This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series The Mountain Bird Cries at Dawn. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to gang activity, age gap, a relationship between a student and an adult, boss and subordinate relationship, bullying, child abandonment, mentions of divorce, child neglect, prejudice, sex in exchange for favors, child abuse, dubious consent, pseudo-incest, kidnapping, extortion/blackmail, implied sexual assault, gun violence, possible death, illness, and violence, as it appears in the manga.
Yamato Edogawa is set to become the fifth head of the Edogawa family, a prestigious crime organization that has maintained their territory for generations. Unfortunately for high school student Yamato, his position in the crime family has made his social life nonexistent. For this reason, among many others, Yamato has no intention or drive to become the next head. The only thing (or person) keeping him tied to his mafia family is the love of his life, his attendant Yoshiteru Fujiwara (aka Yoru).
As the head of the family, Yamato's father is relatively absent, and after his mother leaves them, Yamato is often on his own. From the time he was very small, where his parents should have been, a young Yoru was there instead. This connection to Yoru has grown from an innocent crush to an insatiable lust that Yamato has no idea how to sate. One day, after running away from home to prove his resolve not to follow in his father's footsteps, Yamato ends up alone in a hotel room with Yoru. Not wanting to miss this chance, Yamato makes a deal with Yoru:
I'll go back if you have sex with me.
And to his surprise, Yoru agrees. Will this ensure that Yamato becomes the mafia's next head as he's meant to be? Or will it only irreparably change their relationship forever?
I love this art style. It's not perfect by any means, but something about it really speaks to me. Something I adore above all else is Yoru. As a degenerate, the art in the sex scenes is very important to me, and Yoru has some of the best ahegao faces of all time. There is a particular scene where it shows four panels. Two of the panels are of Yamato's eggplant being pushed in, while the other two show Yoru's reaction, and it is quite possibly my favorite depiction of a sex scene ever. There's also another scene where Yamato is laying on Yoru from behind, and seeing Yoru's legs up in the air behind them both is everything. I just adore it. It's sexy and detailed without being overly complicated, and it just speaks to my perverted heart. The sex is masterfully done.
However, as pretty and smutty as the art can be, it is just as successful during the comedic portions. There are so many panels where the art is done for comedic effect that I actually giggled, which was so great. I wouldn't say this is gut-wrenchingly hilarious, but the comedy is pretty well done, in my opinion. There is some dark humor involved, which I know isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but I like that kind of stuff, so this was right up my alley. Smut and humor in equal measure are always welcome, and this certainly has both.
In the content warnings, I did mention this had pseudo-incest. This is a bit of a questionable warning, as the relationship between our two main characters is a bit dubious. Yoru is often referred to as Yamato's attendant, which doesn't carry with it any particularly intimate relationship beyond a professional one. However, throughout the story, Yoru refers to Yamato's father as his adopted father, creating a faint familial relationship between Yamato and Yoru. Yoru also talks about raising Yamato, often playing the role of his guardian and pseudo-parent. This, to me, is enough to call this pseudo-incest, especially since this also has what appears to be a significant age gap, highlighting the guardian-child relationship between the two. I don't personally find this depiction of pseudo-incest that egregious since there is some distance put between them due to the use of the term “attendant.” Still, it is worth exploring for those who might want to avoid such scenarios.
Unfortunately, story-wise, this isn't that great. The tonal shifts are pretty jarring, partially because of how short this title is, being about the length of a single manga volume. It does the comedy side very well, especially when Daddy Edogawa is involved. Still, the darker and more serious elements don't carry as much weight as they should, mainly because they are heavily bookended with comedy and smut. This could have benefited from a longer runtime to develop those darker elements and give them the weight they deserve. As they are now, they feel superficial and a bit like shoehorned abuse for the sake of abuse with little to no meaning beyond trying to make characters deeper than they are. I think this would've been better off as a full-on comedy, as Yoru's reluctance to be with Yamato could've easily been explained away as him not wanting to end the Edogawa line with Yamato or something similar, especially since, in the end, Daddy Edogawa is totally fine with their relationship – no dark background required.
This is so, so, so close to being a favorite for me. The age gap between a student and a non-student is a bit icky for me, and pseudo-incest isn't always my favorite, especially when it's between a guardian and their charge, but even with all that in mind, I probably would've called this a favorite if not for the odd tonal shifts. This made me giggle many, many times; the dynamic between Daddy Edogawa and his son is great, and Yoru is a very interesting character, minus his unnecessarily dark background. If it had just been given a bit more time to develop some of the more superficial elements, or if those had been removed altogether, I think this definitely would've been a favorite, but as it stands, it just narrowly falls out of that category. It's still worth a read, I think, for those who'd like a smutty laugh.
Have you read The Mountain Bird Cries at Dawn? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!