What’s it about? Aoi’s grandfather raised her and taught her to cook after her mother abandoned her because her ability to see spirits. Now an adult, she lives on her own off the money she inherited from him. One day, an oni spirits her away to the hidden world, declaring her his bride. Turns out, her grandfather had a major gambling problem and offered her up as collateral on his debt. But she’s not just going to sit back and sign her life away—she’s going to work off that debt, come hell or high water!
If you’ve been paying attention to shoujo manga for the last 15 years or so, this premise probably sounds extremely familiar. It has DNA in common with Black Bird, Kamisama Kiss, The Demon Prince of Momochi House… the list goes on and on (and on). Not to mention similar Western narratives, including the ever-infamous Twilight. The supernatural husband genre has deep folkloric roots all over the world, so it’s unsurprising that it’s a narrative that appears over and over again.
However, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s pretty inherently problematic. Kidnapping and forced marriage is never a great start for a relationship, after all, and taints everything that comes after it. I don’t like fictional boyfriends who act cold, insult the main character, or result to other predatory tactics, no matter how kind they are underneath it all.
I firmly believe that these narrative tropes promote tolerance of abusive behavior to a vulnerable population of young women, especially since most cultures don’t sufficiently support education in media literacy and the separation of reality and fantasy.
And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Kakuriyo -Bed and Breakfast for Spirits-.
The main thing that sets the series apart is Aoi as a protagonist. While her exact age isn’t specified, she’s in college (Kakuriyo runs in a josei magazine, by the way), which makes a huge difference from the very start. This isn’t any of that child bride nonsense that so many similar series suffer from. She’s also used to being on her own and is fully capable of taking care of herself.
While she may be somewhat lonely, she at least isn’t being set up for a codependent relationship with a predator. In many other such series, the heroine befriends lesser ayakashi that are servants of the main love interest, but they’re usually weak and powerless, like Kotetsu and Onikiri in Kamisama Kiss. In a variation of that trope, Aoi meets Ginji, a sweet-natured nine-tailed fox. Ginji, unlike others of his ilk, isn’t small and weak, though he is nonthreatening. However, he does seem to know more than he’s letting on.
Instead of a wilting, passive flower, Aoi is smart, independent, and sticks up for herself. Her determination to work off her debt instead of being forced into marriage bodes quite well for her development. She even has a useful skill—cooking—instead of having to submit Cinderella-style to a life of menial labor, and understands the rules the residents of the hidden realm must follow. Although I’m expecting it to either turn into a romance or for Aoi to gain a harem of supernatural pretty boys, I’m excited to see where Aoi takes the story next.