Loveless, vols. 1-11

lovelessA victim of amnesia, twelve-year-old Ritsuka has no memories of the time before he was ten. Over the past two years, he’s become obsessed with “making memories” by taking photographs, as he has begun to fear that the person he was will come back and the person he is now will fade away. His mother only wants the little boy she remembers to return, and the physical and emotional abuse she heaps upon Ritsuka does nothing to help matters. His only happy memories are of his older brother Seimei, who protected him from their mother. But Seimei is dead – killed under mysterious circumstances. Determined to get revenge on his brother’s killers, Ritsuka begins looking for answers.

The trail leads to Soubi, a 20-year-old art student who knew Seimei. It is Soubi who leads Ritsuka into an unseen world of dueling spells and magic names. He reveals that Ritsuka, like his brother before him, is a Sacrifice – part of a matched pair of warriors who absorbs the damage dealt to his counterpart Fighter. Soubi then confesses that he was Seimei’s Fighter, and he now belongs to Ritsuka, body and soul!

Artistically, little stands out about Loveless. The character designs adhere to all the standard shojo tropes and there is little innovation in their execution. A larger problem is that too many of the characters look alike and it is difficult to identify specific characters visually. In terms of its script, Loveless is difficult to pin down in a single genre. There is plenty of drama involving serious issues, yet there is also a lot of comedy. It has battles like a fighting manga, but there is a far greater focus on the relationships between characters than there is on combat. The relationship between Ritsuka and Soubi could be the basis for a standard yaoi, were it not for the great difference in their ages and the lack of any direct sexual activity.

This last point is the only thing that keeps this series from crossing the line into pornography. After he is accused of being a pedophile, Soubi says outright that he will never do anything with Ritsuka until he is of legal age, and Ritsuka is largely resistant to having any kind of relationship with Soubi outside the connection to his brother’s past. Yet Soubi has no qualms about kissing the young boy, and Ritsuka comes to depend on Soubi as the only loving relationship he has left. The relationship may be purely chaste, but it is still confusing and off-putting.

Therein lies the vexing thing about Loveless. There is nothing in this series that would be considered obscene by most standards, yet there are numerous mature themes that put it beyond the grasp of its intended teen audience. There is no nudity or outright depiction of sexual activity, yet there is a good deal of bondage imagery and BDSM themes. For example, Soubi refers to Ritsuka as his Master and a common battle tactic for Fighters is to gag, collar, and chain Sacrifices in fetters of psychic force.

Ignoring the questionable content, there is another strange conflict at the heart of Loveless: much of the setting is woefully unexplained. For instance, humans in this reality possess cat ears and a cat tail until they lose their virginity. Why? Apparently for no reason other than it allows creator Yun Kouga the opportunity to draw cute catgirls and catboys. The fighting aspect of the series is also unexplored, and no reason is given for why these battle pairs exist and why they must fight.

Yet as shallow as the setting is, the series does not treat the subject of child abuse lightly. Indeed, the best drama in the series comes from Ritsuka’s conflicting feelings of love and hate towards his abusive mother and the disparity between the memories he has of his big brother and the reality of who Seimei was.

In the end, there is little to recommend Loveless. It is not badly written, but teen readers are unlikely to see the bigger picture and adults will question the seemingly gratuitous mature content in a series aimed at teens.

Loveless, vols. 1-11
by Yun Kouga
2-in-1 Vol. 1 (1&2) ISBN: 9781421549903
2-in-1 Vol. 2 (3&4) ISBN: 9781421549910
2-in-1 Vol. 3 (5&6) ISBN: 9781421549927
2-in-1 Vol. 4 (7&8) ISBN: 9781421549934
Vol. 9 ISBN: 9781421543246
Vol. 10 ISBN: 9781421543253
Vol. 11 ISBN: 9781421553818
Viz Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)

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