Her Majesty's Dog Vol. 1
Most (well, three) of Go! Comi's launch lineup happen to be romances. While Tenshi Ja Nai!! and Crossroad are more traditional romantic comedies, Her Majesty's Dog (known as Jyou-sama no Inu in Japan) is a little different. Granted, the book still contains romance and comedy, and it does feature high school students as primary protagonists, but it also adds a strong supernatural element to the recipe. It may not be the first series to do this (ahem - Inu Yasha), but it does it well.
The heroes of the tale are introduced as an eerily quiet transfer student and her boyfriend - both of whom have a relationship notable for its blatant (and frequent) public displays of affection. Yet (I sense the establishment of a theme), looks can be deceiving. In truth, Amane is a manatsukai. A manatsukai is a particular flavor of psychic warrior who has the ability to draw upon the power of true names. Amane is the latest in a long line of psychics, and her "boyfriend" Hyoue is, in truth, her own personal 500-year-old koma-oni - a guardian demon. Most people at their school see Amane as nothing more than a snobby ice-queen and Hyoue as a good-looking but unsettlingly intense guy.
This is, of course, precisely the way they want people to see them. Amane was granted the right to leave her small home village on the condition that no one in the outside world discover the truth of her supernatural heritage. With all of the spiritual activity Amane is running into, however, it's going to prove hard.
Hyoue survives by consuming human life-energy, but he is bound by morals and ethics as much as any human. He feeds by kissing Amane on the lips, and though he claims it helps them maintain their cover as average students, there is certainly a bit of romance between the two. It has not yet developed into anything on par with what one might find in Inu-Yasha, but to Amane, he is clearly more than your typical inugami (dog demon). Well, assuming that you encounter such beings on a regular basis, that is.
While he assumes the form of a human most of the time, he is at his most powerful when he takes on his full demon form. As a demon, Hyoue is a massive ghostly creature adorned with sharp horns and surrounded by a fiery aura. When in human guise, however, he's pretty darn good looking for a guy who's pushing five centuries of age.
This fact causes no small amount of friction between him and Amane's cousin, Hayato, who shows up in the middle of the book. He manages to secure a position as a teacher in their school, and his open scorn for Hayato is evident from the moment they first meet each other in the manga. Hayato wants Amane to return to their village, but more than that, he wants her to not treat Hyoue as anything more than a guardian spirit.
Just wait until he sees how she feeds him...
High school ghost hunters are nothing new in manga, but Mick Takeuchi's artwork is delicate, and her characters are interesting enough to overcome any criticism of unoriginality the series may face. There's more than pretty boys and girls in Her Majesty's Dog, however. She also has a fair hand for rendering some creepy monsters - like a headless canine spirit haunting a nearby park. From the beginning, there's a bit of a monster of the week feeling to the story, but seeing as Takeuchi's monsters tend to be pretty cool, I'd be satisfied with that for a while.
As with every other Go! Comi release so far, the English adaptation of the book is very nice. The book's original source material was used to produce this edition (as opposed to scanning and editing printed editions of the Japanese version), and it shows in the clarity and cleanliness of the visuals. Sound effects are handled gracefully, with the inclusion of small translations off to the side so as to not disrupt the original artwork. More importantly than anything, it doesn't read as if it was written for a teenager. Instead, it sounds natural and makes grammatical sense. Sure, some of the characters in the book sound like teenagers, but then, they're supposed to.
While elements of Her Majesty's Dog will seem familiar to any hardcore manga fan, the book's presentation and content is worth visiting familiar territory to see how Mick Takeuchi handles the supernatural genre. Her style is less Rumiko Takahashi's and more Junji Ito's (of Uzumaki fame), though Takeuchi's style is not nearly as disturbing as Ito's. But then, I can't think of much that out-disturbs Junji Ito's work.
This represents the skillful combination of an average love story, an above average ghost-hunting story, and an entertaining high school drama. As a story blending three such genres successfully, it's worth checking out.