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Original Comics Spotlight: Promises

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promises cover Promises, shonenai, 12 pp.
Ashura (Grace Ho)
$2, rated PG.
Warnings: m/m romance, mild violence
Promises is the tale of Onyx, a popular lounge singer. Onyx is also a hermaphrodite, but a friend who was in love with "him" mistakenly believes deception-- he always assumed Onyx was a woman. Part one of an ongoing series.

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Review by Joules-- PROMISES is the first part of the on-going story of Onyx, a young hermaphrodite, and night club singer^ Not the easiest of subjects to begin with! The very idea of a person with both male and female sex organs is likely to be very unsettling to many people (and probably exciting to others^) - but it's certainly challenging, and allows plenty of scope for an exploration both of how the individual deals with his own loneliness and difference, and how others view and behave towards him. As Ashura herself admits in the introduction, the pacing is a little uneven, and although she draws exquisite faces and great hands (it's amazing how many people can't draw hands!), the bodies of her characters are a little stiff and do need some work. Nevertheless, the story is an intriguing one, and shows a lot of promise (please excuse the pun!) and potential: the artistic limitations can easily be overcome by practise. I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Review By Aimee-- Beautiful, attention getting opener with the lovely Onyx on stage. Even though I know typed text is more proffesional, I really like the feel that Ashura's hand-penned text gives the story. The work is beautiful with lots of contrast and some amazing facial close ups.

Review by J.U.-- Ashura's first manga is the beginning of what we hope will be a long series. Onyx, a hermaphrodite, is the protagonist tortured by self doubt and desperate loneliness. He is fulfilled when he's singing on stage, but in agony when he's out of the spotlight. But not all his fans are adoring. Julian and Onyx were "to the death" friends in their youth, and now it looks as if the homophobic Julian is going to bring Onyx to that death. A cliffhanger that begs for volume II. Ashura's style is emerging. Flash backs and close-ups that convey a volume in a single picture. Two boys' hands pledging friendship or a hand plunged despairingly in a pants' pocket speak without needing words.

Review by Sonya-chan-- I have to admit I was a little mixed up when I first read Promises. But with a second reading, I grasped more what was going on. Ashura's lyrical prose on labels and intolerance balanced her harsh as life situation. Indeed, you cannot help but think that sometimes our judgment is clouded by our own point of view. The one who thought has his promise broken by the other, is the one breaking it by his own actions. Ashura reminds us in this doujin that more often than not we easily judge people by our own opinion, of course, we always think we are in the right... Onyx is the one betrayed and not the betrayer, I wish I could see a happy ending in this doujin, but the message wouldn't have passed it did. You can feel Onyx love in this... if his friend feels better with him out of the way. He accepts that. The end is open, yet in a way closed, as Julian rushed his one time friend. This story shook me to the core, how many people are killed this way, out of ignorance and prejudice. I wish people could see this story and understand it for what it is... Ashura's style shines through, even thought you can feel the despair of the characters in her lines, in the dark panels. The treatment uses minimal background but in this kind of story, that's all you need. When you do see a background it's to help situate us. On the technical side, the buildings were the only flaws I could see, but many mangaka never touch background, they are done by their assistants. All in all this story cannot leave anyone, indifferent...

Review by Myew-- Ashura-san's artwork is wonderful. ^^ The storyline in this manga is intriguing. You get the mixed feeling one feels from a main thought like, "What makes someone good enough for you?" She tries exploiting that line of thought, expressing the prejudice and hatred embedded within every human soul that would destroy everything they love and hold dear to their heart and soul. In this case, Julian hits a roadblock in his life. He's stuck on the death of his father from AIDS. It's implied that the AIDS was acquired through a homosexual relationship, so Julian develops a blind revulsion and bitterness on that subject. It gets to the point where he thinks the preference of being homosexual is a sin so great, any punishment is justifiable. He's best friend Onyx is a gay. Tormented and disillusioned, Julian turns on that friendship and sets the blame of the death of his father upon another who had no connection to it. And the feeling echoes... "What makes someone good enough for you?" Onyx is a tortured person who holds to his few friendships with fierce loyalty, believing he has no other reason to live other than to serve the needs of others. Faced with the blind rage confusing his friend, Onyx is willing to sacrifice anything to help him. He considers himself to finally worth something if he could make Julian happy. But he's not good enough for Julian... simply because he's not something Julian thinks he should be. Ashura-san is truly a master at expressing the injustice of taboo. This story is an insight into the matrix of human worth. =)

Review by Marie-- Promises is Ashura's (Grace Ho) first doujinshi. It looks like she has spent most of the time drawing characters and not backgrounds and other things, as they tend to look a little "flat". Black backgrounds are being used a lot, perhaps to cover for the backgrounds that are not there. However, it gives a nice dramatic effect. The images of the audience of the main character Onyx and the close ups of Onyx work really well and give you a feeling of "how it is to be there". Characteristic for Ashura's style are the faces she draws, especially the eyes. They are full of emotion. Full figure drawings are not out of proportion, but they sometimes look somewhat stiff. The text is hand written, but this comes across to me as being rather charming and personal, and since Ashura's hand writing is quite readable it never creates a problem. Promises is different from many other shounen-ai/yaoi works because it doesn't directly feature a gay main character: Its main character is Onyx, who is a hermaphrodite. The story is somewhat dark and poetic. This first part ends abrubtly and with lots of questions unanswered, and I was annoyed that I couldn't just go on and read the second part (which should be published soon, however). This is a good point, since the reader wants more of Ashura's story and art. Overall I recommend Promises to anyone who likes an original and profound shounen ai story.

Void-- Amelia finds her release from a depressing life in the company of another woman...
One Moment-- a six page short about one girl's horror-esque adventure on the subway...
Coming Soon--Promises II

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