“This has been going on for over a hundred years,” Elva to Letty. “Isn’t it about time we got some answers?”
Village boy Alto is just a child when he first witnesses the white-haired kannagi Elva protecting the village, fighting off the terrifying monsters that emerge from the Black Sea at night. Fascinated, Alto tries to learn more about the young battle shaman who leads a solitary life in a cabin on the clifftop – and he discovers that the creeping black stains discolouring Elva’s hands and body are the outward signs that his life is ebbing away; all kannagi die young. This only makes Alto all the more determined to find a way to save Elva’s life and even though Elva tries to turn him away, he moves in. He’s persistent – and over the eight ensuing years in which he grows into a tall, strong young man, his presence seems to be having a beneficial effect on Elva, even making the black marks fade. Letty and Konoe, the representatives from the Monastery where the kannagi receive their training, note with surprise the slow disappearance of the black stains on Elva’s body and wonder whether it’s Alto’s constant presence that causes the reversal. Alto also seems to be unaffected by contact with the waters of the Black Sea.
Alto is very skilled with his hands (he carves a little dog for Elva “Think of that dog as me” to keep him company while he’s away) and has found work with the village blacksmith. When a team of workmen are summoned to carry out repairs at the Monastery, he eagerly volunteers to go along, hoping to find out more about where Elva received his training. But he’s disappointed as the sisters at the Monastery forbid the workmen from going to see the kannagi-in-training – and only by chance does he briefly meet with two white-haired children who closely resemble Elva. After this, Alto begins to doubt everything he’s been told about the kannagi and the monsters in the Black Sea – but an unexpected encounter on the workmen’s journey back to the village will have far-reaching consequences for Alto and his community.
The proof that an author or mangaka is skilled at story-telling is when you find you’ve been turning the pages and absorbing what’s happening without having to stop and ask questions all the time. Ichika Yuno is one of those rare, gifted storytellers who uses their art to make the fantasy they’re weaving in Lullaby of the Dawn original and intriguing. The choices they’ve made move the story smoothly along, drawing the reader in because of their connection to the characters – but without having to stop to download info-dumps. It’s a great skill and in these days where fantasy (and isekai) manga dominate the shelves, it’s one I really appreciate as so many other series don’t display this level of imagination and facility. This BL manga won the 2022 ChillChill Best BL Comic award and, even though it seems to be the mangaka’s first full-length work to be published (their background is in doujinshi) their command of the medium is genuinely impressive.
Even though this is a Boys’ Love manga, there are no scenes of a sexual nature (hence the OT rating). However, there’s no doubting the fact that Alto cares very deeply for Elva and it’s not difficult to see which way the mangaka is steering the narrative; establishing the groundwork for their relationship to deepen and change is done with care and subtlety.
Lullaby of the Dawn takes place in a vaguely middle-European pre-industrial setting (the Monastery looks just like many of the medieval period with nuns wearing traditional habits). The soldiers that appear later on and the lord of the manor, however, wear clothes that bring to mind early nineteenth century Europe. Ichika Yuno’s character designs are striking and the white-haired kannagi are portrayed as both beautiful, yet somehow ‘other’.
So all praise to Tokyopop for bringing us Lullaby of the Dawn as part of their LoveLove LGBT+ manga list; it’s out in e-book format first with the paperback edition following in November 2023. The translation is by Riley Keenan and makes for a fluent reading experience.
There’s a one-page amusing bonus comic at the end entitled: The Room Where You Cannot Leave Until You Say One Hundred Things You Like About Your Partner. Volume 2 is already available in e-book format, with Volume 3 following in December 2023; the series in ongoing in Japan, with Volume 4 already available. Recommended for fantasy fans and for BL fans who enjoy a slow-burn romance!