Many manga take place in a public school setting and because it’s one of the only places we as young people are forced to coexist on a regular basis — it makes a great setting for drama. Kodansha Comics recently released in English a new series focusing on the trials of existing in school and being a little different, and also — monsters. The monsters in this manga are rare, but totally safe and normal, and it’s an intriguing premise to focus on the culture of them fitting in.
Interview with Monster Girls Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
So what’s it about? For the full Kodansha summary just read this:
Vampires, dullahans, succubi, snow women. These are just a few of those beings once known as “demi-humans,” and high school Biology teacher Testsuo Takahashi has always wanted to meet them. He gets his chance when the new term starts, and there are four “demis” in his school! Join the caring, bumbling Tetsuo in his quest to get to know these adorable monster girls, while helping them navigate the highs and lows of high school!
Why does this book matter?
Aside from its focus on bullying and fitting in (two aspects of school we can all relate to), Interview with Monster Girls Vol. 1 also captures different types of monsters you may have known existed. Dullahans are monsters who live with their head detached from their bodies (and come from Irish faerie stories), succubi who manipulate people’s labido, and snow women who are very cold. Add in a vampire and there are some intriguing dynamics at work here.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Vampires are weird man.
First and foremost, this first volume is wonderfully weird. It efficiently sets up the premise and the protagonist, Tetsuo Takahashi. He’s a man who has always been fascinated by demis (monster people) and has wanted to interview and talk with them for his whole life. Enter three new demi students and a demi teacher and his wish has come true. The story follows his impromptu interviews with the three demi girls, with each chapter focusing on each and wrapping up with the characters coming together. As Tetsuo comes to learn more about how these girls’ monster abilities work, he also learns how they function in society. Slowly you discover their weirdness is not unlike every young person’s trials in dealing with awkwardness at school and the bullies that come with it.
Creator Petos captures the uniqueness of each characters’ personality and at the same time plays and with their powers. Take for instance a montage showing the vampire demi’s use of her personal fridge; she needs it for her state issue blood, but she also loves to tuck her feet in to keep them cold. Or in another scene, the dullahan demi tries going on a date with just her head while her body is attempting to communicate with the vampire demi miles away. Petos cleverly shows the monster abilities at work, but never loses sight of their very normal fears and anxieties that come with being teenagers.
There are some fantastic pages in this book that will very much help young people understand bullying. A key scene involves the confrontation with two bullies and I don’t think Petos could have shown a better example of showing how bullying can hurt people. For this reason this manga holds an important message and does a lot of good.
The pace of Interview with Monster Girls is quite nice, rolling along at a slower and steadier pace than most manga I’ve read lately; this volume wants to get to the core of the characters and understand them rather than rush through comedic or dramatic sequences. This is partly due to the measured and clean looking art that takes its time to tell its story. While the demis in this volume don’t have wildly visual powers, they all are captured subtly and genuinely making them feel special. Take for instance the succubi teacher, who has to deal with avoiding turning people on (men or women), even though she isn’t trying. Never graphic, Petos shows us how she influences others to her own embarrassment.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The most compelling stories this premise has have yet to be told as the girls are separated and just being introduced here. That’s all fine and good, but on some level this volume doesn’t have as much action or excitement as it should. There’s one great sequence – the scene with the dullahan going on a date with her head and body separated – but that’s about it. This might be exasperated by the fact that it’s not the funniest manga. There are certainly attempts at humor, but it’s rather childish humor that didn’t get a laugh out of me.
One of the humorous elements is the teacher’s repeated reminder to himself that it’s a bit weird he’s interviewing these young girls in private. This is an element that – I think for Americans more than any other culture – made me feel a bit awkward. Though the teacher ultimately is very much not attempting to attract or prey on these girls it’s still strange and awkward at times. Calling a young girl cute for instance, seems so inappropriate. It’s an element that I’m sure some readers will struggle with – as I did when reading this – but if you give the volume a chance it actually does well near the end to remind us Tetsuo is a father figure to these girls and nothing more.
A clever scene.
Is It Good?
Interviews with Monster Girls is a well written high school drama that uses monsters to remind us we’re all different and strange. It sets up the characters well and, if you let it, should put volume 2 on your pull list. Interviews with Monster Girls Vol. 1 is wonderfully weird and a fun read.