On the day of their sixteenth birthday, Aya and her brother Aki, twins born into the wealthy Mikage family, were driven into their grandfather's estate. Upon arrival, they are made to view a family relic: the mummified hand of their clan's founder. At its sight, Aya starts to manifest a strange aura while bloody images appear on her mind, while lacerations suddenly manifest all over Aki's body. When Aya asks why no one is helping him, her grandfather, supposedly a kindly man, orders her death, disposing of the twins' father when he objects. Suddenly, Aya's aura grows stronger, and in her place appears a blue-haired woman who disposes of her would-be assassins before Aya returns to her body and makes her escape.Along the way she meets Touya, an amnesiac, crimson-haired young man in her family's employ, who helps her seek refuge in the household of Yuuhi Aogiri, a boy from a well-to-do clan of her age, together with his sister-in-law Suzumi and their retainer Mrs. Q. Suzumi, realizing Aya has the same power as hers (albeit stronger), explains her situation — her clan descended from a tennyo ("celestial maiden")... in particular, Ceres, who was trapped on Earth after losing her hagoromo ("celestial robe") and forced into a marriage, now hell-bent on avenging her misfortunes through her reincarnation: Aya herself. Though initially at odds with each other, Aya strikes a deal with Ceres — she will help the latter find her hagoromo in order to return to heaven, provided she doesn't harm any more people than is necessary. But whereas Aya and Ceres learn to cooperate, Aki is being taken over by his past-life self: Mikagi, the ancestor of the Mikages from thousands of years past, who married Ceres, then went insane over trying to protect her and is now on the hunt for her. To make things worse, the rest of the Mikages, led by Aya's cousin Kagami, are trying to create their own army of tennyos through various scientific methods.Though not easy, Aya, Ceres and their allies travel across Japan, seeing many places and meeting new friends, enemies and other descendants of tennyos.Ayashi no Ceres (Ceres, Celestial Legend in English), a 1996-2000 manga by Yuu Watase, draws on ancient Japanese myth and mixes it with a cynical modern perspective to produce a dark yet compelling tale of a young girl caught up in supernatural events beyond her control or understanding. It is also one of Watase's darkest, most violent works, featuring several characters with varying degrees of insanity, from Aya and Aki's mother who was brainwashed into killing her daughter, to Kagami, who's more than willing to attempt to rape Aya in order to release Ceres — For Science! All in all, not recommended for the easily shocked.This manga was a big turning point in Watase's career, and many people consider it to be her best work yet.
Anyone Can Die: On top of a large pile of dead mooks and minor characters, most of the maidens end up dead by the end of the story, including Chidori and Shuro. Then there's majority of the Mikages (save Aya; Kagami's mother doesn't count, seeing she's an outsider). Bonus points for Touya, who manages to die twice — one onscreen, and one implied to happen sometime after the series ends.
All Men Are Perverts: Played with. Watase said in one of her freetalks that all of Yuuhi's behaviour towards Aya is totally normal and that he is not a pervert. He is a teenager, after all, and at the end of the day he never crosses any moral lines, not even when Aya offers herself to him out of sheer spite (although there are times when he gets very damn close). However, in another one, explaining Mikagi's actions and the intent of a group of schoolboys who try to rape Aya, she said that "the desire of raping women was part of the male instinct to preserve the species". Make out that what you will.
This trope is also invoked by the tennyo themselves. Being a Single Gender Race, the tennyo's sole purpose is to pick the strongest men and have children with them. They are well aware that human men lust for their bodies, so they use that to their full advantage.
Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the series, Aya and Touya survive with their unborn child, while the Aogiris return to a normal life. However, most of the tennyos are dead, and so are the Mikages, their name sullied beyond repair by a record of their criminal activities disclosed at Kagami's request. Aki also has to die in order to stop Mikagi's rampage. And the kicker — without Ceres's Mana from which he grew, Touya apparently only has a few years to live, but not before entrusting Aya and their child to Yuuhi's care.
Mikagi to Ceres — stalking her across time, raping her, and killing one of their own children due to jealousy. He actually was an Understanding Boyfrienduntil he made the horrible mistake of asking Ceres to give him a parcel of her power.
