From the creator of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a beloved manga recently turned into anime, comes Frau Faust. With the second volume’s release right around the corner, it’s time to give this series a look. Is it good?
In an alternate universe’s distant past, there lies a fairy tale about a man named Faust. He was greedy and made a deal with a demon for help and servitude in exchange for his soul. It’s a famous tale, but things aren’t always as they seem. Enter a mysterious woman named Johanna who has wandered into a town, trying to gain access to a church that prevents her from entering. There, she meets a young man just trying to get by and so, a fateful connection is made…
“A fairy tale is constructed from truth, fact, and fantasy alike.” The quote from Johanna serves not only as a good line, but essentially captures the feel of this tale. Frau Faust is about a woman on a quest to find the parts of a demon she made a pact with long ago and put him back together. In its opening volume, the series sets the stage and tone for the book very well. This is a tale of perceptions, and things not being exactly as they appear. Throughout the volume, I found myself constantly changing my views on the story, keeping things quite unexpected. The way the narrative is presented made it very engaging and intriguing.
The story of Frau Faust shows potential and has things off to a decent enough start. The premise is interesting, especially learning why Johanna is after the demon parts in the first place and how it changes our views of her and the fairy tale the story’s based upon. But outside of the premise and some interesting character building as we meet her daughter and learn her ties to the past, the first volume is relatively light on story and more about laying the groundwork. It’s not as meaty as say, the first volume of The Ancient Magus’ Bride was. So going into the manga wanting more of that, you may leave disappointed and wanting more.
Huh… that’s a weird way to go with a Deal with the Devil storyline.
Johanna, our lead character, is a very lively, engaging character to read about. She’s charismatic, able to smooth talk her way through some encounters, and her lively interactions with each character are a lot of fun, whether it be her straight-forward talking and contempt with the demon or her motherly and caring interactions with Nico. However, she is also a very serious individual with a goal that she is determined to see through to the end, made by her contemptuous and uneasy relationship she once had with this demon. You get the sense that whatever happened between the two turned out very sour and problematic for her (probably less so for the demon given how he seems to find amusement in all of this) and whatever potential benefits she got were not truly worth it. We can only guess and speculate on the truth at this moment, but regardless, Johanna is wonderful and a great lead to such a fantastical tale.
The rest of the characters are fine for the most part, but don’t hold a candle to our lead. Marion is a very boring, forgettable secondary protagonist whose motivation for tagging along is very weak. Yes, she reawakened your interest in learning, but you’ve only known her for a few days at best and she’s reassembling a demon. This is a character that’s not annoying and does help out at the end of the book, but just really lacks any personality or charisma like everyone else. Lorenzo Calandra is an inquisitor on the hunt for Johanna who has a very strong sense of justice and morality. He’s willing to cut her down in an instant, but learning that she is tending to a sick kid and listening to her daughter’s plea, you see he also knows when to stand down and not let an innocent person get hurt. He makes for a likable antagonist, though one I hope we dive more into to see him in action with his partner some more. Then we have Nico Bernstein, the daughter of Johanna, who has her own interesting background given the circumstances of her birth and how she lives. I won’t get into it exactly, but I like the depiction of her and Johanna’s relationship and how, despite everything, she’s still her own being who can make her own decisions. I hope to see more of her and not say goodbye right away next volume, since I wouldn’t mind fleshing her character out more.
Yamazaki’s artwork looks pretty good throughout the volume. The art does a stellar job conveying the characters’ feelings and thoughts through their bodies and faces. Everyone’s drawn with so much animation in them in how they talk and hold themselves, accentuated through angles in the panels and use of shadow. There’s never a stiff or awkward moment in said page layouts either; everything moves through panels fluidly. There’s some nice detailing and creativity in the depictions of the fantasy elements within the book that was nice as well. However, there are some minor problems here, with many blank and empty backgrounds plaguing most scenes and there are a couple of art mistakes, such as a character missing their nose or suddenly wearing glasses where they should not be in a panel. Probably what’s most disappointing though is that book lacks the artistry and visuals of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. That was such a beautiful, striking, and creative book, even in its first volume, and fans of that book will be disappointed to see that this manga isn’t as memorizing as the creator’s other work (both series are running at the same time). The artwork does its job well, don’t get me wrong, but it lacks that punch its sister series has.
The biggest problems of this manga comes not from the story, art, or the characters, but from its presentation and content. This book only has three chapters of Frau Faust in it and while they’re good, there’s not a whole lot of story to get into. A good fourth of the book is dedicated to a short one-shot called The Invisible Museum, also by Kore Yamazaki. It’s a small tale about a girl who finds a job working at a strange museum where its exhibits are invisible and one of them is missing and in need of capturing. It’s not a bad story, sans some weirdness coming from the curator of the museum and some less than stellar art, and I even see potential in making a full manga out of it with a few tweaks. However, I think there should’ve been more of the main series in the book than what we ended up getting, especially in a first volume when you’re trying to sell it to potential readers.
Frau Faust Vol. 1 is a good start bolstered by a terrific, fascinating main character and an interesting premise. It promises to head in an intriguing direction and keeps challenging your expectations. However, it lives in the shadow of its sister series, lacking its phenomenal art polish, strong story, and content to chew on. If you’re a fan of The Ancient Magnus Bride and want a taste of the creator’s other works, I would give this a recommendation. However, for others, despite its quality, I would say wait to get both this and second volume together to get your money’s worth.