Manga in Minutes: Monster Soul, Vol. 1

Another week, another Manga in Minutes! There’s a few interesting pieces that popped up on my radar over the past week, so let’s get to them.

With that out of the way, it’s time for this week’s featured review, Monster Soul, Vol. 1!

Monster Soul, Vol. 1by Hiro MashimaKodansha Comics, 176 pgRating: Teen (13+)

From Hiro Mashima, creator of Fairy Tail comes Monster Soul, Vol. 1! Years ago Elvenland was torn apart by a war between the humans, and the monster races. Ultimately the humans won. Now Black Airs, an elite squad of monster from the war, wanders the realm getting into all kinds of wacky hijinks.

Monster Soul is a bit of an odd duck. It only lasted for two volumes and was immediately followed by Fairy Tail. In a way, it almost feels like a forerunner to Mashima’s more popular and far more successful series. The first volume does little to establish the world and the characters, and doesn’t really give us much of a premise to get into. It’s comprised of three tales two of which seem like they’d hold the seeds of what could interesting long term directions for the series had it lasted more than two volumes. The first story sets the series up with a monster vs. human, something that’s actually rather interesting and is touched upon briefly in the second story as well. These two chapters really seem to be establishing Black Airs as an X-Men like group, defending monster kind from humanity and humanity from monsters who still desire war. It’s not that bad of an idea, but sadly it’s one that apparently never went anywhere. In his notes at the end of the volume, Mashima mentions that he ran out of ideas for the series early on, which probably explains why it was only two volumes long. The third story delves into the characters pasts a bit, expanding upon their relationships with each other, but the characters featured in it still end up coming off as bland, and the idea of it being based around a child hood bullying incident seems really bizarre when contrasted against the fact that the group’s supposed to be an elite military squad. It just seems odd that such a group would still struggle in a battle against a single character from their past.

If you’ve ever read Fairy Tail then you know what to expect from Hiro Mashima. His character designs range from the slick and cool, to the ridiculous. The wide variety of silhouettes and body types that mark his other work are present here as well, with the main cast ranging from Aki, with a rather cool and contemporary hoody look, to the massive and blocky James, a Frankenstein-esque character complete with head bolts and face stitching. The action scenes tend to be rather quick and explosive though it lacks the impact and flashiness of some of his other work. Comedic overreactions and cartoon-y goofiness comprise most of the humor, though his style lends itself to it so it rarely feels out of place or intrusive. There’s a few visual gags which are genuinely enjoyable, such as James’ face coming unstitched and falling off, only for it to be put back upside down, complete with accompanying upside down dialogue.

Monster Soul, Vol. 1 is a fairly quick read with scattered moments and the vague suggestion that it could go on to be something really interesting. Unfortunately it doesn’t, and instead it’s a fairly straight forward fantasy, action, adventure story that never quite jells in the first volume. At times Monster Soul almost feels like it’s a test run for Fairy Tail, and in that context it might be an interesting read, but on it’s own the series doesn’t seem to have much to offer. If you’re a big fan of Hiro Mashima’s work you might find something to enjoy in this, but otherwise you’d be better off trying Fairy Tail for your fantasy/comedy/adventure needs.

Monster Soul, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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