Cirque du Freak -- adapted from the young adult novels by Darren Shaw and illustrated by Takahiro Arai -- is an engaging story about a two young boys whose lives are forever changed by their visit to a circus featuring "freak show" attractions.
Once again, I'm reviewing manga adapted from source material I don't know at all. Usually this would put me at a disadvantage, but I actually think that this is a story that benefits greatly from illustration. When the young protagonist, Darren, and his friend Steve, venture out of their normal suburban lives into the underworld of a circus of "freaks," it helps that the freak show and its inhabitants are rendered in all their creepy glory.
Darren seems like your average kid, who loves soccer, isn't as good a big brother as he could be, and happens to be incredibly obsessed with...spiders. One day, racing through town on the way to school, Darren finds a flier for a freak show placed into his hand by a shadowy figure. Someone -- or something -- really wants Darren to attend that freak show. While Darren seems like your average boy whose curiosity is piqued by the weird, in contrast, Steve is clearly obsessed with concept that something twisted lurks right on the edges of our everyday existence...if you know how to look for it. Going to the show is an adventure for Darren but a mission for Steve. At the freak show, Darren and Steve are both quite taken by Mr. Crepsley and his spider-act, Madam Octaa, but for very different reasons. Madam Octaa is a ginormous and dangerous spider who can stun or kill her victims with a bite (there is not enough "ewwww" in the world, thank you very much) and Darren wants her for a pet (seriously, what a weird kid), while Steve is focused on Crepsley for mysterious reasons (which makes him a creepier kid by all standards of...you know. Sanity).
Steve is fixated on Crepsely because he isn't a regular human being, while at the same time it is revealed that Crepsely is fixated on Darren -- perhaps for the same reason. It is Darren who involves himself in the world of things that go bump in the night by stealing Madam Octaa from her master -- somehow against his better judgment -- but Steve, who wants so badly to become part of that word is deemed unsuitable. Not because he is a good boy, but because he most certainly isn't. Steve is rejected by Crepsely, who comes instead for Darren, and the boy's world is turned upside down as he is manipulated into the most terrible of sacrifices by Crepsely.
In the end, I was fascinated by two parallel questions -- why does Steve seek darkness and why does darkness seek Darren? Since this is only the first volume these questions are never answered, yet I'm certainly curious to see where Darren's descent into the shadowy underworld leads him, and what happens when Steve's ambitions to join him are thwarted...by evil itself.
Review Copy provided by Yen Press.