“You may not look it…but you’re a kind demon, aren’t you?” Liam to Cavo.
Cavo is a terrifying horned monster who haunts the dark woods, home to many demons. But one day when Cavo hears cries, he comes upon a white-haired man being attacked – or so Cavo assumes – by three other men. So he rescues him. The victim, who introduces himself as Liam, seems not be to be terrified in the least by his rescuer’s monstrous appearance and so they continue together through the forest. Liam learns that Cavo, in spite of his hideous appearance, has a noble nature and is painfully shy. Cavo learns that Liam, good-looking and mature, is a shameless pleasure-seeker and a man of the world who travels from place to place selling medicinal herbs and amusing himself with different sexual partners. He is also the first to pay attention to Cavo, and not just run away in terror but engage him in conversation. As this pair of unlikely travelling companions set out together, Cavo begins to feel strange, unfamiliar emotions and is unwilling to part company when they eventually reach the edge of the trees.
But Liam has a shady past. In spite of this, pure-hearted Cavo, overwhelmed by these new feelings, is determined to protect him in whatever way he can – even though he’s beginning to realize that Liam is trouble. And someone is on Liam’s trail, asking questions…
Monster and the Beast is Renji’s first published manga and it’s extremely accomplished for a first series. The artwork is simple but elegant and distinctive, a little reminiscent in some ways of Basso’s work (Ristorante Paradiso) yet drawn with finer lines – and the storytelling, especially the characterization of Cavo and Liam, is convincingly done. There’s been a growing trend in anime and manga to feature monsters of all kinds: whether ‘the girls’ in Monster Musume, ‘Teacher’ in Nagabe’s impressive ongoing The Girl from the Other Side or Elias in The Ancient Magus’ Bride by Kore Yamazaki. In the Afterword, Renji explains, ‘One day, out of nowhere I thought, “I want to read a Boys’ Love fantasy manga featuring a middle-aged guy and an inhuman creature…” but I couldn’t find anything like it… I decided that if it didn’t exist, I’d just have to make it myself.’ A re-working of the classic Beauty and the Beast trope, only with the roles reversed, this ‘different’ melange of dark fairy tale and odd couple, the result of Renji’s fruitless search, is an intriguing read. We never see Cavo’s face, although we hear his thoughts as well as his interactions with Liam; however, little hints at what features lie hidden by the long locks of dark hair suggest something truly inhuman.
The Yen Press edition is in large format (which does justice to the artwork) with a glossy colour illustration. The translation is by Taylor Engel and captures Liam’s suave tones well, contrasting them with Cavo’s less sophisticated speech: stuttering (through lack of practise?) impassioned, yet always heartfelt.
Sometimes amusing (Liam really is a cad!) sometimes touching, Renji has caught my attention with this different and attractively drawn take on the classic trope. The first volume ends on a tantalising cliff-hanger – and I can’t wait to find out what happens next when the second volume is released in the autumn.