It’s been while since I dug into a Josei title. Those are series that are aimed towards women, sort of like how Seinen is for men. The title in question for today? Kakuriyo, a manga adaptation of a light novel series that has a touch of Spirited Away in its veins. Is it good?
According to Amazon’s description online:
Aoi Tsubaki inherited her grandfather’s ability to see spirits–and his massive debt to them! Now she’s been kidnapped and taken to Kakuriyo, the spirit world, to make good on his bill. Her options: marry the head of the inn her grandfather trashed, or get eaten by ayakashi. But Aoi isn’t the type to let spirits push her around, and she’s determined to redeem her grandfather’s IOU on her own terms!
Aoi wants to work off her debt to the Tenjin-ya inn, but she only has one day to find a position and none of the managers are willing to hire a human! If she can just get someone to see past her family background, Aoi is certain she can prove her worth!
The Initial Reaction
Outside of All My Darling Daughters (which I reviewed a long time ago) and Ooku: The Inner Chambers, both of which are by Fumi Yoshinaga, I don’t often venture into the Josei genre of manga. I’ve tried in the past, but the writing usually has this unique tone and style around it that makes it harder to penetrate. None of it is bad per se, but it’s definitely in a whole different genre and style that doesn’t resonate as well with me.
Kakuriyo is definitely one of the better and more enjoyable experiences with Josei I’ve encountered. It has a very strong female protagonist, one that feels believable and also very likable. Its cast of characters are fun and villainous in the right ways and while the story definitely feels familiar in some aspects, it comes together into a very engaging opening. By the end of the first volume I was hooked and wanted more right away. I cannot remember the last time I thought that, especially when dealing with a light novel adaptation.
As a light novel adaptation, Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits is probably one of the better ones I’ve read. Again, I haven’t read the source material, but you usually get a feeling for how manga adaptations of books turn out. Very fast-paced, exposition-heavy, certain moments lack potency, and the artwork feels less grand than the source material makes it out to be. While there are certainly some of these issues present in the manga, like the pacing early on, this is definitely a more engaging read than I’m used to.
While the first volume is primarily about setup and establishing things, the story here still really clicks. Aoi Tsubaki is a woman who discovers she was bartered away as payment for the sins of her grandfather long before she ever born. Now she either must pay off his debt, one her grandfather cannot after passing, or marry the owner of Tenjin-ya Inn, the ogre known as Odanna. It’s a story setup similar to many others out there, like Spirited Away for one example.
But, it has its own differences and points to make it work. A big point is that this is also a food junkie manga, like Food Wars! or Oishinbo. Aoi is an experienced, or at least amateurish chef, able to cook food and describe it and what she eats in incredible detail. While we don’t see it, the story does lean into the fact that this will be her ticket out of Kakuriyo: serving food and competing with the inn itself, whom’s menu has gone unchanged for a very long time. It also ties into the manga’s big theme of hunger and the pain of it hurting others. It defines Aoi, how the demons live, and how this whole situation got kicked off in the first place.
And that’s a good point to switch into the characters themselves. Our main protagonist is Aoi, a woman trapped in a bad situation. She was raised by her grandfather after her mother abandoned her in an orphanage, hating that she could see spirits. She loved him, even though he wasn’t exactly a great person (half the people who come to his funeral are just there to rag on him). Even after the truth comes out about him, she still cannot bare to hate him. He was the only person who ever really cared about her, even saving up to send her to college. Though, given that her fate was decided when he was younger and with him saving up money for her to go to college, his view on their relationship may be more complex than you would think.