Turns out Mikagi might not have been the first offender. As seen in an extra story, Ceres was once wed to a man who traveled the world looking for her for fifty years. Except she didn't have any emotional attachment to him, so she didn't unwittingly gave him powers of mass destruction.
Dark Fantasy: The series certainly has its mix of fantasy and horror.
Declaration of Protection: Played straight with Touya and Aya, and also with Yuuhi and Aya. Horrifyingly deconstructed in the case of Mikagi and Ceres, as Mikagi's desire to help his wife and not just be the Understanding Boyfriend makes things go worse when he gets power to do so.
Driven to Suicide: Suzumi attempted this in the past following the death of her husband and her subsequent miscarriage, but was stopped by Yuuhi. Later, in a much more malicious case, Aya's cousin and fellow tennyo Miori kills herself in a very gruesome manner, purposefully traumatizing Aya as revenge for her mother's death at the hands of Ceres.
Eldritch Abomination: If a man tries to touch a hagoromoand wasn't chosen by it to be the tennyo's husband, he'll get blasted away. If a woman tries to, however, she'll morph into a hideous monster, as shown in Volume 10 of the manga.
Expy: Touya inherited the looks and the fighting skills of his cousin Tamahome.
Eye Scream: Wei Fei-Li gets one eye sliced by Touya's dagger in his first appearance. Perhaps even more wince-inducing is the scene near the end of the manga where, ironically enough, Touya restores Wei's eye.
Fake Memories: This happened to Touya during his time with Miori.
Fate Worse than Death: The fate of the non-Tennyo woman who put on a hagoromo. She became grotesquely disfigured and immortal, meaning that she spent hundreds of years locked in the underground tunnel until Ceres puts her out of her misery.
Foreshadowing: When the protagonists first meet Miori, she is stepping into the sea and Yuuhi thinks she's trying to commit suicide. Miori does eventually kill herself in order to hurt Aya.
Forgotten First Meeting: While trying to retrieve the hagoromo as well as Touya's memories, Aya and Touya find out that they had met years ago on a beach when Aya was just a little girl and Touya had finished developing from the mana. She gave him a sea shell and then they parted ways, and after that, Touya went off to find her, leading him straight to the Mikages.
Freudian Excuse: Kagami and several members of his team of specialists have this. Wei wants to rid the world of poverty and class differences. Rurik lost his wife and wants to prevent similar tragedies. Assam was raised as a Child Soldier. Kagami himself was driven too hard by his ambitious mother and despised by the Mikage family for not being a blood relation.
Go Out with a Smile: Well... you gotta give Watase some credit. She kills characters left and right, but at least most of them die with a genuine smile on their faces.
Go Through Me: When trying to escape from Mikagi, Ceres's young daughter tried to put herself between her mother and her father when Mikagi caught up to them. It didn't end well.
Godiva Hair: Ceres, sometimes (seeing how she's naked when Aya has visions of her).
Heel-Face Turn: Dr. Alec Howell eventually defies Kagami in order to save Touya and Aya.
Heir Club for Men: As far as grandfather Mikage was concerned, any young woman who was destined to have Ceres reincarnated into her was better dead to him, while any young man destined to have the Progenitor reincarnated into him would save the Mikage family line. Too bad the Progenitor could give two shits about what the old man thought.
"I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Confrontations between the Mikagi-possessed Aki and Aya (who has rather more control over her possession by Ceres) go like this. Each time, Aya tries to keep Ceres from killing Aki, in hopes that he might get free. In the end, since Mikagi will not let Aki re-take control, Aki chooses to let Aya/Ceres kill him.
Ill Girl: Yuki Urakawa. Shōta, Chidori's brother, is a male example.
Important Haircut: Aya gets one of these when she gets depressed over the idea of Touya leaving her for Miori.
Just Friends: Aya and Yuuhi. In this case, Yuuhi falls for Aya, but she just can't love him back for being already in love with Touya. However, Aya cares for him deeply, and considers him, as she herself says out loud, "his best friend in the entire world".
The exact same happens with Yuuhi and Chidori, with the genders reversed: Chidori loves Yuuhi, Yuuhi doesn't love her back because he's already in love with Aya, but cares for her as a friend (point drove home when Chidori dies in Yuuhi's arms). Boy! First Girl/Guy Wins indeed!
