Loveless centers around Ritsuka (the adorable and angsty dark-haired catboy) and Soubi (the mysterious and rather kinky tall blond older guy).
If you're wondering about Ritsuka's cat ears (and tail), apparently everyone in Loveless is born with them. A person loses them when they become an 'adult', so to speak. So, if you've got cat ears, you're a virgin. Talk about a flagrant indicator of one's sexual experience, hm? Soubi, FYI, doesn't have 'em. No big surprise there. ::snerk::
Ritsuka's got some pretty good excuses for feeling angsty. When he was ten, he apparently suffered some major emotional/mental trauma which caused amnesia and the emergence of an entirely new personality. Ritsuka's currently 12 years old (he's in 6th grade) and has only 2 years of personal experiences. And a rather unpleasant 2 years, it appears. Ritsuka's mother is a hysterical nutcase who's unhealthily obsessed with her older (and admittedly studly) son Seimei, and who constantly accuses the current Ritsuka of stealing her 'real' son's body/life. She keeps demanding that Ritsuka give the 'real' Ritsuka back to her, and when poor Ritsuka can't comply, she relentlessly abuses him, both physically and emotionally, which explains why Ritsuka is always hurt and bandaged. Ritsuka's father has pretty much given up on his family (e.g., he walks out the door just as Ritsuka's mom stabs a fork into the poor boy's hand).
So it's pretty understandable that Ritsuka's got major guilt issues, especially in regard to his right to be happy, his right to be loved, and even his right to exist. He considers himself to be a criminal, stealing the 'real' Ritsuka's existence, and accordingly deserves to be punished for that 'crime', a belief constantly reinforced by his mom's wacko behavior. Although how someone can be so cruel to such a desperately loving child is beyond me.
The only one who really cared about Ritsuka is his older brother (17 years old), who protected him from his mother's abuse. Unfortunately, Seimei has recently been murdered. Not just murdered, but set on fire and burned to death. And then Seimei's burnt corpse was dumped on Ritsuka's desk in elementary school. -_-
And that's when Soubi (20 years old) comes into the picture. He accosts Ritsuka one day, introducing himself as one of Seimei's friends. The next thing you know, the two of them have been challenged to a duel by another team.
Each team comprises of two people: a fighter (called a warcraft in some of the scanlations) and a sacrifice. Basically, the warcraft does the actual fighting and the sacrifice absorbs the damage, which is manifested as bondage gear on the sacrifice (e.g., collar and leash, wrist cuffs, blindfolds, etc). Combat lasts until the sacrifice is incapacitated (or killed).
Soubi was the warcraft of Seimei, who was known as Beloved, and the two of them formed one of the most powerful teams around. Ritsuka's 'nom de guerre' turns out to be Loveless. Hence, the name of the series. And what a poignantly and sadly appropriate name it is for Ritsuka. :(
In each team, the relationship between the two members is essentially master and servant -- it is the sacrifice who orders and the warcraft that obeys. But here's when the delightful twist comes in because it's Ritsuka who is the sacrifice and master, while Soubi (as his warcraft) who is the servant. Or slave, in Soubi's case. Soubi takes the obedience and submission thing VERY seriously. I've got a feeling that it's not so much the rules of the game, but a quirk of his rather perverse personality. But Soubi is more than capable of getting his own way, too.
Which isn't too hard, since poor Ritsuka is at total loss how to deal with Soubi, who switches between assertiveness and submissiveness with a rapidity and unpredictability that would make a maniac-depressive proud. ::snicker:: One moment, he can be cheerfully teasing Ritsuka for a kiss, and another moment, he tells Ritsuka to punish him if it will make Ritsuka feel better.
Ritsuka, being the sweetheart he is, doesn't take Soubi up on that suggestion. Soubi, for his part, sounds almost disappointed. O_o
Honestly, there are moments in the series that make me absolutely giddly with joy. For example, on one occasion, Ritsuka is upset and rambling, and Soubi just stands there with his eyes closed, listening, almost in rapture at the sound of Ritsuka's voice. His master's voice..... ::dreamy sigh::
Ritsuka's even more unhappy when he learns that Soubi came to him (and become his warcraft) because Seimei ordered Soubi to do so, in case of his (Seimei's) death. Here's a boy that's desperate to be loved for himself, and the one person who tells Ritsuka that he (Soubi) likes/loves him (Ritsuka) is doing so because Seimei ordered him to like/love (and protect) Ritsuka. ::sniffle::
As you can see, Soubi takes his duty to protect Ritsuka VERY seriously.
The plot involves Ritsuka's quest to find out who murdered his brother Seimei, while various mysterious and sinister forces who may (or may not) be responsible for Seimei's murder keep sending teams to challenge Ritsuka and Soubi for unknown reasons. Soubi obviously knows more than he's telling, but he was given very strict orders (presumably by Seimei) not to tell Ritsuka.
Ritsuka clearly wants to trust Soubi, especially in regard to his statements about liking/loving Ritsuka. But for Ritsuka, there's always the nagging question of how much is Soubi's true feelings, and how much of it is merely obedience to Seimei's orders. However from the manga, it seems pretty clear to me that Soubi sincerely and profoundly cares for Ritsuka. Yup, yup! After all, how can one NOT want to cuddle and cherish such an adorable (albeit angsty) catboy like Ritsuka? ^_^
....although I'm not looking for anything more intense. Come on, Ritsuka is only 12! Unlike some people I know -- ::eyeing Sakka-chan:: -- I'm really not into shota-con.
But as I worked my way through volumes 1-4, certain questions kept bugging me, like:
(1) What happened two years ago to make Ritsuka's personality change?
(2) Exactly sort of relationship did Seimei and Soubi really have? Seimei still had his ears when he died, so they weren't lovers....
(3) What's with that mysterious and good-looking Principal guy plotting in the background?
And that's just the beginning. Too many tantalizing questions, and no answers in sight....
::Evil Plot Bunnies(tm) start up their drums::
NO! You guys stop that! ::glares at unrepentant plot bunnies::
I've heard that there will be an Loveless anime, possibly as soon as early 2005! Yay!
If I've managed to interest you in this terrific series, try these links:
Loveless scanlations (vols 1-2) can be found at Ob-session.org
Translations of Loveless (vol 4), visit the Image Garden