Asuka Tsukasa has moved to England to study abroad and somehow find the girl from his memories that he remembers fondly, even if he suffers from a fear of dogs and London is known for having many canine companions around. What he finds instead, is that the girl from his memories is not human at all but a cryptid – a mythical creature named Edgar, who once belonged to his mother. Also, Asuka’s mother has been missing for years and is wanted by ZOO, the organisation that looks after and wants to co-exist with such creatures. Asuka has agreed to work with ZOO to save the cryptids but in exchange for re-opening the investigation of his mother, because she truly can’t be the murderous monster they make her out to be, right?
The first volume of Bestia was an urban fantasy that didn’t rock the boat or try something completely different in terms of setting, story or characters, but the little details and nuances made me review it positively. The lead character’s unique zoophobia combined with his destiny to help magical animals, the intrigue of his mother’s disappearance, and the obvious love for London and Western mythology was a nice blend that showed promise of something interesting. The series ended in Japan on January 2021, bringing the series to a close in just three volumes; no reason (natural end of story or lack of sales) was given, but since I liked the first volume enough, I wanted to know if the last two volumes held up as well because it would be nice to have a quick, satisfying manga, rather than shelves filled with series that feel never-ending. I’m sad to report, however, that the series doesn’t continue the goodwill of the first volume.
Volume 2 picks up right where Volume 1 left off; midway through a battle with Fafnir, a giant Golden Dragon threatening to turn the whole of London into gold, and Asuka also has to contend with a rival Cryptid handler with his own agenda. The battle itself, like in the first book, is grand in scope and handled well. You get the dynamic of the rival handler and his basilisk straight away, we’re introduced to different skills and levels of the creatures, and Asuka’s bonding moment with Edgar, as they work together to subdue the dragon, also goes down well. Right afterwards however, we’re whisked away to Asuka’s new school, which happens to be filled with other handlers with their own creatures, complete with ‘training battles’, eccentric teachers, and more. The problem however is that this whole school event not only makes little sense as Asuka applied to study aboard before he found out about this world (they hand wave that ZOO transferred him, but it doesn’t really land) but also this school has little to no bearing on the plot by the end. It’s clear that it was meant to serve a larger role in the story, they wouldn’t have introduced so many elements otherwise, and it would help explain some of the lore in a more natural setting, but it never gets to that point before the story decides to head towards its final arc and wrap up the series as quickly as possible. Because the series never gets a chance to lay proper groundwork of what the world of cryptids entails, the different power levels, why they matter, how handlers work day-to-day etc, we have no scope of what is meant to be ground-breaking or a massive achievement for the big events in the ending to land. For example: handlers have the power to ‘boost’ their cryptids, using their own energy to activate the Bestia powers, and Asuka is told that using it at his beginner’s stage is not only reckless but dangerous. But then with no training (at least on the page) or character growth, he constantly uses it in the final battle with the main enemy, with little to no consequences afterwards.
Unfortunately, the lack of follow-through and consequences affects this series the most; a lot of the story elements that were set up and were most interesting in Volume 1 are either never addressed again or solved super quick, using Volume 3 to deliver one final battle that has little to no emotional stakes. Asuka’s zoophobia for example? No longer a problem after Volume 1; there’s one throwaway line from another character reminding the audience, but we never see the main character struggle with it again, even though they’re forced to go to a school surrounded by animals. The mother mystery is hastily wrapped up at the beginning of Volume 3 to make way for a more generic, obviously straightforward evil monster. Even the very first hook of the series, the girl from Asuka’s dreams, turning out to be Edgar who shows a huge disdain for him when they meet, is also just resolved by itself. There’s no emotional scene or arc where the pair learn to accept each other and work together, Edgar’s personality in the end is removed to be more obedient and happier to follow Asuka’s orders to the end.
Caleb D. Cook continues to translate the series to the bitter end, and again I really appreciate how much detail they put into the author notes at the end of each chapter, even at one point elaborating on what the author says at the end of Volume 2. The art style provided by Aco Arisaka also is consistently lovely; the battle in the graveyard in Volume 2 has creepily designed skeletons, and the background cryptids themselves look better than they did in Volume 1.
Despite the initial decent idea, Bestia turns out to be a rather lacklustre series. There’s plenty of other modern fantasy series that have the same elements but are executed far better. However I hope the writer gets an opportunity to create another series that allows them time to tell the story in full, rather than have to cut it down before it’s even taken off.