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Shoujo You Should Know: Earl Cain

Posted on the 30 June 2015 by Kaminomi @OrganizationASG

Over a decade before Black Butler began publishing, there was a manga about a different Victorian Earl challenging the dark and supernatural forces at work in London. Published in two parts as The Cain Saga and Godchild, the Earl Cain series by Kaori Yuki (also the author of Angel Sanctuary) follows seventeen-year-old Earl Cain Hargreaves, a master of poisons who was cursed by his abusive father to die alone and unloved. Alongside his loyal butler Riff and half-sister Maryweather, Cain can’t seem to turn around without winding up in the middle of some kind of trouble caused by the secret organization called Delilah. Told in a series of episodic murder mysteries, the crimes and the twisted motives behind Delilah’s mission are gradually revealed, as well as its connections to Cain’s past.

Shoujo You Should Know: Earl Cain

I’ve heard this series described as “gothic manga” more often than I’ve heard it discussed as shoujo, which is an accurate statement. While the art style, especially in Godchild, makes it clear that this is a stylized shoujo series, the content is far more along the lines of gothic horror. As a whole, the series examines some pretty disturbing themes, and the art can become very graphic and bloody as well. In just the first few volumes, the manga brings up the topics of incest, serial murderers, body horror, human experimentation, and various shades of insanity, and that is just scratching the surface. For instance, the very first chapter of The Cain Saga features a character digging their way out of their own grave. This is one of the few series where I feel that the Parental Advisory sticker is well earned; this manga is not afraid to get dark and disturbing.

While personally these kinds of thematic elements are more likely to make me drop a series instead of finish it and recommend it, the way the series incorporates them into a larger discussion on the concept of sin, forgiveness, and what it truly means to love and be loved make this manga a worthwhile read. The ending, while not necessarily conclusive in terms of plot threads, makes a compelling final statement on those concepts as well. I won’t spoil it here, but the finale to this series has stayed with me for years after I read this manga for the first time.

Shoujo You Should Know: Earl Cain

The chapters that either explore Cain’s past, cover Deliah’s actions more specifically, or the ones that examine his relationships with other characters are far more effective than the themed murder mysteries, which are predictable at best and Scooby-Doo-esque at worst. There are also some endings that feel like they resolved themselves with no regard for logic (i.e. Cain survives because he’s the main character) which feel cheap when compared to the more character and plot-driven chapters that make the reader fear for the characters’ lives. Unfortunately, these make up the majority of the series, especially in The Cain Saga, and sometimes bog down the otherwise interesting running plot. But with that said, it’s a testament to the strength of the characterization and the reader’s desire to see if and how Cain finishes off Delilah once and for all that the parts that aren’t as well done don’t take away from the piece as a whole.

Going back to the Black Butler comparison, I highly recommend Earl Cain to fans of that series. While Cain is definitely a different kind of Earl than Ciel, the similarities between the two series are difficult to ignore. From the way the horrifying pasts of the main characters affects their present to the varied cast of both friends and enemies that are just as fleshed out and memorable as the main players, it’s hard to believe that this series did not have some influence on how Black Butler turned out. However, the main aspects that set them apart are their basic premises as well as one big difference between the nature of Cain and Riff’s relationship as compared to Ciel and Sebastian’s…but if you want to know what I’m talking about, you’ll have to read it to find out!

Shoujo You Should Know: Earl Cain

While it is possible to read either The Cain Saga or Godchild in either order, I recommend starting with The Cain Saga for background information on the story and also for a better appreciation for the art style shift in Godchild, which is far more polished. If you’re in the mood for a dark Victorian story with surprising twists and gorgeous art, you can’t get much better than the Earl Cain series!

Missed it? The Cain Saga and Godchild are available from Viz Media.

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