Halloween Week - Room 801: Lovers Doll

Ah, yes. Halloween. Home of all manner of ghouls and ghosts and things that go bump in the night. And one of the newer additions to this pantheon of fear is the cursed doll, which either bring misfortune or come alive. And, as you’d expect, Japan is no exception. Lover’s Doll, however, is an unusual take on the subject matter-what if the owner wasn’t bothered by the doll coming to life? Of course, this being my good self, this series also has a healthy dose of Boy’s Love. So, it’s time for a Halloween story…

Our story begins, as ever, with rumors about the “bloody doll” and its fearsome reputation, as well as its apparently cursed nature. Our protagonist is introduced with an interest in dolls (making clothes for them), and buys the cursed doll on the suggestion of a friend. Of course, the Bloody Doll doesn’t seem, at first glance, to live up to his reputation, and of course, our protagonist falls for the beautiful doll, despite his friends’ warnings. The doll bought, (and every bit as pretty as he hoped), our protagonist sets about making him new clothes. And the doll promptly comes to life, leaving our protagonist…a little lost for words. Well, until he punches the doll, who promptly turns haughty, and pint-sized, before he explains that he has a soul whilst he is loved. Of course, our protagonist thinks this is a dream, returns home, aaaand the doll is still very much alive. And demanding. His haughty, rather demanding personality is, however, explained by how he’s been treated by previous owners, who “shower me with love and affection”…until he comes alive, and is promptly called a monster. Whilst the trope of having sympathy for the “monster” has been played with across horror as a genre, it’s rarely done with this much empathy, especially since he “only wanted to thank them”. Having settled into the master and servant thing, the newly named Shimeji promptly protects our protagonist from a school-friend, who promptly flees; our protagonist begins to realize that Shimeji loves him.

The second chapter, meanwhile, takes a turn for the domestic, with Shin making clothes for the still demanding Shimeji, who, grumpy at being neglected, promptly hitches a lift on Shin’s back to school. Shin, however, takes this as a chance to clear the reputation of the Bloody Doll, but punishes Shimeji by making him do…*gasp* chores. This chapter serves primarily to show Shimeji’s humanity, including his tastes in food, and his emotions, his desperate wish to see his master smile, with Shin feeling he must protect Shimeji, who later manages to work out his emotions for Shin are, of course, love. Chapter 3…more domesticity! And more haughty Shimeji, who, annoyed that his only reward for chores is cake, and tries to kiss Shin-whilst Shin allows him to kiss his finger, Shimeji’s annoyance at Shin comes to bear when, visiting a friend’s house, he breaks a vase. His jealousy at not being the centre of Shin’s world boils over, with him hitting Shin, and he reverts to being a doll. Missing Shimeji, Shin pleads with the doll, who eventually responds, upset at striking his master, who consoles the doll that jealousy is simply part of existence, and they make up.

Chapter four…and more adorableness. Well, until Shimeji turns up with Shin’s phone…In human form. Oh. Fortunately, Shin introduces him as his friend. Unfortunately, Saito (having previously met the human “bloody doll” turns up, and warns Shin’s friend, before being scared off by Shimeji, who prompty tails him, and warns that if he insults Shin again, Saito may meet with a not terribly nice fate. Here, Saito’s covetous nature towards Shin seems to be ramped up a notch, and Saito promptly decides to get rid of Shimeji…which he promptly does. He’s found by Shin and co, but, surprisingly enough, smashing Shimeji has not had the desired effect, and Shin promptly breaks down, with Shimeji seemingly bidding farewell. Flash forward, from Shimeji, (seemingly repaired)…who believes he has been thrown away to a new owner, and grieves that “it would be impossible for me to meet another owner like Shin”. Guess who’s repaired him? None other than Shin himself, who’s now quit school, and been trying to repair Shimeji for 13 years. Shimeji initially scolds him for wasting so much time, before, being told that Shin wanted to see him again for these thirteen years, bursts into tears, and turns back into a human. The story ends on a bittersweet note, suggesting that Shimeji will die with Shin.

And bittersweet is how to describe this story-certainly, its gothic overtones, both in the art and the general plot of this story are melancholic-Shimeji will always be a doll, rather than fully human, Shin’s obsession with the beautiful “Bloody Doll” has cost him 13 years of his life. Moreover, however, Lovers Doll is bittersweet because of the “Bloody Doll”-this is a character who has spent most of his existence despised, hated and vilified because he tried to show his love for his owners-to compare him to a similar (if far more classic) horror monster, he and Frankenstein’s Monster are both misunderstood pariahs, with childlike dispositions, who are vilified for misinterpreted actions.  Shin is an equally well-developed character against which the childish and petulant Shimeji plays, world-wise, and yet determined to help the beautiful doll he has fallen in love with.

Unfortunately, outside our (admittedly) well-developed leading couple…other characters are…not overly developed; even Shin himself isn’t brilliant at points, but the female doll fans and Saito are pretty much one note-they either like or dislike dolls; though Saito at least seems to have a motivation, that’s all he has.
Other than slightly weak characters, Lovers Doll is an otherwise great manga-the artwork is pretty, particularly for Shimeji, though Shin looks very typically bishounen though-it does border on the slightly generic, but it does its job well, with a touch of the gothic in Shimeji’s very well drawn outfits/ Shimeji in particular both looks like a doll and a pretty man, and his design is by far the best in the manga. The story is lean, moves quickly, and annoyingly one-note characters aside, is oddly compelling-short it may be, but it’s also rather punchy. It’s not only a love story, but an outsider being accepted despite who he is. In short, a short, bittersweet story for BL fans at Hallowe'en.


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