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Hiro Mashima's Playground Review

Manga and Anime

Hiro Mashima’s Playground Review

A hilarious collection of stories mostly dealing with fantasy themes.

From the acclaimed creator of Fairy Tale comes an excellent extra-sized edition of his short stories. These will please longtime fans of fantasy, and Mashima explains a bit about his process after each short story. Coming in at 432 pages, this is extra large for a manga collection but it’s only five bucks more than a normally sized volume. That sounds like a steal!

So what’s it about?

The official summary breaks down each of the eight short stories:

MAGICIAN: In order to save the Magician’s Club at his school, Aoi, the club president, must put his small-time illusions aside and rescue the principal’s dog! But when a mysterious group appears, Aoi taps into his true magical powers!

FAIRY TALE: A national treasure’s been stolen and the magical world of faeries is in an uproar! The Fire Prince Silva may not get along with the Water girl, El, but they’ll have to overcome their differences to confront an evil witch!

COCONA: Taking her pet cat along for the journey, Cocona’s about to give up being the Princess of Devils for one shot at love…with a human!

PLUE’S ADVENTURE II: Plue’s beloved candy has gone missing! (To Plue, it’s a big deal.) Choose your path to solve this mystery!

BAD BOY’S SONG: With high school graduation only three months away, four best friends reflect on their boring school life and vow to leave an awesome legacy behind!

MP: Elena is learning magic, and needs one very special book to become a pro. Too bad she’s not the only one after it, and her clumsy buddy Bomb isn’t much help!

XMAS HEARTS: Santa Strat is a Christmas hater, and he plans to skip the holidays and feast on cake yet again. Or he did…until someone stole all the cakes! Now he’s looking for payback!

COMBO SQUAD: Despite his job as a hero, Mafuyu Mitsurugi is more of a zero. In a last ditch effort, his boss teams him up with a beautiful girl and a surly brute. And they just might save the day!

Why does this matter?

Aside from this being quite a good deal (only $15 for eight stories, all told running 400+ pages), this book offers a first-hand look at the process from the creator who gives one-page reflections on the stories you just read. That’s a pretty good deal. Plus, if you love Fairy Tale then this is a must read.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

Hiro Mashima's Playground Review

Image credit: Kodansha Comics

I’m going to start with the afterword because Mashima puts reading (and in his case creating) short stories best: these are stories for trial and relaxation. It’s a great way to put why short stories are so exciting, because they allow us to try out new stories without a ton of commitment. We can also relax and enjoy the ride knowing there are only 20 to 50 pages before we reach the end. That is the experience of reading this book and while I’m certain all eight stories won’t be a knockout for everyone, this collection in large part is excellent. Many of the manga deal with magic (Mashima admits that’s his main interest in storytelling after all) but there are different stories being told with different types of protagonists.

This collection is filled with great comic timing. Characters react in a variety of ways that make me laugh out loud or at least giggle a few times. Mashima is very good at capturing a certain personality type that is either manic or completely subdued until the moment strikes. It’s a reoccurring element of all of his stories and it tends to give the collection as a whole an energy that’s hard to resist. The first story, entitled “Magicians” (for which Mashima won a prize that kick-started his career), uses this in spades, flowing as if he wrote each page without any planning. You turn a page and a dog-thing shows up, then you turn the page again and a character has some surprise to show off. It’s an exciting way to tell and read a story. “Fairy Tale” has the same elements of revealing rules and then breaking them, or enhancing the stakes and then deflating them. It’s an exciting style that’s hard to resist.

There are also fun storytelling mechanics at work that push the reader like no other work does. “Plue’s Adventure II,” for instance, is a choose-your-own-adventure, but with a twist. You can choose your adventure but you also get points by the end. There’s a page that lets you know how you did, further increasing the desire to replay the story and figure out how to get the highest score. Honestly, I’ve never seen a choose-your-own-adventure done this way and it’s very clever. Other elements that feel very fresh are a Christmas story twisting the way we think of Santa, a play on superheroes with “Combo Squad Mixture,” and a fun demon tale with “Cocona.” All in all, I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed nearly every story.

The art in general is quite good, save for some exploitative boob shots here and there. Mashima does a great job with energy, especially on page turns revealing strong kicks or shocking moments. Related to the comic timing, Mashima is very good at capturing the personality of characters. Whether drab, angry, happy, or furious, you instantly get the emotion of the character. This is key in the comedic timing as well as in the action moments. These stories aren’t super serious, so this is key for the enjoyment factor.

It can’t be perfect can it?

I wasn’t a big fan of “Bad Boy’s Song,” which is the only story set in the real world. Mashima may agree; his afterword on the tale criticizes the art quite a bit. It’s also his first published work (it was published before he won the prize for “Magicians”) and it drags quite a bit. It leans heavily on the high school trope of the hot teacher and the desire to end the school year as stars, and it never really feels genuine.

Is it good?

I can’t say enough how much fun I had with this collection. The stories are eclectic enough to make each one unique and fun in its own way. Anthologies are tricky though since not everyone is going to love every story. With eight tales all told here, however, it’s hard to deny there are good odds you’ll love something in this collection.

Hiro Mashima's Playground Review
Hiro Mashima's Playground
Is it good?
I can’t say enough how much fun I had with this collection. The stories are eclectic enough to make each one unique and fun in its own way.
Over 80% of these stories are excellent, with most capturing great comedic timing
The art is solid throughout with great energy and comedy
There are a lot of magic stories so if you love fantasy you'll love these
One of these stories fell flat for me
The boob shots can seem exploitative at times

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