Let’s head all the way back to 2002.
A new Millennium (1) had just begun and Japan was experiencing massive cultural, social, and economical changes. The world’s attention was fixed onto Japan thanks to the World Cup, an event not seen positively by the Japanese population. Japan was still recovering from the East Asian Financial Crisis and soccer was not exactly a popular sport within the country to begin with.
On the other side of the coin, subcultures were blooming. Akiba started to build the pillars of what it would become today and give birth to the moe culture. Dedicated anime and eroge fans were starting to notice how buildings and streets were featuring posters and advertisements of girls in eccentric attires; these designs resembled the archetype that we now know as Mahou Shoujo. Trends started to head into a new direction. And of course, LNs were no exception.
It was in this critical period when Akuma no Mikata was born. It would have a huge impact on both LNs and non-LNs fans alike for many years to come.
Akuma no Mikata introduced ideas and concepts seldom seen in LNs back then as well as giving a fresh spin to the long-established fantasy genre from the 90s. If it had been published today, it probably wouldn’t have stood out from the almost infinite ocean of options that are out there. But because it was published at that crucial (and right) time, it saw enormous appeal and became a major influencing force. Akuma also happens to boast timeless content; this is still impressive even after more than 13 years from its release.
But it is difficult to define what genres even describe Akuma since the series is constantly evolving. At first, Ueo stated this series was a mystery. But it started to branch out in different directions even at the end of volume one. This is when you realize the journey is going to become something special.
Kou Doujima is an ordinary high school student. But his childhood was far from something we would call ordinary, and it left a mark on him for the rest of his life. He claims to have witnessed his little sister kidnapped by a UFO. Of course, no one believes him. He is bullied most of the time and, having nobody to rely on, has no choice but to endure the situation by himself. He manages to, but as a result he became incapable of trusting anyone but himself. One day, a little girl knocks on his door and she says, “I’m the devil. I have granted your wish and I’m here for your soul.”
This event will put fate (2) in motion, both for Kou and all the people that will get involved in what is about begin.
Terminology, Themes and Explanation
Throughout the story, a group of artifacts play a major role till the very end. These artifacts are called Forbidden Fruits, or Fruits of Good and Evil (Chie no Mi, 知恵の実) and they are spread across the world, unbeknownst to the human race. It can be anything: a camera, a bracelet, or it can even be invisible. But they have unusual powers that don’t exist normally in this world. They affect people’s fates and ask for their soul in exchange for power. What this power is and what characteristics they hold vary from artifact to artifact.
Kou knows about them thanks to his fateful encounter with the little girl claiming to be the devil who he decides to name Atori (アトリ/亜鳥). As you might have guessed, naming is important in the story too. Especially with her. Kou takes Atori in after she confesses to have granted his wish, one Kou doesn’t remember about. It involves a teacher in his school and all these events are intricately connected to the Forbidden Fruits. These fruits will lead the protagonist to meet more people. Atori explains they’ve made a pact and custom dictates that she must consume Kou’s soul. To avoid this, he proposes another pact to her, promising to collect all the Forbidden Fruits and consume the souls of those who bear them. This is how he becomes The Devil’s Ally.
However, this is nothing but the mere beginning of everything. Neither Kou nor Atori know what fate has in store for them. Ultimately, defying fate is what changes Kou, but it also becomes his ultimate driving force till the last couple of books. Millennium is a key word that is played about in the last arc and it is truly mind-blowing the way Ueo twists the story to give birth to its conclusion.
Ueo fervently talks about fate and faith as well throughout Akuma. He believes in causality, the power our actions have in the future, and how they can affect our beloved ones. But he too writes how humans are capable of breaking this chain for good. Kou constantly defies the law no matter what. And when it comes to faith, when all is said and done, you could say that “people blindly believe in what they want to believe. Can that be called faith?” This and other questions will be answered on Akuma, specifically volume 12.
While there are many themes presented throughout the story, the one that made me hold my breath the most was how we traverse through our own day-to-day life with the faith concept:
Every single day, a battle is being fought. It’s not a battle of evil against good. The world is not as simple as that; it is not black-and-white. It’s a battle about survival. For life itself. For the organisms of this Earth. Every single organism has the right to live and to fight for that right, no matter what deeds have been committed in the past or what kind of organism it is. Why? Because we’re fighting to survive from the very moment we come into this world. Sometimes, the very act of getting up from bed becomes a real struggle. We eat, but what for? To survive. We work, we travel, we reproduce. What for? For our own survival. The very act of taking a shower is a battle itself — a struggle to maintain our hygiene. All this for an ultimate purpose: to survive. All organisms on Earth, in this very moment, are fighting for their right to live. And no one can deny that nor take it away from them. Not even God is allowed to (if He exists at all).
Of course, this is just one fragment of the many themes Ueo explores, but this one stuck with me.
