籠の中の禁愛飼育 (Kago no Naka no Kinai Shiiku)
Josei – Historical, romance, smut
3 Chapters (complete)
Suzu comes to the city to earn money for a family, but she discovers Tokyo can be a dangerous place. Injured and frightened, she collapses outside the Hanabusa mansion. The heir, Kaname, decides to take Suzu in, but does he see her as a pet, a charge, or something else?
Warning: this review is of a series that is recommended for ages 18+ and is not safe for work!
Bird-in-a-cage Lover is set approximately in the Taisho era. Phones exist, and Western influences are more common but still not everywhere. Suzu comes to Tokyo to make money, and after nearly being raped, she is taken in by Kaname.
First, I was pleasantly surprised to see Kaname change before the final chapter. The summary does paint him in a positive light — after all, he takes in a poor, injured stranger. But Kaname calls Suzu his “cat” (ironic considering the title), which involves giving her baths and having his hands roam all over her body. Then he says he’s not interested in her because she’s a kid. This brings up all kinds of icky connotations, so thank goodness he doesn’t wait until the very end to discover he likes Suzu romantically. He also takes time to recommend books at Suzu’s reading level, so she isn’t just his plaything. So while Kaname’s behavior is possessive and creepy in a real-world sense, compared to a lot of these manga I’m reviewing, I do believe Kaname actually loves Suzu.
Suzu, on the other hand, is the definition of the sweet, naive female lead. She heads off to the big city aiming to support her family in place of her sick father, and she works hard with her maid duties and in learning how to read. She doesn’t snitch on the other maids who are jealous of her, and she decides to sacrifice her (and Kaname’s) happiness to protect her town. When Kaname mentions he has a fiancee, she gives a speech about how unfair it is for him to not marry the one he loves. She’s the type of heroine who has no real flaws outside of girlish jealousy and not actually talking about being blackmailed to her lover.
Yes, surprisingly, the male lead isn’t the one blackmailing the heroine. This makes Bird-in-a-cage Lover have more of a plot than just “how many times will they do it today”. If anything, Bird-in-a-cage Lover is almost like a soap opera: lots of lies, schemes, and sexual tension. Yes, like many of these melodrama-filled stories, the manga features a high number of criminal and/or antagonistic characters. Suzu does gain at least one ally though, so it’s nice that not everyone but Kaname hates her for gaining his attention. Of course, the situations Suzu gets herself in are a little ridiculous, but all manga is ridiculous in at least one way. Plus, since this is a historical manga, that makes some of the problematic parts (love, sex, and otherwise) more believable.
The art — particular Kaname — first reminded me of the character designer of Uta no Prince-sama, but it didn’t seem to quite fit. Then it came to me: if Kurihara and the Final Fantasy /Kingdom Hearts series’ Nomura had a child who could draw, it would something like this. (Minus belt buckles, in case you were wondering.) Sure, lots of artists draw characters with sharp eyes and spikey or layered hair, but both have a spark that makes their art beloved by fans, and Chihana has a similar technique. The historical influences are perhaps not as strong as I would liked. Kaname’s fiancee’s dress seems rather short for the early 1900s, but I’m no fashionista, so perhaps I’m just misinformed about styles back then. Kaname is also rich, but his place doesn’t look that elaborate even for a Western-style mansion. However, I do like Chihana’s style, and I would gladly check out any of her other art.
Bird-in-a-cage Lover is better than I was expecting thanks to it having a real story. An improbable, often eyerolling story, but a story all the same. Plus I was also surprised Suzu doesn’t spend her whole time chained up. For supposedly being a bird in a cage, she has a surprising amount of freedom.
Chihana’s The Forged Night With A Sadistic Serviceman and My First Time was with My Boyfriend’s Little Brother are also published by Manga Reborn.