chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)
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The set-up for this series is unnervingly close to that of its CLAMP stablemate, xxxHolic. We once again have the slightly timid, emotionally vulnerable teenaged boy who has lost his family and is now working for a mysterious shop owner who sends him on supernatural errands. But Kudo Kazahaya is a heckuva lot hotter-looking than Kimihiro Watanuki, and his nemesis/possible male love interest Himura Rikuo is even harder to avoid than Domeki is for Watanuki, because he boards upstairs at the shop along with Kazahaya. Finally, in place of space-time witch Yuuko and her mystical oddments store, we have the demure and lovely male owner of the Green Drugstore, Kakei, who is served by the hulking and hunky Saiga in place of Yuuko's bouncy little supernatural twins.

The Green Drugstore seems to be a thoroughly modern and ordinary place - the kind of establishment that sells everything from condoms to candy bars. At the end of vol. 3, I still have no idea why Kakei has such a connection with the supernatural, but it's pretty clear that he and Saiga are a couple - and frankly, to me, they're one of the major draws of the series. CLAMP has a lot of fun with unlikely role reversals in this pair: delicately beautiful, bespectacled Kakei and tall, threatening-looking Saiga, who wears his dark glasses even indoors and at night, look like they're made for a stereotypical uke-seme set-up - but Saiga is the one who cooks and sews, and Kakei is clearly calling the shots. Saiga otherwise spends most of his time asleep on the couch in Kakei's office, leading the naive Kazahaya to wonder why Kakei keeps him around - despite the fact that when Saiga is awake, he's frequently shown nuzzling Kakei's neck or wrapping his arms around him.

Both Kazahaya and Rikuo have mysterious pasts: Kazahaya can't remember parts of his history, and Rikuo won't talk about his. But clues keep surfacing as they run their errands for Kakei. The mangaka are being terrible teases with all of this - somehow, a number of the errands require Kazahaya to cross-dress - but it's all amusing and decorative enough to keep me interested. There is one major disappointment: the books have no notes of any kind about Japanese culture, not even the usual general information about honorifics and certainly nothing like xxxHolic's notes about Japanese customs and legends.

  Legal Drug, vols. 1-3 (review)

It looks like the mangaka expect us to consider Kakei to be a bit cruel in a catlike way - Saiga makes remarks about it from time to time - but after Yuuko, I am coming to expect all supernatural shopkeepers to be that way! Certainly Kakei has no intention of getting less than his money's worth out of the boys (he pays them a bonus for the successful completion of an errand) and doesn't hesitate to dock their pay for mistakes. He also seems to know a good deal about the boys' backgrounds - more than he's telling them - and what their psychic capabilities are.

So far, we've been shown that Kazahaya can channel someone else's memories and current senses: he can touch inanimate objects and view events that have happened to their owners, and hold someone's hand and see/hear what they are sensing. Both talents put him in embarrassing situations with Rikuo (at one point, sick with a fever, he has to hold hands with Rikuo to watch a movie through Rikuo's eyes because his own won't focus). He also tends to attract the attention of supernatural creatures. It's less obvious what powers Rikuo might have, but he seems resistant to supernatural influences that might affect normal people, and this, along with his size and strength, means that he spends a lot of time pulling Kazahaya out of danger. Rikuo also has odd, striking tattoos in various places on his body.

The third volume is different from the other two: instead of several incidents, we have one long story about Kakei's sending the boys to fetch an artifact at a boys' boarding school in the country. This gives the mangaka a chance to play with school story tropes - including boys getting crushes on each other ("because boys are horny!" as a seemingly innocent-looking bespectacled lad explains to an embarrassed Kazahaya). It also leads to a chance to put Kazahaya in a Chinese glamour girl outfit ... . The end of the book has a little addendum giving a few tantalizing crumbs of background for the situations of Kazahaya, Rikuo, and Kakei - although it certainly doesn't explain everything.

Thanks to fmanalyst for recommending this series!

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