Rating: 4/5 – A Grownup Fairy Tale with a Dark Social Commentary
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow
It’s no accident that one of the advertisements I saw for this series mentioned it would be perfect for fans of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, another series published by Seven Seas. The parallels are fairly self-evident: a creepy monstrous being living with and protecting a cute, younger girl, in a realm populated with magic and danger. While the girl in this book is far too young to be considered a marriage candidate, and there’s a bit more menace to the monsters (one touch will make a normal human take on their form via a disease called The Curse), there’s certainly a similar feeling to both books. It’s a dark fantasy – or as the book calls itself “a quiet (tranquil) fairytale” – dealing with those who live Inside and those who live Outside. Those capital letters are intentional, if you were wondering.
Shiva, a young girl from the land Inside (where all normal looking humans live) finds herself paired with a monster from the land Outside (the home of all people inflicted with The Curse). Awaiting her aunt’s return to collect her, she fearlessly learns how to live with this scary but polite beast she calls “Teacher”. While he does his best to protect her as any parent would a child, Teacher harbors a dark secret. He knows the truth about Shiva’s aunt and why it’s unlikely she will ever return to take her back home.
As with the Ancient Magus’ Bride, this book transports you to a world you almost wish were real, but at the same time can be glad it isn’t. Events both fantastical and horrific occur within its pages, and you feel and fear for the characters these events happen to. It isn’t difficult to fall in love with the waifish Precious Moments figure that is Shiva, as well as empathize with Teacher’s struggle to care for a child he dare not touch, for fear of making her a monster like him.
I particularly enjoy Nagabe’s artistic style, as I’m a fan of artists who do the majority of their work with simple black ink on white paper. While there’s the occasional splash of gray tone, the bulk of this book is filled with a near-hypnotic sketchy style that can leave you staring at some panels for several minutes, drawn into this binary Inside/Outside world paralleled in the Black/White contrast of the artwork. I like to imagine that’s done on purpose, but I probably read too many books on theme and symbolism in college for my own good.
When we hear the world “manga” particular images tend to come to mind. But “manga” is simply a Japanese word for “comics”. If this book had come in a Fantagraphics or Top Shelf wrapper, it would have had the same kind of impact and feel to it. Pick it up for your friend who likes to profess they don’t like manga because they think it’s nothing but giant robots and doe-eyed schoolgirls. If the book does its job as well as it should, they’ll take care of picking up the rest on their own.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (email@example.com)
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