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Haou Airen
Synopsis | Review

I love Haou Airen. This manga can be actually kind of reading a trashy Hollywood novel when you know nobody's looking, but I like it anyway. Then again, I also like Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi... not that Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi are comparable to trashy Hollywood novels (that you would read in the closet or whatever), but you know what I mean. There's considerable fluff and drama involved. And in the case of this manga, there's a hell lot of fluff and drama (both related to sex) involved.

Haou Airen was created by Shinjo Mayu. It translates into "Supreme King of Lovers." That should already be a hint to what's yet to come. Yeah, like reading one of those romance novels with a picture of a couple in the throes of passion splashed all over the front cover. But I have Haou Airen anyway. And these's this entire webpage on it. Because despite its fixation on sex, it's still a good manga. It's one of those stories you'd put under your "guilty pleasure" literature. And besides, the name Haou Airen itself is pretty good. I think it sounds sexy. If it wasn't ecchi, I definitely wouldn't mind telling people I'm reading this series called Haou Airen. Sure, people around me are probably not as familiar with manga, but you can never tell with these things... This title was already licensed by Viz Communications and renamed Despotic Lover. That name still sounds kind of sexy (uh, I think?), but it's certainly a lot less mysterious because that's exactly what this manga is about.

Akino Kurumi is 17 years old, and she goes to school and works to support her sick mother and two younger brothers. She's your typical cheerful and slightly naive shoujo heroine. One day on her home from work, she runs into this mysterious guy in a regular jacket and jeans who immediately grabs her and pulls her into a secluded area. She initially notices a black dragon imprinted around the edge of the guy's left eye, by his temple. I think she must have also realized how hot he is. Thinking she was being mugged or abducted (which was very astute of her), she started to struggle against him. Being a shoujo manga, the mysterious guy kisses her to shut her up and threatened to do worse things if she doesn't comply. With this, she fell silent. A few moments later, they heard a gaggle of men stomp past their hiding place. Kurumi realized that these people were looking for the guy she's with, and she was torn between calling for help and staying silent to keep this mysterious stranger safe. She opted to do the latter.

When the men were gone, the mysterious guy released her, but she then found that he was bleeding from a deep wound to his arm. Forgetting that this was a stranger who kissed her two seconds after they first ran into each other, she took him to her family's house and tended to his wounds. There she found out his name is Hakuron, which sounded pretty fancy to her. At the onset, Hakuron was already very familiar around her, which kind of unsettled her and drew her to him at the same time. That was why he subsequently managed to drug her and leave by the time she woke up.

Kurumi was still curious about Hakuron, but soon moves on with her life because she knew she would probably never see him again. But the day after the incident, she was leaving school to head for work when she and her friends spotted an expensive foreign car parked at the school entrance. Several men in dark suits emerged from the car, seized her, and stuffed her in it. When she tried to fight them, they drugged her so that she fell asleep. Yeah. Again.

Passers-by around them thought the men in dark suits were probably loan sharks and readers won't be seeing this aspect of Kurumi's life for a while. When Kurumi came to, she was in a plane and sitting in front of Hakuron, only this time he was wearing a dark suit (he was also wearing this leopard-print shirt under it, but I prefer to overlook that minor irritating detail). They were on their way to Hong Kong, where a reception would be held in Kurumi's honor. She had unwittingly saved the head of the Dragon Lord association, also known as the Hong Kong mafia.

Essentially, Hakuron abducted Kurumi, took her to Hong Kong, and made her his lover. The thing is, this is a shoujo manga. Hence, it won't be complete without a cast of characters trying to tear them apart, such as other underground organizations, jilted lovers, and embittered henchmen. Oh yeah, and Hakuron. He was so obssessed with Kurumi, which made all these other obstacles possible. Obssession + powerful, ruthless underground lord = an incredibly sexy tyrant. Huh? You just have to read it to understand. This manga consists of nine volumes.

Hakuron's hot. That just made everything so much better than it actually is. If you're not into hot, forceful bishounen with worldly desires, that may be a big problem. Of course, you then won't be as traumatized when you find out what happens in the end.

Okay, fine, there's actually not much of a story. It all revolves around sex. And if it's not about sex, it can be pretty inane. I must admit I rolled my eyes when I found out that Hakuron's only 18 years old and still goes to a high school where he simply lords over everbody else, including the administrators and the teachers. I also rolled my eyes when I read about how smart he was that he didn't have to go to class and instead hangs out in a hidden study in the library, where he tends to business. Seems Shinjo just had to incorporate a school atmosphere where Hakuron and Kurumi are both involved. The whole school thing just fell away after the initial chapters, though. But even then, there's still some substance to the main characters. Hakuron's intense (did I mention he's hot?), ambitious, and passionate. And he carried a lot of inner demons with him. Kurumi had less substance compared to him, unfortunately. She probably never had inner demons until she met him. She's really disturbingly small alongside Hakuron. I still wonder from time to time what happened to her family back in Japan. I was really intrigued with Fuoron, one of Hakuron's henchmen who cross-dresses and was in love with Kurumi also. Kind of reminds me of Nuriko, only Nuriko wasn't as perverted. The two of them actually look similar, actually, if you put Fuoron alongside a Nuriko dressed as a guy with his hair in a braid.

Parting shot: If you fanatically like wholesome stories and plots with considerable depth, this manga is not for you. If you're the type who appreciates stuff that can give you guilty pleasure, then go ahead and check this out. If you have a guilty pleasure library but must have happy endings, you need to think this over carefully. This is one of those stories where I really wish there's a sequel.

Update: Okay, after the masses found what happened at the end of Haou Airen, there was chaos and pandemonium at her publisher's office. Haou Airen also has drama CDs released while the manga is still running. Due to public demand when the series ended, there is now a drama CD that has an alternate ending. Yay!

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