Beast Master: Gotta Have 'Em All

>> Friday, May 27, 2011

I know, right? Some of the names . . . oh well, part of it is likely translation. Beast Master is an earlier work by a mangaku I like, Kyousuke Motomi (author of Dengeki Daisy). Since I originally wrote this post, Beast Master moved up from from "Has a Certain Appeal" to "Gotta Have 'Em All." Fortunately, with just two volumes, it's not one of those mangas that will break the bank.

I was, in fact, so caught up with Dengeki Daisy, that I bought these sight unseen and I don't regret it. It's not perfect, but it has a key ingredient frequently found among my "gotta have 'em all" mangas: charm. Leo, our male protagonist is the polar opposite of the smooth sophisticated shojo male staple. True, I like the latter, but I can't help but be won over with Leo's earnest simplicity that, in no way, resembles stupidity.

Anime? No Volumes of manga: 2 Status: Complete

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range/taboos: Our hero here, spent much of his life "in the wild" and will go on a violent berserk rampage if put at risk and/or bloodied (or, apparently, if his girlfriend is). So, yeah, bloody violence happens but no corpses except for a leopard. Except for a bit of violence, it's pure as the driven snow. Don't let the chains fool you - no BDSM here.

Premise: Girl who loves animals but sends them running with her smothery ways befriends a boy who comes off as scary while being exceptionally good with animals. When she talks to him, she finds out, he's not scary at all, but sweet, innocent, almost child-like. Turns out, he's lived in the wild most of his life so his social skills aren't at their peak. She also discovers quickly that he will go berserk to protect himself, but that she can get him to calm down when no one else can.

What works: Both protagonists are appealing, "Leo" (the "wild boy") is unaffected and unstintingly affectionate with his own backward charm that I like. If the circumstances around them are convoluted and contrived, his character is earnest, stalwart and true. He is more than he seems on the surface and yet, if you're really looking, he's exactly what he seems on the surface. His moments where he lashes out are so perfectly justified and such a contrast to a sweet and harmless soul, that's it's very powerful. Yet, the justification is also so extreme, it's perfectly natural. And he is the one who suffers most when he falls to the beast within. Ironically, even that violent beast is a contrast to the threats that draw him out - he works only to protect himself and her. That makes Leo something more than the most urbane villain he struggles against. The character is drawn boldly and broadly, but comes off so natural that it's easy to get sucked in.

Yuiko, as Motomi's female protagonists frequently are, is strong without being masculine. She is selfless and strong, without being overpowering or nasty. She was quick to see past appearances and see the real Leo when no one else even tried. If she's a little slow to catch on to Leo's devotion to her, that's hardly anything new in manga. I like that she refuses to treat him like an animal and that both of them are focused on the well-being of the other. This manga could have been longer and still appealing, but it shortness kept it from bogging down, so that's nice, too. Tidy.

I like the emphasis on animals (the girl's father is a veterinarian) and find Leo's gentleness (when not in berserk mode) completely in character. I like his unfamiliarity with modern technology and processed foods fun, too. The artwork is less refined than the author's later works, and I think it's something of an acquired taste. Sometimes, it's just plain ugly. But, when it's beautiful, it's very compelling and emotive. Powerful. Frequently hilarious. The drama is powerful without ever being weighty or cumbersome. I also have to admit I liked both of the short mini-manga stories included with the books.

Favorite Character: I like 'em both. I do, but I gotta go with Leo. There's something about his child-like enthusiasm and lack of self-consciousness that appeals to me. And, under that is a quiet wisdom and rock solid practicality that doesn't have any problems with setting the right priorities. Yuiko could do herself a few favors, for all her worldliness, listening to his advice once in a while. He doesn't give it frequently, but it's always worth listening to. Despite my almost guilty love for sneaky sarcastic types, I very much appreciate honesty. Leo is honesty incarnate. I don't think Leo can lie. Even if he could, I know he wouldn't, not when it mattered.

Leo: He looks a lot more manly when he's not beat up!

Leo: You can't protect two things at once. You have to make a choice or you'll lose them both. My dad taught me that. He'll understand.
Yuiko: But you said it was the most precious thing next to your life.
Leo: That's true. But you mean more to me than my life.

Yuiko: Well, thanks, but I have to go stop Leo. He's very kind-hearted. If I don't stop him, he'll regret this later.

Leo: Anybody'd be scared of me. I'm even scared of myself. That lady was right. I am a freak. You've been really good to me, Yuiko, but...
Yuiko: You're not the only one. I have a beast inside me, too. When that woman said those things about you, I was furious. If I'd had fangs, I would have killed her. We're all the same, Leo. We keep a ferocious beast within ourselves in order to protect the things we hold dear.

Leo: seeing you cry makes me so happy.

Yuiko's attacker: Hmph. So you wanna fight, eh? People say your face is the only scary thing about you?
Yuiko: That's not quite true. He's fought a leopard before and killed it.
Leo: Yuiko, if it looks like I'm going to kill him, will you stop me?
Yuiko's attacker - dogeza (a bow of deepest apology involving kneeling and putting your whole upper body on the floor)

What I didn't like: Side characters pretty much sucked (except for Banchou, the friendly neighborhood thug, who was cool). Either they were shallow and uninteresting, or too whacked to take seriously. Bad guys are painlessly rehabilitated.

The back story behind Leo's unconventional upbringing was also pretty weak, even by manga standards with a ridiculous fortune and a ruthless band of relatives desperate to steal it. Fortunately, it wasn't really key except toward the end.


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