This is (more or less) the story of how I went broke by buying Hotaru Odagiri’s The Betrayal Knows My Name, aka Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru, aka UraBoku. While there were a number of sites where I could
illegally read the series online, it’s not quite the same as holding the book in your hands. The English versions are packaged as omnibus editions, meaning the books are fairly large, more expensive than the typical one-volume manga, but they have such pretty, shiny covers and how can you not buy them. So, should you drop some cash on this series? Let’s find out!
Yuki Sakurai, our main character, was abandoned as a baby and hates feeling like he’s a burden to others. He wears a smile at the orphanage in which he resides, but inside he feels terribly lonely. On top of that, Yuki has strange dreams he can’t understand and the ability to “read the deepest secrets and darkest memories” of anyone he touches. Yuki falls in with a lad named Zess, who seems to know Yuki and is devoted to protecting him. Soon after, Yuki comes to meet the Giou clan, a group of people in a war against the necromancer Reiga. What follows is adventure, magic, friendship, family, and, of course, betrayals. Ultimately, this is a story of self-discovery, where Yuki aims to find out what his purpose in life is, what happened in his past, and whether he can find a place he belongs.
Main Characters – English Omnibus Volume 1
There are over 20 reoccurring characters, which gives you a pretty large pool to choose your favorite from. As an in-depth character analysis of everyone would take several pages, I’ll just touch on the main characters we meet in volume 1.
Yuki Sakurai comes with a lot of baggage. Baggage that is understandable – because he was abandoned as a baby, he feels that no one needs him and that he inconveniences others. This stops him from forming real connections (things that go past his façade) and convinces him that there’s no reason for him to be alive, or that the reason will remain hidden to him. To be honest, it gets a tad annoying hearing this because he says it every single chapter. BUT. But because this is a semi-bildungsroman story, we get to see whether these feelings are assuaged or confirmed. Partly because of this and partly because of Yuki’s naivety, Yuki initially comes off as weak to some of the other characters. As the story goes on, however, we get to see how Yuki’s belief in friendship and family provides him with an unshakeable core. It’s a nice twist on the typical “people who are too trusting will be hurt” shtick because while Yuki does get hurt (the word “betrayal” is in the title for a reason), his belief in his convictions and willingness to do anything for his loved ones make him possibly the strongest character in the series.
The first otherworldly creature we meet is Zess, whose real name is Luka. A demon by blood, Zess knew the previous Yuki who was a female (I’ll get to it later, but certain characters are reincarnated). Yuki is the most important person in Zess’s life – everything he does is for Yuki; nothing and no one else matters. Even if Yuki can’t remember or refuses to remember what exactly their relationship was in his past life, Zess is fine with that as long as he can stay by Yuki’s side. Zess comes off as a one-note character at first because he defines his existence by Yuki, but at the story goes on and his past is revealed to us, he becomes one of the more complex characters in the series.
Finally, we have Kanata Wakamiya, Yuki’s childhood friend from the orphanage they grew up in together. Kanata is a brother figure to Yuki whom Yuki deeply admires. He initially functions as an obstacle; after Yuki is given the chance to leave the orphanage (aka a chance to be his person, to help others, to not be a burden to the orphanage owners), Kanata appears to bring Yuki back. His role in the story becomes more important as time goes on.
The Giou Clan, or What the Point of the Manga Is
The Giou clan is a group of people “touched by God” – they all have special abilities to some degree. Within the clan is something called Zweilts, which are Giou clan members who fight Duras, demons that are called up by necromancers, with their abilities. The Zweilts always work in pairs and are reincarnated over and over so as to preserve their abilities. Because of this, Zweilts have hundreds of years of shared history between them, giving them an unshakable bond. To steal a line from BBC’s Merlin, Zweilt pairs are two sides of the same coin. We tend to see characters with seemingly completely opposite personalities paired together, and a large part of UraBoku is showing us how such opposites can work so harmoniously together. They all desperately need one another, and each pair has unique ways of showing that. To me, this is the selling point of the manga: what does it mean to need somebody, to be needed, to matter to someone? UraBoku explores this in terms of family, friendship, romance – three big relationships in life. Each Zweilt pair we meet shows us how the characters came to put complete trust in one other person.
The first pair of Zweilts we meet are Tooko and Tsukumo Murasame. These siblings are the closest to Yuki. Because these two have been together for so long, their relationship transcends typical sibling relationships. UraBoku hangs a lampshade on this occasionally – school girls consider fellow female Tooko a rival for her brother Tsukumo’s affections, fellow Zweilts remark on the fact that Tooko and Tsukumo sleep in the same bed, and the siblings express sadness at having never been married in a past life. To outsiders, their relationship resembles that of young lovers. And while this comes off as humorous due to other characters’ reactions, Tooko and Tsukumo see nothing wrong with the love they have for one another. Their relationship plays with the family and romantic aspects I mentioned earlier, and it’s our first indication that part of this manga’s goal is to show that there aren’t clear-cut lines between such categories.
