Tokyo Demons: Know What You Want

Tokyo Demons: Know What You WantAuthor: Lianne Sentar
Illustrator: Rem, Romy-chan, Tacto

Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780993861185
Released: February 2016

Ever since reading You’re Never Alone, the first novel in Lianne Sentar’s Tokyo Demons, I have been nearly consumed by everything even tangentially related to the trilogy. I find Tokyo Demons to be remarkably engaging and as the series has progressed I have become increasingly invested in both the story and its characters. Tokyo Demons has a small but very loyal fanbase, so perhaps it isn’t too surprising that it became one of the flagship titles not only for Chromatic Press and the Sparkler Monthly magazine but also for Cherry Bomb, an imprint that provides an opportunity for Sparkler Monthly creators to explore more mature, sexually-charged stories and themes. Know What You Want, released in 2016, is the first Cherry Bomb collection to be compiled. It brings together four Tokyo Demons Cherry Bomb stories–”Building Up,” “Coming Down,” “Never Again,” and “Save Me/Don’t Save Me”–originally published online between 2014 and 2015. The volume also includes illustrations by Rem and Romy-chan and collects “Once,” a related short story previously released in You’re Never Alone, and “Unsaid,” a comic illustrated by Tacto which was created specifically for Know What You Want.

Some of the stories collected in Know What You Want take place before the beginning of Tokyo Demons, effectively serving as prequels, while others actually take place during the events of the main series. Rather than being organized chronologically, the stories are arranged by character beginning with Ayase and Jo who are the two primary point-of-view protagonists of Tokyo Demons. “Building Up” shows Ayase consciously and subconsciously struggling to come to terms with her complicated and conflicted feelings for Kiyoshi while “Coming Down” delves into some of the more unfortunate parts of Jo’s past. The following three pieces–”Once,” “Never Again,” and “Save Me/Don’t Save Me”–form a triptych which turns to Sachi, a somewhat unexpected Tokyo Demons fan favorite, and more specifically to the shifting dynamics of his relationship with Kadoyuki. (Appropriately enough, Sachi is also the character featured on the collection’s front cover.) Know What You Want closes with “Unsaid” which examines Miki, another member of the series’ extended cast, and the painful ramifications of his devotion to Mitsuko.

"Coming Down"Know What You Want epitomizes what Cherry Bomb is all about. The content is mature but it has purpose and meaning behind it. While there is sex, the real focus is on the characters and their relationships with themselves and with one another. The stories collected in Know What You Want provide additional background details and greater insight into the characters and story of Tokyo Demons. The situations portrayed are alluded to within the novels, but reading Know What You Want isn’t at all necessary to understand the main series. Readers who aren’t interested in erotica can still enjoy Tokyo Demons without needing to delve into Know What You Want, but those who are will discover that the collection expands and deepens the already impressive characterization and worldbuilding present in the trilogy. To varying degrees, all of the stories in Know What You Want can stand on their own satisfactorily, but the collection is really intended for people who have read and who are familiar with Tokyo Demons–the stories lose some of their impact and underlying meaning if removed from the context of the series as a whole.

The Tokyo Demons Cherry Bomb stories have been affectionately termed miserotica by both their creators and fans and rightfully so. Know What You Want is an intentionally uncomfortable, heartwrenching, and heartbreaking collection. Many of the characters in Tokyo Demons are teenagers who come from broken or nearly nonexistent families and homes. They are young, awkward, and apt to make terrible but well-meaning decisions in their social and emotional immaturity. While they are strong in some ways they are fragile in others, understandably desperate for and terrified of intimacy and human connection. The characters of Tokyo Demons are all incredibly well-developed and relatable, but it’s Sachi with his heightened empathy who tends to be the character with whom I most personally resonate. Partly because of this, the fraught relationship between Sachi and Kadoyuki is one of my favorites in the series, so I’m happy to see it receive so much attention in Know What You Want. “Save Me/Don’t Save Me” is a particularly powerful and moving piece (I have honestly cried every time that I’ve read it), but the entire collection is a provocative exploration of the complexities of love, longing, and acceptance.