Aoi is easily frustrated by things that push her buttons, but she usually expresses her feelings instead of holding them in. She doesn’t usually take much crap and will stand up for herself. However, she also knows when to hold her tongue and try not to push buttons. She is very knowledgeable about demons and keenly aware of her situation, remaining careful about when to speak out or not. It could be very easy for the creator to write a character that’s always assertive and forceful, not taking any awful situation lying down. But the writing around Aoi is very careful and deliberate, showing her as someone who’s immature at times but still wise and mature enough to handle issues that comes her way. She has a long way to go to escape her situation but the writing has presented a character that I want to follow, learn more about and see how they overcome their situations. This is definitely one of the better female leads in a Shojo or Josei title I’ve seen in a while.
Our supporting cast is made up of the various figures that work and live at Tenjin-ya Inn. Only two of them really stand out, so we’ll focus on them: Odanna and Ginji, a nine-tailed fox. Odanna is the ogre owner of the inn, one of the most powerful beings of the land as well. His fellow demons love and adore him, but he’s not exactly a nice person to Aoi. He mostly sees her as a collateral to a debt that needs paying, a trophy to have since human women are prizes to demons, and symbolic in a way. He so wants to please her and make her his own, but her “disrespect” to being kidnapped and forced to marry him really sets him off. He makes no effort to really try and help her, even leaving her to her own fate whether she be killed or eaten or whatever. He almost has this air of entitlement to him, just expecting her to submit to him since everyone kind of does. There may be extra layers to the guy, but for now he’s not someone you’ll really like.
Ginji is the opposite. A higher ranked member of the inn, he is nothing but kind to Aoi, feeding and offering her shelter. He’s very nice and informative, explaining all the history and rules around the place she’s stuck in so she can be aware of her situation. That’s mostly it for him, at least on the surface. One aspect of Aoi’s personality is that she cannot stand to see others hungry, seeing it as a terrible fate to befall anyone. It stems from childhood trauma she experienced when a demon stepped in to help and feed her. It changed her and her view on life. Given how Ginji reacts when the story is brought up or when she asks why he’s so kind, the implication is that he is the demon that helped her. However, he also seems to be dodging around that fact or indirectly answering her, suggesting that there’s more to this story than we know. While kind of bland, Ginji’s likability and the mystery around him has my attention.
Writing-wise, the manga is pretty good but flawed. Like previously mentioned, the pacing can be a little weird at times. For instance, it moves fairly quickly in the first two chapters before dialing it back for a slower, more considerate pace for the rest of the book. That’s mostly due to the other chapters really taking their time dealing out tons upon tons of exposition to explain this world and how it works. It’s not necessarily clunky or poorly integrated, but more that it could have been spread out a little better for a more even pace.
Otherwise, there’s more positives than negatives. The character writing is pretty good, with everyone being fairly distinct and interesting even if they don’t currently get much attention or focus. The dialogue is fairly enjoyable, allowing for some good exchanges and moments between the characters. The exposition isn’t badly delivered, though, like with Food Wars!, when the manga does get into the nitty-gritty details of food-making, it can be a little stiff. The book flows well from scene to scene, with no awkward transitions and everything transpiring rather naturally. The food angle adds an interesting dynamic to the series to help it stand amongst other romance titles that use similar plot elements as well.
Then there’s the artwork, which does a pretty decent job bringing this light novel to life. The characters are all decently designed and mostly distinguishable, though male characters tend to look a tad too similar in the face department. Everyone is fairly emotive and expressive, really capturing some powerful, intense emotional moments, such as the final pages or Aoi thinking, “Hunger is a miserable thing.” The layouts are well-constructed and flow together pretty smoothly outside of one or two hiccups. The art style is fairly similar to other Shojo-style series out there, but it has a Shonen-ish feel with some more dynamic line work and energy in spots. Overall the art is rather visually appealing and serves the story well.
Is It Good?
Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits Vol. 1 is a fairly engaging, solid start that hooks you in with a familiar but uniquely done plot and cast of characters. While the groundwork has only just been laid out, its strong lead and interesting focus on cooking definitely leave me hungry for more out of the series. If you’re looking to try a Josei title, a romance title, or maybe even something focused on food now that Food Wars! is gone, Kakuriyo is something worth trying.