We may have passed the 20th anniversary of Pokémon a while ago, but I’m still in the mood to discuss and analyze something in the vein of it. So, today’s subject is Tomodachi X Monster, a dark parody of the pocket monster genre that Pokémon, and also Digimon, reside in. Is it good?
Tomodachi X Monster Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Written and drawn by: Yoshihiko Inui
Adaption by: Janet Houck
Somewhere out in a little village by the mountains, a young sixth grader by the name of Narimiya Wataru heard a strange voice one day. The voice led him to a mysterious little creature with stitches over its mouth. It seemed friendly and nice enough, so he brought it home with him and named it Peke. Soon enough, a girl at school sees him and his creature, revealing that she has one as well. She gives him a warning that people will be after him and from then on, his world will change radically as bodies start piling up and vicious children attack him.
The best way to describe this manga is that it’s what Avatar Press, infamous for Crossed and God Is Dead, would release if they decided to do a parody of Pokémon and Digimon, but accidentally took it too seriously. Unfortunately, Tomodachi X Monster isn’t that good, thinking that dark and edgy with lots of blood and guts will make the material mature and funny. As a whole, it really doesn’t succeed as a being a parody nor does it really stand well as its own thing as another pocket monster type story.
It has a familiar enough setup that’s typical of these types of stories: a boy one day discovers a weird creature and they become friends and partners. Together, they beat up and take down bad guys. We also get the rules for how the bond between human and the creatures, referred to as ‘friends’ here, work. It’s typical fare like Pokémon, Digimon, and even Dragon Drive. Where the story zig-zags away from the expected is when the gratuitous violence and the disturbed children enter the picture. They raise the stakes more visibly to the audience than the other series, since we do see people getting brutally murdered and get a sense of the desperation. However, besides the edginess and the development of some plot points, the series feels more like your garden variety pocket monster story. This really doesn’t parody the subject matter more than just emulating it, just with the bonus of guts and serial killers.
As Seven Seas Entertainment put it, this series is to pocket monsters as Magical Girl Apocalypse, another of their series, is to magical girls. They are saying this is a dark parody series, but again, it really isn’t. It doesn’t mock or comment on the nature of this genre. It throws a different spin on the relationship between a kid and his creature (well at least, that’s what the villains say), but mostly just makes familiar concepts and ideas darker… but that’s it. It doesn’t try to make things darkly funny or call attention to the tropes of this genre, so it ultimately just feels flat. Quite frankly, this series (along with Magical Girl Apocalypse honestly) is not really a dark parody, but more like an exploitation film in manga form.
Character-wise, the series feels underwhelming. Our lead, Wataru, doesn’t leave much of an impression. He’s your typical character in the pocket monster genre, though with the added wrinkle of being in way over his head. He shows some backbone when fighting one of the bad guys and seems to have this trouble in the past with making friends, but he himself doesn’t make an impression. Who does, and who should really have been the focus, is Shinozaki Airi. She has a decent design, has a history with the villains, an interesting fighting style with her monster, and started showing what could have been a solid character arc. However, she is axed very quickly, as a way to show how dark and edgy the series is going to be, which just strikes me as a waste of a good character.
The villains themselves are kind of unremarkable. While they do provide a credible threat and give the manga a creepy vibe, they are not that well defined nor do they have interesting motivations. Yuuki and Kouji are just generic evil thugs who don’t have much going for them. Kouji sort of has an interesting monster that manipulates dead bodies, but that’s really it. The leader of the group of evil kids, Tsukasa (who has himself a Pikachu knockoff), isn’t great either, not showing much personality besides nefarious evildoer whose only motivation is “cause it’s fun”. Erika is probably the biggest standout of the villains. She doesn’t do much, but she has a quiet demeanor about her, like she’s just always analyzing the situation and has something in mind. She also seems to have ulterior motives, as indicated by the “In the next volume” segment at the end of the book, but not much else. Other than them all being kids with no conscience, which is something done plenty of times before like with The Drifting Classroom, the villains are kind of disappointing.
The artwork by Yoshihiko Inui is good though I would say. Inui has a style that’s similar to Hiro Mashima of Fairy Tail and Rave Master fame in the way that characters and creatures are drawn. It’s a light-hearted style that could work contrasting against the horrific nature of the material. Sort of like the opposite case with Prison School, which had a very serious and detailed art style that contrasted rather well against the fanservice heavy and goofy story at play. Inui works here for giving the story and moments in it shock, but this type of art style being used to tell a dark story just doesn’t make anything funny and feels played out because of other series doing that sort of thing already.
That all said, Inui’s artwork is still good. The character designs are alright and no one at any point looks off-model. The layouts are good and everything is easy to follow, though they don’t complement the action as often as they should. The layouts can leave the action looking a bit stiff with poor panel transitioning or with the fighting skipping forward a bit too far. It’s a shame, since that art does depict the still images of action very well. It always looks intense and you see the power and destructiveness in each blow, slash, or shock. Also, I like the monster designs here. They have a sort of Digimon/Yu-Gi-Oh! style to them with how their bodies are shaped.
Tomodachi X Monster Vol. 1 was a rather disappointing experience. Despite the push as a dark parody of the pocket monster genre, it’s humorless and far less clever than it thinks it is, with a tinge of exploitation in it. The characters aren’t as good as they could be and the story doesn’t really jump out at you. While the artwork is nice and it has its creepy moments, the series just isn’t that good.