The second Zweilt pair we meet are Hotsuma Renjou and Shuusei Usui. Whereas Tooko and Tsukumo get along seamlessly, Hotsuma and Shuusei have a tumultuous relationship. Although they’ve been each other’s support all their lives, they’re plagued with guilt for past actions where they’ve hurt one another. Hotsuma is rough on the outside whereas Shuusei is quiet, but both are extremely loyal. This pairing is probably the most beloved among the fandom because it’s clear that Shuusei harbors romantic feelings for Hotsuma and is terrified of losing him. Shuusei’s anguish mounts as the series continues, particularly because Hotsuma has no trouble telling Shuusei he needs him while Shuusei believes Yuki has taken his place in Hotsuma’s life. This pair plays on the friendship and romantic notions of mattering to someone.
Takashiro Giou is the head of the clan. He’s a necromancer who has been alive for hundreds of years. Unlike the Zweilts, he has never been reincarnated, meaning that he alone knows why the war with the Duras started (hint: there was a…dun dun dun…betrayal!). Takashiro is a master at wearing a mask; despite basically being the parent/caretaker/boss of a bunch of little Zweilts, he’s lonely and tired. However, when he is with people he cares for, he makes sure to step into the role that they need him to be at that moment, which most often is as an older brother for Yuki. His need for the Zweilts can be seen as selfish; he is the one who makes sure they are reincarnated, meaning he doesn’t give their spirits rest. He also states that he will willingly deceive Yuki and manipulate his powers if it means the war will end. Takashiro expresses guilt, but the series takes care to make you question whether his actions should be condemned when he has to watch the Zweilts die over and over and be there when they die so he can reincarnate them, and because he wants to end a war that would result in the destruction of the human world if lost.
The artwork is disgustingly gorgeous. I get mad just thinking about it. Part of the reason I picked this manga up was because I enjoyed Hotaru Odagiri’s artwork for Only the Ring Finger Knows. Well, that, and the fact that I am an impulsive book buyer. If you’ve read Ring Finger, you’ll see an overlapping of character designs between that and UraBoku. Unlike Kaori Yuki, who gives insanely detailed backgrounds on top of her detailed characters, Odagiri tends to forgo the environment in favor of the characters. They have beautiful faces, clothes that reflect their personality, and details (hair, glasses, eye size) to make sure you don’t get characters confused with others. Background scenes tend to be detailed when there’s some sort of destruction going on. It’s a refreshing change (for me) because as we’re forced to spend our time looking at the characters instead of buildings and such, we as readers learn to read the characters’ emotions. And not just the obvious ‘I’m smiling but I’m really hurting inside, as evidenced by my thoughts,’ but actual subtleties in how the characters feel. We don’t get the thoughts of every character, so when we do see them, we come to understand when they’re lying, being sincere, and how they really feel about something.
A 24-episode anime came out in 2010 and features a great cast of voice actors. First and foremost, you’ve got Akira Ishida, which automatically means things are going to be good. You’ve also got Souichirou Hoshi (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’s Keiichi Maebara) as Yuki, Daisuke Ono (Kuroshitsuji’s Sebastian Michaelis) as Hotsuma, Mamoru Miyano (DO I EVEN NEED TO SAY IT) as Shuusei Usui, and a lot more. Whenever a manga is adapted for the small screen, there are usually scenes that are colored stills from the manga. It’s basically like there’s an unmoving picture on screen while audio plays. UraBoku uses these quite a lot; the only other series I can think of that does it to this extent is the first season of Saiyuki. It’s a nice little treat for people who read the manga first because a lot of the more “famous” scenes get that treatment. Having a 24-episode run isn’t bad, but as I discussed last week, anime needs to cut out scenes and minor characters in order to have a focal point and tell a coherent story. Sadly, the Zweilt pairs bear this burden. We are shown scenes of why they trust one another, but because the series was focusing more on Yuki, these scenes are brief. But don’t let that put you off the anime; as I said, the voice acting is superb. There’s also plenty of manga left to read if you choose to watch the anime first, and the manga will fill in any missing details.
Should You Read It?
Yes. The plot itself – an everlasting war with demons – is nothing new. What makes this story work are the characters, or more importantly, how they find solace in one another in both the brightest and darkest times, or how they don’t. We see what happens when you threaten to take away or succeed in taking away another person’s strength. These characters come to us with their relationships already formed, and as time goes on, we learn how they came to be this way: what they went through, how they changed, why they turned to each other. And although their relationships seem static at first, things slowly start to change when Yuki comes into their lives. Speaking of Yuki, I’d say read the manga for him too. Although I really, really, really want to slap him every time he complains (much in the same way I get mad at Harry and Ron for complaining about their WIZARD HOMEWORK), the way he works to overcome his desire to not be a burden and how he deals with betrayals is admirable. And while I didn’t mention this at all in the previous paragraphs, there’s also a LOT of humor in this series. The main sources come from characters teasing the Giou clan, from Hotsuma’s general attitude, and from side comics featuring Odagiri as a rabbit speaking to her characters. This is a story about war, so there is violence and blood. It’s nothing that should put you off your tea though.
P.S. I started this entry off by saying that I went broke buying this series. I did. I bought the first three omnibus editions in one go >.<