Mana: Well, the mana, though it acts more as the generic form of Life Energy, since a tennyo's mana won't "run out" unless she is separated from it, which if prolonged, will lead to the maiden's death and the disintegration of the mana.
Mayfly-December Romance: As insinuated in the extra story, tennyo will eventually outlive their partners if they don't die from being separated from their mana first.
My Girl Is Not a Slut: To begin, the celestial maidens' sole purpose is to procreate with human men in order to sustain their species, requiring them to bed several men and produce lots of children. Ceres was no exception, and when she revealed the truth to Mikagi — at the same time egging him on by saying that Touya was a much better lover than he was — he wasNOT happy.
My God, What Have I Done?: Aya and Yuuhi both react like this during their almost Sex for Solace moment. Aya was ashamed at herself for seducing Yuuhi and Yuuhi felt equally ashamed at himself for taking advantage of her emotional vulnerability in the wake of Touya leaving Aya.
Parental Abandonment: Aya is actually set up for death by her parents to stop Aya's awakening as a Maiden. Logically, it fails big time: the father is killed and the mother is comatose. Yuuhi, being an illegitimate son, was abandoned by his mother because she couldn't face Yuuhi's father's family. Chidori lost her parents in a bus crash in her backstory. Miori is driven pretty much insane with grief when Ceres kills her mother.
In the beginning, the legend of Ceres was told as though she abandoned her earth-born children willingly and she actually did do this cyclically over time with numerous husbands, but she stopped when she fell in love and settled down with Mikagi. However, later in the story, it was revealed that she died as a result of growing weak from being without her hagoromo, and that she never wanted to leave her children behind.
Raised as the Opposite Gender: Shuro, because her mother thought that if she knew she was a tennyo she'd take the family Celestial Robe and fly away. According to the tie-in novel about her backstory, she figured out she was a girl when she was about eight, but kept up the charade to please her family.
Rescue Romance: Aya and Touya's relationship started out like this. Same goes for Mikagi and Ceres.
Restrained Revenge: Even after Alec openly defies the Mikages and lets Aya and Touya go, Kagami needs his work and lets him stay on the team. His only punishment is having his anime and video games confiscated. (Of course, he's enough of an otaku that he legitimately suffers from that punishment.)
The Reveal: Touya's true origin: He is Ceres's Mana evolved into a human form.
Taking the Bullet: Aya's father does this for her early on. Much later, Chidori does the same for Yuuhi. Both cases are fatal. And near the finale, in the manga, Gladys died shielding Ceres from Mikagi.
Wham Episode: The Miori arc. What seems like another run-of-the-mill journey to one of the legendary tennyo sites results in Touya supposedly regaining his memory and leaving Aya for Miori, whom he recognises as his fiancée from before his amnesia; Aya almost sleeping with Yuuhi while on the rebound; Ceres taking over Aya's body for a long time while Aya is paralysed with shame over the above; Miori turning out to be another of Ceres' tennyo descendants and killing herself to get revenge on Aya; and Touya walking out of Aya's life for an extended period.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: After Mikagi was beaten by bandits, Ceres was perfectly willing to give Mikagi a small fraction of her power so that he would never be harmed again, hoping that it would protect him. If only she knew what her gift would bring...
What Measure Is a Humanoid?: As stated by Ceres, the tennyo don't really know what their true form is suppose to be, but they assume a human body for obvious reasons. Touya himself was made into a human by the mana (sorta making him a homunculus).
What the Hell, Hero?: At the finale, as Aya and Touya mourn Aki, Kagami gets a punch from Yuuhi, tearful with rage, chewing him out for the tragic consequences of his experiments.
Worth Living For: Suzumi's suicide attempt following her husband's death and her subsequent miscarriage was stopped by her husband's brother Yuuhi. At this point she realized that had to keep living for Yuuhi's sake, and has since warmed up to him like a real sibling.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: The Celestial Maidens in the anime. In the manga they have black hair. And Touya's hair is mentioned to be an unusual shade of red (by a doctor when Touya used a fake personality to work as a doctor, who had lived in America beforehand).
You Should Have Died Instead: In a moment of grief-driven insanity, Aya's mother attempted to kill her and hold her responsible for her father's death. She was stopped when Ceres awakened.