Shishunki No Iron Maiden

Shishunki No Iron Maiden is a manga that has a really nice start, some really good moments and bits and pieces of things I was pleasantly surprised by, and yet I came away from the ending disappointed.

Part of this is that the end portion of the story is where things come apart at the seams in general. The story suddenly turns more fantastical, and people's behavior shifts away from realistic to idealized. We get a happy ending that makes no sense, using mechanics that are contrived at best. Everything that makes the story interesting simply... goes away.

So. The start.

The start is good, because it's a trick. We're following around a boy who wants to know what all this Secret Girl Business is, with there being a day in elementary school where all the girls are called in to get special education and the boys just have a day of free study. He doesn't manage to get in, but he's remained interested in Secret Girl Business ever since then. (And has turned into a ridiculous pervert, which I might normally complain about but it's extremely obvious that this is a direct extension of his obsession with Secret Girl Business. I like it when characters have reasons for being who they are, in-universe, and honestly the main character being a pervert is one of the things the story consistently handles well, unusually enough)

Eventually, opportunity arises: a girl starts having her stomach hurting and runs off to go to the nurse's office, and he decides he's going to follow her and see what this Secret Girl Business is about. (Fortuitously, his distraction leads to him being beaned in the head with a baseball, so nobody questions his sudden desire to go to the nurse's office himself; it's a good moment) The audience can already see where this is going; the girl's period is hitting, she's having cramps, and this boy is going to learn that Secret Girl Business is periods, and he's probably going to be disappointed or freaked out or something in that vein.

Only then blades start bursting from her body before she can get to the nurse's office.

Turns out Secret Girl Business was about puberty in girls, but in this world a small percentage of girls who hit puberty will periodically shove huge amounts of the iron in their blood right out of the skin, resulting in iron blades sticking out of them. (This is obviously medically ridiculous, in terms of the iron content of the human body not being remotely adequate for this, but whatever, I can roll with it)

So okay, that's a fantastic fake-out, but where does the story go from there? If you're like me, you're probably expecting this to turn into shonen battles between blade-covered girls. Sure, awesome, that could be neat.

What we actually get is a story of a boy helping to keep this one girl's secret. It's surprisingly sweet, even when he's being an idiot. I did genuinely enjoy these parts.

I still couldn't help wondering when the story was going to transition into a shonen battle manga or something like that.

But okay, sure, fine. This is a surprisingly decent story, even if it feels weird to use this premise in this way...

... but cracks start showing through once the plot incorporates government figures.

The female lead wants to hide her condition because she knew a girl who had the same condition, told the authorities, and promptly left the school supposedly due to her parents having moved elsewhere, which has left her with a lingering fear that the government will basically kidnap her for horrible human experimentation if she lets them know. Having recently been reminded of Japan's real-life historical human experiments (Warning: the info is pretty gruesome), particularly how the Japanese government has spent decades officially insisting no such thing happened or that the government didn't know about it, I can see that this is not exactly an unreasonable fear for a Japanese citizen to have.

So naturally the plot arranges for the government to become suspicious that someone with this condition exists at our protagonists' school, the government shows up, the governmental figures behave in a manner that's pretty worrying, there's drama and all...

... but eventually the government people leave, a teacher who was trying to turn the female protagonist over to them ends up hoist by his own petard through mysterious means, and everything is okay?

The whole thing feels a bit baffling and pointless at the time, and even in retrospect I'm not entirely sure what the story was trying to do.

The story actually manages to pick up for a bit after this, with the female protagonist confessing to the boy she likes (It's not the male protagonist), they start dating, etc, and this goes places I had not expected and that is overall handled surprisingly well (Well, aside a specific moment where the female lead being covered in razor blades really should have mattered, and didn't for no adequate reason), buuut the aftermath of all this is that the government gets back into the plot, ending with the female lead holed up in a facility for studying girls with her condition. It starts out seeming like her fears were unfounded and the government was totally looking out for her best interests... but it becomes clear that something wrong has happened to her, and the male lead insists on saving her.

This is where things turn completely ridiculous, contrived, and dumb.

I could focus on the absurdity of the mechanics of the rescue, with the male lead's (admittedly awesome) mother getting a hold of a helicopter (Through blackmail), leading into the male lead leaping from the thing in flight to get to a window dangerously high up. But it's really only a problem because it's a part of the shift in tone of the story at this point; as I said earlier, the story has trended toward a realistic depiction of humans and their relationships, with the key point of the female lead's condition being that it's a secret for her to share with the male lead. The story has been grounded if you are able to gloss over the whole 'there is no way someone could have that much iron in their blood' thing.

But now we're suddenly dealing with a dramatic rescue where complete strangers jump in to help the protagonists for inadequate reason, and it's pretty obvious the helicopter requisitioning was so the story could be visually dramatic, not because it in any way helps with the rescue plan. It's an out-there story where the female lead's love for the male lead has been surgically removed, because apparently girls with this condition literally crystallize their love as a rock in their chest where removing it takes away the ability to experience those feelings, but of course her love for him is also so strong she ends up ultimately experiencing those feelings anyway because reasons. It's exaggerated and bombastic and utterly dissatisfying as the culmination of everything that has come before -and that's what it is. A culmination. This is the end of the story; stuff happens, the female lead's condition is ended, and so she goes back to a normal life because the story wants to pretend that creepy government agencies kidnapping people to study them wouldn't be interested in studying one of these girls after their condition has been terminated. We get an epilogue, and it's fairly terrible.

I enjoyed the first chapter. I enjoyed elements of what came later.

But the ending is a fairly bizarre disaster, and it leaves me feeling like it would've been more honest of the story to transition into being a shonen battle manga like I'd been expecting it to.


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