Bestia is a new series from Yen Press about a boy with a mysterious past who seeks to find answers where he grew up in London, England. It’s a story about animals, magical creatures, and fairy gardens. In many ways, this series is like Pokemon as it features creatures that can do the bidding of its caretaker, but also manages to create a magical story, not unlike Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Out now, with vol. 2 on the way in October, Bestia is a great manga that mixes an interesting mystery with good fantasy adventure and action.
This first volume manages to introduce the main character, an entire magical world hidden in plain sight, and get the ball rolling so that the main character is already using unlocked powers for good. It zips by, opening with Asuka Tsukasa who is studying abroad in London and almost immediately cowering in fear from innocent dogs in the street. His distant 14 year-old relative, Alistair Reno Gruworth, is showing him around and soon he’s visiting the house he grew up in. His mother has been long gone and he aims to figure out where she and her friend ended up with only faint memories left of them both. Soon though, Asuka is transported into a magical garden underneath the house, is threatened by a giant black dog, and is running for his life from crystal fish flying in the sky. Yeah, it gets trippy.
Adapted by Miyakokasiwa from a story by Makoto Sanda, this book moves fast, keeping the characters on edge and your interest up. Told over four episodes, the book effectively sets up the big mystery, establishes the main villain, and sets in motion a relationship with Asuka that’s faintly flirty but also tied deeply to his family. There are also multiple monsters — in this story, they are called Cryptids — for Asuka to navigate and it all comes together in an interesting combination that feels both familiar but also unique.
You may not be able to shake that feeling of familiarity, though. There are a good deal of similarities to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — being set in the United Kingdom and involving creatures being misplaced or mishandled especially. However, the mystery of Asuka’s mother adds a new dimension, as does how he becomes connected to a key Cryptid.
That Cryptid is introduced as a giant black wolf, but in what is sadly a stereotypical element of manga, we learn when it is tamed it is a naked female girl. The wolf wasn’t wearing any clothes so it makes sense she’s introduced naked, but there’s more than one blatantly sexualized pages to show off her beauty. For younger readers, this is a problem, but for older readers, I do find it somewhat unsettling the Cryptid is sexualized and then tamed with a chain around her neck. What this might say to an impressionable young kid is slightly unsettling, though I am of course reading into it. The character is clothed for the rest of the manga and there isn’t very much flirting going on, but the introduction does leave one to wonder if a relationship will be built off of it.
Visually this manga is fabulous, with great attention to detail and good monster design. Aco Arisaka is great with clothing in particular, from flowing dresses to trim jackets.
I’m game to read more Bestia, though I’ll keep a cautious eye on the relationship brewing between Asuka and his main Cryptid. The world, the beasts, and the mystery all come together to make an interesting fantasy experience.
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