Is it incest if they're not related by blood?
Shioko Mizuki's Crossroad brings up a topic that seems to be one of the sexier taboo subjects -- the issue of incest. The theme of forbidden love of this variety pops up in a wide range of manga releases, such as Ayashi no Ceres and Angel Sanctuary -- both published domestically by VIZ Media.
There is something alluring about any flavor of doomed love, and to some extent stories featuring incest are carrying on the tradition of classic tales such as Romeo and Juliet. They showcase a set of star-crossed lovers that really should not be getting together -- in this case, for their children's sake as much as for their own. However, children are rarely an issue in romances, and showing the consequences of dirtying up the family gene pool is nothing that readers want to read about.
Plus, in this particular scenario, there's little concern about the potential reproductive challenges between the primary protagonist Kajitsu and her brother, Natsu. After all, they're not really related by blood; they were merely raised together. That way, readers get all of the racy "incest" feelings with none of the involuntary shudders that go along with them.
Crossroad lands squarely in the atypical family genre. It fits right in with stories such as Marmalade Boy and Please! Twins. Our main protagonist, Kajitsu was raised by her stepmother for a few years, but ultimately, she ended up living with her adoptive grandmother until she was fifteen. Kajitsu is far more responsible than Rumiko, her stepmother, but she doesn't let Rumiko's flighty ways keep her from living a relatively normal life.
Sadly, the story begins with the death of Kajitsu's grandmother. She quickly begins to pack up her things, informing her landlords (old friends of her adoptive family) that she'll be finding her own place soon. However, Rumiko surprisingly appears, and shortly thereafter, two other people from Kajitsu's past show up, as well.
Taro and Natsu, also not related to Rumiko by blood, spent many of their childhood years living with her as their mother and with Kajitsu as their sister. Although many years have passed since they've all seen each other, they quickly exhibit the dynamics of a typical family as they fight, argue and yell at each other. The children are unified somewhat when Rumiko disappears yet again, leaving them to not only fend for themselves, but with another adopted stepdaughter that Rumiko has decided to claim as her own. Six year old Satsuki works as the glue that helps Kajitsu, Taro and Natsu to put aside their differences, as well as their mutual frustration towards Rumiko, and to start looking for a place to settle together.
Naturally, whenever multiple non-related, but similarly aged teenagers start living together, there's going to be a bountiful supply of drama. Kajitsu already has a crush on Natsu -- one that has been slowly but steadfastly nurtured over the seven-year period that the two have been apart. What makes it more interesting for readers is that Natsu isn't the pudgy, friendly, outgoing kid that he used to be; now, he's quite the bishonen. Although he's not as obviously friendly as he used to be, he's a big hit at Kajitsu's school as soon as he transfers in, and instantly we have the stage set for a myriad of romantic possibilities.
Not that the manga-ka is going to make it easy for Kajitsu. When she was first separated from Natsu, the two exchanged letters constantly with one another. This practice continued for a long time, until one day, Kajitsu wrote Natsu a letter that made him stop writing to her. The contents of that letter are not immediately revealed, but she dreads her reunion with him largely because she fears that he has hated her since the day that he received her regrettable missive.
Although she stopped sending him letters, she never stopped writing them. Instead of mailing them off, she began to use them as a sort of diary, penning updates on her life that were written to Natsu, even though she never dreamed that she would be able to speak to him again. When they are reunited after the death of their grandmother, Natsu isn't merely introspective -- he's downright cold to Kajitsu. It's quite possible that her letter was the catalyst that transformed the Natsu of her childhood into the slightly bitter, if but immensely more attractive version of her stepbrother. If that's the case, Kajitsu hopes to make amends for the mistake of her past.
In order to survive, however, the family needs to worry about more than the cessation of Natsu and Kajitsu's penpal relationship years ago.
As the eldest member of the newly assembled patchwork family, Taro proclaims himself as the primary caretaker. He's the only one with a job that pays enough to support them, although his income is meager enough for one person. Stretching it to feed and house three others is most likely going to push him to his limits. Although he has a quick temper, he's exceedingly kind-hearted. It's not easy to see this when he sends Satuski out to the street, telling her to turn herself into the police so that they'll set her up with a nice family, but he does mean well. He's just not the brightest member of the household. Taro also has trouble any time that Kajitsu gives Natsu what Taro perceives to be a meaningful look. Although they aren't related by blood, he still doesn't want any incest in his house.
Given the twisty nature of this sort of romance, however, it's hard to tell if Taro doesn't want Natsu moving in on Kajitsu because he actually has feelings for her himself, but we'll just have to see if events unfold in such a fashion as the story progresses.
By the time that he first book ends, the group has a place to live, the three younger characters have a school to attend, and Kajitsu is learning that there may just be a hint of the old Natsu underneath his shiny new angsty exterior.
There's a lot of promise in Crossroad. At this point, the plot could really go anywhere, which is what makes this kind of tale as much fun as it always is. Not all readers find the concept of incest appealing, and knowing that the main characters aren't even related by blood eases the unsettling feeling that they get when they watch a brother and sister kiss. Think Star Wars before Luke found out Leia was his sister. As great as Episodes IV through VI were... Ew. This book uses the incest angle, but only to a small degree. The primary focus of the tale is showing a makeshift assembly of kids trying to turn their mixed-up lives into something resembling normality.
Of course, stories are always more fun when things don't go as planned -- at least for the readers. Here's to hoping that Kajitsu, Natsu, Taro and Satsuki enjoy the ride as much as we will!