Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: Nald Tabuzo’s Black Blood
edited by Gabby
Published on July 2018 under Precious Pages Corporation’s Black Ink imprint, a komiks revival effort that also takes cues from Japanese popular culture, Nald Tabuzo’s Black Blood is a refreshing Filipino take on the Japanese light novel.
When I found the Black Ink website explicitly stating the term “light novel” in a way that meant that they also have the willingness to sell such things, I had a feeling that I was going to have more fun than I thought, especially with the attempts at inspired originals filling the absence of official Filipino translations of Japanese light novels. And while one-shots dominate their catalog, they work more to the imprint’s benefit, as we have more than enough regularly pandering extensions on TV and painfully irregular serials even within Black Ink itself.
But how can one define a light novel? If one considers the trends in Japan, then the traditional light novel is a usually volume serial format that is very oriented towards male readers. More often than not, the protagonist would be a first-person everyman showing off his powers as the plot requires, and he would also be surrounded by women who satisfy the male gaze in borderline stereotypical variations, often being the subject of the occasional illustrations not only on the cover but also within the body of the book. And if you think those dude protagonists are macho, well, perhaps they can have a bit of that, but overall, they’re soft and pretty boys. Classics include The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Shakugan no Shana, The Familiar of Zero, Toradora!, and Sword Art Online. Their anime adaptations also tend to cause their breakouts into more general knowledge, comparable to how iconic Western novels tend to gain fame through film adaptations. And if you’re wondering about whether some of the weirder anime you may or may not have watched before also started out as light novels, then examples can be found in My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute!, High School DxD, Bakemonogatari, Infinite Stratos, Toradora!, and Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! Out of all the examples I gave, I personally find Toradora! and KonoSuba remotely worth my time now, though I can’t deny that I grew up with most of these. I can see sense in Toradora! having had a dub here with all its family and personal stories along with the romantic comedy, though on the other hand, I wonder how isekai parodies have any relevance in this country where the supernatural or the otherworld can seriously be considered a next-door neighbor.
Still, even with such a tradition, I think the light novel form can make a killing here in the Philippines, especially in Filipino, if one considers how light novels are supposed to be written in more everyday language. Meanwhile, Black Blood went above and beyond. Published on July 2018 under Precious Pages Corporation’s Black Ink imprint, a komiks revival effort that also takes cues from Japanese popular culture, Nald Tabuzo’s Black Blood is a refreshing Filipino take on the Japanese light novel. And as far as his history with the imprint is concerned, this is his first light novel. This is also a break from his comic book writing, which includes standalones (such as X.O. – The Fighting Senadora and Drift), Precious Hearts Romances adaptations (such as An Encounter to Love and Blue Nights), and Shortcuts anthology entries (such as “Chichiru” and “The Rocker and the Balladeer”).
But how does Black Blood measure up to the Japanese tradition? Joshua “Juice” Manansala is the pretty boy ace everyman protagonist, and he is mainly characterized by how much power he acquires, pretty ladies included. His traditional Japanese light novel protagonist character is also adjusted into a Philippine form through his professed playboy machismo, which is easily shown through the language. And of course, the insert illustrations mostly show off his ladies. If the M rating concerns you, then you should also remember that the classics that inspired it makes that rating unsurprising.
So how exactly did Black Blood go above and beyond? On top of all the ways is how it both respects and challenges the whole Japanese tradition by turning Josh and his story into a defiance against how women are traditionally used as a part of the light novel hero’s power acquisition and showoff. To be more exact about it: Whenever he should get the ladies, his sex appeal comes in as a curse. One can say that the story is moralizing about sexuality because of how all the girls Josh tries to have sex with turn into literal monsters until he creates enough physical distance between them, but that’s balanced out by how it doesn’t even bother to show him finding his true love at the end of the story, which had also been preceded by his first love, Ivy Rodriguez, leaving as she takes the initiative to start her own life over again on her own terms. What remains in the end is Josh’s very own power: Black Blood. Women certainly led Juice to acquiring that, but they led as humans, not objects.
