Ako Mizushiro is a quiet, shy high school girl living with her parents and younger brother. A serial killer is stalking entire neighborhoods in her town, but like most people, she assumes that he will always strike at someone else. Unfortunately, she's “someone else” to other people, and one day she comes home to find her parents dead. A handsome young man in black saying that he needs more blood attacks her...and three days later she awakes in his apartment. He tells her that she is a monster now and belongs to him...Ako Mizushiro is a quiet, shy high school girl living with her parents and younger brother. A serial killer is stalking entire neighborhoods in her town, but like most people, she assumes that he will always strike at someone else. Unfortunately, she's “someone else” to other people, and one day she comes home to find her parents dead. A handsome young man in black saying that he needs more blood attacks her...and three days later she awakes in his apartment. He tells her that she is a monster now and belongs to him...
“Dizziness,” read the opening lines, “Intoxication...rapture...falling from grace...and most of all – so much that one cannot help but moan and writhe – pleasure.” Welcome to Lovephobia, Kokoro Natsume's supernatural tale of vampires and a pair of unsuspecting siblings who become entangled with them. Despite the title, this is more of a horror story with an erotic twist than a romance, and fans of Laurell K. Hamilton should feel right at home. But readers looking for another Vampire Knight or Twilight knockoff should steer clear, unless you're ready for a story with a much higher sex factor that isn't shy about the predatory nature of vampires in terms of both food and pleasure.
After the opening lines quoted above, Lovephobia seems to take a turn for the mundane. Ako wakes up having fallen out of bed and younger brother Yuuya comes to get her downstairs for breakfast. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Yuuya is a bit overfond of his sister (awkwardly translated as “Big Sister Ako” by the otherwise fluid DMP), and even his parents have noticed. They don't seem too upset, though, as they are more taken up with the ongoing story of the serial killer who wipes out entire neighborhoods. Ako's best friend, however, engages in a pissing match with Yuuya over who has more of a claim on Ako's affections, and she seems to find his attachment to his sister a bit over the top. These everyday scenes don't last long, however, as within twelve pages Ako is walking home alone only to discover that the killer has struck her neighborhood. She runs home to find her parents dead...and a handsome young man in black lurking about. He throws himself on her, and the next thing she knows, it's three days later, she's in a strange bed, and she's really, really thirsty. The young man is there, and he tells her that his name is Kou and that she is now his. Unwilling to believe him, Kou proves his point by hypnotizing Ako and sending her out to seduce young men for their blood.
The story, as you can see, goes from awkward to outright upsetting. Kou is not shy about the fact that he controls Ako, and she comments several times how alarmed she is that she cannot control her own body. When she goes out on the town in search of blood, Kou dresses her like a streetwalker, and within moments she is engaged in a menage a trois with two guys she picked up on a corner. Natsume delights in detailing the sexual aspects of vampirism, which is largely due to the penetration aspect of teeth-to-neck, and the scenes leave sensuality behind in favor of flat-out sexual imagery. In some ways, this is a very good move on Natsume's part, as it highlights that this is a non consensual act for Ako. Any sensual components would have indicated some enjoyment for her, and it is clear that that is not the case. In fact, the sensuality is reserved for when Kou is feeding off of her, and even then it is clear to see that Ako's libido is overriding her sense of self. It isn't strictly a rape metaphor, but it is still a bit uncomfortable.
In her afterword, Natsume says that she is planning to push the boundaries of the publishing code with this series, and since she wrote that in 2010 and none of the sexual characters are underage, things could get pretty explicit. Yuuya, who returns later in the volume, retains his unhealthy attachment to his sister, and it looks like there could be an out-and-out war between he and Kou for Ako's affections, a possibility bolstered by the fact that DMP specifically mentions “sibling love and shocking seduction” right on the back of the book. What keeps this volume from falling into the morass of creepy shoujo manga is that Kokoro Natsume does it well. It isn't high art, or even a real standout in the supernatural genre, but this story pulls you in and leaves you wanting the next installment. It's uncomfortable, disturbing, and sometimes leaves you wanting a very hot shower, but despite itself, Lovephobia sinks its fangs in and doesn't let go.
As mentioned before, DMP has done a fine job with their translation for this volume with natural sounding dialogue and good word choices for the terms specific to vampire culture. Natsume's art isn't perfect – profiles can be a bit off, and she's not great with interesting angles – but the artwork has a dark quality that matches the mood of the writing very well. Her use of webbed rose vines as a motif is very effective, as if the world of the story was inhabited by spiders that can spin thorns. (The use of spider lilies also adds to that effect.) Some readers may find her use of tone excessive, but she doesn't use too many conflicting patterns, so it shouldn't be an issue for most.
Overall, Lovephobia is a dark, twisted tale of a girl's journey into the world of the supernatural. It is by turns disturbing, sexual, and alarming with some sections being a combination of the three. The result is a story that it is hard to put down no matter how much you may want to, so be warned – if this is not a world you want to visit, don't crack the cover. Otherwise you may find yourself craving more.