Beast Master, by Kyousuke Motomi, is one of the few contemporary shojo manga titles I know of that was created by a male artist. How does it stack up as a shojo work?
Although the title and even the cover image imply a preoccupation with both traditional forms of gender dominance and their inverse, in reality I found this comic to be much less trashy than its cover implies. The protagonist is Yuiko, a fairly average high school girl whose primary outstanding characteristic is that she is an “overzealous animal-lover” (i.e. she loves them practically to death). When a dangerous looking boy named Leo, who behaves like a wild animal, transfers into the school, Yuiko is the perfect person to “tame” him. The school goes into rumor overdrive when it becomes apparent that Leo goes nutso when he sees blood and will lash out like a cornered dog that hasn’t been entirely domesticated. As a result, the entire student body is terrified of him and suspects him of terrible crimes, but Yuiko decides not to take his rather angry vibe and image at face value and investigate further.
Although this sounds like a Tarzan / Jane parallel, I was quite pleased to note how much strength and fortitude Yuiko demonstrates. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Leo, and is actually first interested in him because he demonstrates an affinity with animals of all kinds (which makes her incredibly jealous since that is a quality she has always wanted). It doesn’t take her very long to notice that at certain times his eyes are quite kind while at other times, they seem sunken and wild reflecting the danger he poses to those who incite the wrath of the beast within. Becoming an expert at managing his many moods, Yuiko begins the process of rehabilitating the animal into a human. While Yuiko starts out thinking of Leo as an animal, it doesn’t take her long to think of him as a person and a rather good one at that. At different moments in the first volume Yuiko saves him and he in return saves her. As a result, the wild “beast” learns how to value Yuiko as a friend and not just the “trainer” who can calm him down when he goes off the rails.
In general, this is an entertaining series that nicely balances between sweetness and just the right amount of tartness in its depiction of Leo and Yuiko’s growing bond. On first glance, Leo seems a rather pitiable figure (he also has a fairly unfortunate past that explains his behavior) but becomes ever more human under the firm direction of Yuiko. As a whole, one of the strongest points in favor of picking this book up is seeing a strong male hero matched up with a strong female lead. Leo may be crazy strong, but Yuiko can keep up with him and even stand with him as an equal.
Review Copy provided by Viz.
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