherent storyline. What ultimately hurts Shinshoku Kiss is Higashiyama's thin characterization: Kotoko personality is nearly a complete blank slate, and her victims and coworkers are essentially introduced only in name and in their basic associations with Yuta's business. The upshot of this is that I didn't care much about Kotoko as a heroine of some larger storyline, nor did I feel that there was enough background established about the other characters for her to just be there as a hub around their own episodic tales. The only person here who comes away with any kind of real depth is Yuta, and Higashiyama doesn't exactly paint a flattering portrait of him.
That said, Shinshoku Kiss is a weak title but not one that ever crosses the line into being actively bad. To steal a phrase from Douglas Adams, Volume 1 of Shinshoku Kiss is mostly harmless; it's kind of dull and there are better releases to spend your $9.95 on, but I don't think anyone is going to read it and then demand the last half an hour of their life back.