Random Musings: Cherry Bomb, Cinderseed, and Skyglass

Cherry BombBack in April 2014, Chromatic Press announced Cherry Bomb, its new imprint for mature readers. The intent was to provide an outlet for Sparkler Monthly‘s creators to explore a sexier side of their already established characters and stories with a goal to include original, unrelated material in the future as well. Cherry Bomb’s coordinator Lianne Sentar probably sums it up best: “We want our erotica to be emotionally cathartic, with a purpose and meaning behind some smoking content. If it’s all smut and no context, that’s not good enough – we demand both!”

Personally, I was very excited to learn about Cherry Bomb. The imprint launched with five titles: two short stories from Tokyo Demons, which I had previously read and enjoyed (I’ve written a little about my Tokyo Demons obsession in the past); two short comics from Awake; a Gauntlet side story; and Cinderseedthe prologue to the then upcoming illustrated novel Skyglass written by Jenn Grunigen with art by Mookie.

I’m rather ashamed to admit that after the initial Cherry Bomb announcement, I actually completely forgot about Cinderseed. But then came the even more recent announcement for Skyglass, which made its debut in June 2014 in Sparkler Monthly, Issue 11. The prose series was described as “throwing Ai Yazawa’s Nana, a space opera, and a really fresh take on post-apocalyptic Earth into a blender.” With a line like that, I knew that I needed to read Skyglass. It was at that point that I was also gently reminded that Cinderseed existed, and the lovely folk at Chromatic were kind enough to send along a review copy to me.

Sparkler Monthly, Issue 11Cinderseed opens with a girl floating through space, a fire elemental who has been ripped from the sun, her home, and confined within a human body. Understandably, she is somewhat confused and not particularly pleased by this turn of events and violently lashes out at the humans who would try to control her further. Soon after she meets Kri, who hopes that she would kill him, too. But as a Pleasure Intelligence, he doesn’t have much say in the direction his life is taking or even ownership over himself.

The two of them make an interesting contrast, similar to each other in some ways but vastly different in others. Neither are entirely human, but Kri has been designed by humans and his thoughts and behaviors are influenced by that. On the other hand, Phoenix’s actions and ways of thinking are often disconcertingly inhuman. (As they should be.) However, they both feel trapped, experience loneliness, and want to reclaim themselves and take control of their own lives. Phoenix, though, is much more likely to redirect her feelings towards revenge than Kri is.

Technically, while reading the prologue may not be absolutely necessary to follow what is going on in the novel proper, it does provide background information and additional insights into the world and characters of Skyglass, particularly the re/birth of Phoenix. Plus, it’s sexy. And hot, often literally so. (Phoenix is a fire elemental, after all.) Female-friendly, queer-friendly, and kink-friendly, too. The science fiction setting provides the opportunity for some particularly creative, audacious, and delightful, scenarios. And keeping with the intent of Cherry Bomb, the sex serves a purpose beyond titillation in Cinderseed; it’s integral both to who the characters are as people and to the plot itself.

One of the taglines for Skyglass is “Sex, elves, and rock ‘n’ roll.” The prologue covered the sex, but the elves (I promise, it makes perfect sense within the context of the story) and rock music don’t come into play until the first chapter with the introduction of the novel’s other main character Moss Wick—a half-human/half-elvish drummer who has…significant issues. And on top of those, Phoenix has attached herself to him. Unlike the prologue, which was written in the third person, the main narrative (or at least the initial chapter) alternates between Moss and Phoenix’s perspectives and is told in the first person, allowing the readers to get a very good sense of who they are. If Kri and Phoenix were opposites, Moss and Phoenix are even more so; their relationship should be quite interesting to watch unfold.

Even after only having read the prologue and the first chapter, I’m already loving Skyglass. The wait for the release of each new chapter will be torturous, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading more. The novel is shaping up to be smart and sexy and incredibly offbeat science fiction, with interesting and entertaining characters, a fascinating setting, and an engaging writing style. Personally, I think Cinderseed and Skyglass, not to mention the rest of the offerings from Chromatic Press, are well worth checking out.