Among the essential parts of Josh’s development are his five major breakups. The first breakup was with Nini, who reflected Josh’s strong yet casual interest in the opposite sex but stood out on her own as a girl putting on airs while trying to move on from a failed relationship. The second breakup was with Ella Guinto, who exposed Josh’s worst failures as a man while being the most accepting of his weirdness. The third breakup was with Danix, whom Josh was similar with in terms of engaging in risky behavior yet different in terms of realizing the need to quit the bad habits. The fourth breakup was with Nerissa, who would’ve been a convenient tool for Josh had he not had his curse. And the fifth breakup was with Ivy, the book-ending older sister figure of Josh’s story.
Another essential woman in Juice’s development is Sylvia, Josh’s twice-widowed human mother. She truly cares for her son with great faith, never giving up despite the suffering caused by her past associations with a lust demon during her time at the convent, her losses of past husbands as Josh grew up, and her struggles to raise her son as pure as he should be despite his demonic blood. It even shows in how she went back home as quickly as she could from her overseas work when news of Danix’s transformation broke out, along with telling her son the truth about his demonic heritage as he was trying to figure it all out. Her reunion with Juice complements his five major breakups very well.
All that makes the scene that shows Josh awakening to what’s practically his Devil Trigger even more powerful. He’s not much like a Son of Sparda, not with his absent and actually malevolent demon father and his present and very caring human mother, but what activates his titular demonic projection is the desire to just go back to a normal life, even if it means accepting how twisted he is. Looking back at how Devil May Cry protagonists Dante and Nero awakened their Devil Triggers and their higher forms, the main driving forces of those weren’t pressured convictions toward saving the world or doing anything ambitious like that, but pressured convictions toward caring for loved ones well and better and best despite how broken they are. Josh isn’t as badass and stylish as those two, but the convictions that push his DT of sorts to activate are very similar in scale, even down to the reduced focus on romance.
Meanwhile, the kontrabida, the rich and unhinged collector Brice Mercado, is pretty much an ordinary villain thanks to all that corrupt rich guy characterization ringing Humans Are The Real Monsters, but on the other hand, he’s also strange enough to be similar to Josh in character, from immaturity to potential, making an actually human villain. After all, both Brice and Josh have made women suffer through arrogant mindsets and decisions, though at the same time, they have at least one shred of honor on them, especially considering how Brice fulfilled his promise to give money to Ivy, who had also been married to Brice, and let her leave him after she allowed him to beat her up one last time. Even as Brice seems deserving of his death by Black Blood, it also seems pathetic while right beside the fact that Juice consciously used his very own power for the very first time. In other words, both are noobs needing more guidance, and Josh was just lucky enough to keep existing on earth. Where will Brice and Josh go next? Who knows? #TiwalaLang
With all that considered, the M rating doesn’t feel solely negative anymore. Josh still doesn’t fully know what healthy sexuality truly means yet by the end of the novel, but the answers to questions about that have already been made clear in the story, leaving the choice to be better to Josh and, by extension, the reader. Funnily enough, Catholic-influenced Filipino culture manifests well in Black Blood, with Sylvia’s talk with Josh and Ivy’s inspirational exit as the most shining examples of that in terms of moments. I’d even say that Black Blood is a respectful step up from Japanese works like the Devil May Cry video game series, which also feature fascinating part-demon heroes. Why feel insecure about always being under the foreigners we highly respect when there’s a piece of proof that we can actually rival and even inspire them as well?
And I would’ve ripped Alvin Bragais a new one for his questionable illustration quality, but considering how the story works, I changed my mind. They actually function as blessings in disguise for this novel going against the male-oriented madness of light novels very wonderfully. For context: Said questionable quality includes an illustration featuring some of Brice’s goons, an illustration where the exact drawing of a transformed Ella three pages before it can be seen as a shrunken copy-paste in its background, and Brice as the only character presence in the light novel illustrations who’s even remotely worth praising. And why am I even calling it “questionable quality” when the standards I’m considering center on the crazy male gaze? Somebody should make memes out of that, then!
With all that considered, I’d say that Black Blood is a great start if you want to read a Filipino light novel. Tired of OP wimps showing off skills and harems for no reason other than rubbing it into your wimpy wishful thinking? Bored of waifu and wokeness wars flooding your social media feeds? Discontent with Filipino attempts to localize “superior” foreign works? Go buy a copy of Nald’s first light novel under Black Ink, yo. Send your thanks to Alvin too when you do. And of course, praise and thank God Almighty very much.