He also explores topics like the concept of a sole consciousness: it frees human beings from the bonds of ego, letting the human collective becoming a true hivemind. The world becoming one with ourselves but still acting as one sole being. A world free of loneliness, death, and wars. A utopia. Humanity’s promised land. The singularity of minds expounded into the cities of Akuma no Mikata.
You see, the cities within the setting are as important as the Forbidden Fruits. Ueo shows a distinguished affection for them; they’re like families, three big families. Hirorisaka, Wakaoka and Yumeato. Each of them with their own set of traditions, customs, people, and allure. And with their own set of problems too, of course.
There is, however, a beauty in them concealed from the naked eye. Their beauty can only be experienced. And Ueo talks in bounds and leaps about it as the characters go from one city to another. It’s riveting to see how the cities make such a compelling setting to execute the story in. Cities and characters are no different from the typical family with children.
It’s like we are seeing a family trying to protect its children. Like a Mother holding onto her son with such desperation, trying to protect him from the world, from people, or reality itself. Or pushing him away to protect him from herself.
Which leads us to another important part of Akuma: its characters.
So, how does Ueo feels about them? He thinks of his characters as his children; he loves them, feeds ’em, and wants people to like ’em. He is the father and, of course, wants the best for them. Ueo wonders if the number of appearances a protagonist has is what truly confers him or her the privileged status of being a protagonist.
Well, he doesn’t think so. He believes the protagonist of a story is every character you think serves as the protagonist and, as long as you spend time reading them, they will be the protagonists of the story.
He elaborates a bit more about it on volume 12’s postscript, of which I will quote the following:
He gets a bit corny at the end, but that’s how he feels about people commenting on Kou’s lack of presence. And I have to agree with him. The story sucks you in so bad, even more around volume 9, that you won’t really mind it.
In this respect, that’s what astonished me: the care Ueo puts into his characters and, more than anything, how much he cared about the reader. He is always trying to see things from our perspective.
Ueo is one author that does not mince words. He delivers content with clever, poignant, and rhythmic prose. He may not be swift (he did release a lot of volumes in a two year span), but he sure knows how to transmit his intent to the reader and carries it out with aplomb.
O Ueo, Where Art Thou?
Good fucking question. In this case, an author like him didn’t deserve to have gone through whatever he went through to stop writing Akuma. He loved writing it, the themes were of his liking, and he loved his characters to the very core; he clearly stated it throughout the series and you can feel it as you progress through it.
Akuma no Mikata is a series treated with so much care and affection that it really saddens me to see it in this state, more so when my journey with him has come to an end. Despite having nothing left to read from him, I don’t regret a single bit reading any of his works, no matter how unfinished they are.
On a related note, I will be forever wondering what an Akuma adaptation could have been. It had so much potential and material. There exists a series of drama CDs adapting the first two volumes and a part of the third, which are pretty good too; they capture the comedic side of the series, as well as adding a touch of quirkiness to it. I’d strongly recommend reading the first three volumes before listening to them, so you can enjoy them to the max. They’re all on Nico. Nice detail from Ueo for allowing that happen.
But anyway, theories have been tossed around the net as to what in the world happened to Ueo. Some people flat-out said he died, others mentioned he just simply lost his motivation to keep writing, and others even alluded to a possible conspiracy via Dengeki’s high ranks. What is clear though, it’s that he’s not exactly a healthy person (comments 38, 88, 159 and 499) and he has struggled with it all the way back since the Akuma age. But in any case, it soothes my heart to know he gave a sign of life. That is what’s important.
Now, I’d like to mention the latest author that talked about Akuma openly.
Back in 2014, OreImo’s author Tsukasa Fushimi offered an interview, where Kazuma Miki participated. For those unaware or that can’t read Japanese, Kazuma is one of the most influential people within the LN Industry. He is a former Dengeki editor responsible for many acclaimed series such as SAO, Irregular, Accel World, etc.
While the interview is mostly focused on his most recent work Eromanga Sensei, there’s a section where Tsukasa mentions what it was like to read Akuma back in the day, how popular it was among LNs readers, how unusual yet interesting the setting was. He basically had a blast reading it along with his friends. Tsukasa also mentions how quickly the volumes were released one after another and, even after many years of its release, he still has vivid memories of it.
I just hope Ueo didn’t burn out after the main series, and that’s why his output decreased to this point. Better don’t think about it too much.
Another question that people have been wondering is: Who the hell influenced Ueo? I have detected traits somewhat reminiscent of JoJo when reading it as well as Berserk. Other people in 2ch have even alluded to Stephen King and certainly, the last arc had this harrowing feeling to it; characters were brought down to their knees, shuddering with horror at the circumstances, and desperately asking for help. Of course, these are just speculations.
But in any case, despite not succeeding neither commercially nor financially, Akuma is a work that’s become a landmark for me even in its incomplete state, and I’m sure it was for other people in the past as well.
I hope Ueo is well, wherever he is, whatever he may be doing.
I have faith in him, even if fate’s telling me not to.