Review

by Carlo Santos, Oct 14th 2006

Stray Little Devil

G. novel 1

Synopsis:
Stray Little Devil GN 1
Pam Akumachi always thought she had some magical ancestry in her, but she never imagined that she'd one day turn into a devil. But that's exactly what happens when she tries to summon one: the spell backfires, gives her little horns and pointy ears, and transports her to an alternate world. In this world of angels, devils and celestial magic, Pam must work her way up to full-fledged devil status if she ever wants to get back home. There's a lot she has to learn, though—basic conduct between angels and devils, acquiring a familiar, how to read devil script, how to fly ... oh, and fending off big, vicious creatures. The way home is going to be a lot more difficult than it looks.
Review:
Great, another girl-transported-to-another-world story—but at least it's one that has some distinctive quirks. Stray Little Devil takes a cute, almost fairytale-like approach to the age-old plot formula and creates a setting that borrows heavily from others while still having its own unique qualities. Detailed background art gives us a fascinating environment to explore, along with a society and system of magic that's consistent and believable. Best of all, Pam herself is refreshingly angst-free and devoid of emotional or historical baggage. But the story at this stage still falls back on too many cookie-cutter fantasy elements, too many reusable plot devices—it's going to have to try a lot harder to really break free of the mold.

Reusable plot device number one: the enchanted amulet. It's like you can't even get started as a fantasy character these days without at least having some magical jewelry with an ancient power that no one's aware of. Even before that comes into play, though, there are already plenty of other tricks conveniently copied from other stories: the unexpected teleportation to a magical world, the rivalry between heaven and hell, the goofy but helpful sidekicks, the mysterious but beautiful leading man. Although Pam's adventures aren't exactly episodic—the chapters flow into each other better than that, forming a distinct story arc—it'd be right to call it formulaic, the way it leads to a climatic battle in later chapters. In short, our heroine develops some fighting ability, and that's about it. If you were looking for out-and-out originality, don't come near this one; the goal of the story is to present something familiar and superficially appealing.

The appealing part comes from the clever world-building that goes into the story. Yes, the idea of angels and demons at war is an old one, but this is not to be confused with something like Wish or even Disgaea (despite similarities in humor). The "world map" in Chapter 2 and Pam being made a "devil intern" should be enough to prove that this story does have some geographical and societal rigor to it. That alone gives it a good sense of people, places and history, at least more so than a generic adventure where characters fight around nondescript trees and rocks on behalf of some arbitrarily complicated back-story. Pam's emotional reaction to all this is also refreshingly pleasant: she does not break into tears, she does not swoon needlessly over the first male character she meets, she simply gets a little indignant and panicky and decides to do her best so she can get home. If only all fantasy heroines were so capable.

Youthful character designs and sharp linework add to the cute aesthetic of the series, although the art also delves into seriousness when needed. Pam is clearly a concession to prevailing tastes in bishoujo characters, attractive at first sight but ultimately bland (and wearing short shorts guaranteed to set off the morality police). The supporting cast doesn't fare much better; their RPG outfits and cookie-cutter good looks ensure that they'll be forgotten by the reader as soon as soon as the volume is closed. The background art shows real promise, though, with stunning sights like floating sky islands, a towering demon palace, and a precarious waterfall. Elements like these add depth to this world, as do the huge, imposing creatures that live in it. The predominantly rectangular layouts—some stretching across two pages—make this a straightforward reading experience, although the level of detail can make some panels hard to decode.

It might finally be time to start having more faith in DrMaster publications—this one features easily readable dialogue, a fairly sharp reproduction, and a couple of color insert pages. Some of the screentones suffer from moiré due to the scanning and printing process, but the rest of the artwork comes out clean. Sound effects are left in Japanese, with translations in small text next to them, typically in a font that fits the mood. The one area that could still use major improvement is paper quality—it's still too thin, too yellowish and too rough, causing the ink to bleed a little on thick lines like panel borders. The overall production, though, is getting closer and closer to top industry standards.

By the end of this first volume—or even by the end of the first chapter—you realize that Stray Little Devil is the kind of series you read in between more serious works, a fluffy interlude of sugar-and-sorcery (no swords!) for all the fantasy fans out there. It could still use a lot of improvement in the story department, and it needs to stop resorting to clichés all the time, but what there is, is handled well: the richly drawn landscapes, the carefully structured society and geography, and a heroine with a positive, self-reliant attitude. Sprawling epics and pseudo-historical drama can be had elsewhere; meanwhile, this one is just in it for some adventurous fun with devils and angels and magic. If it can pick up the pace in the next volume or two, this might be one fantasy world worth exploring.
Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : C-
Art : B

+ A brisk adventure set in a solid, visually stunning fantasy world.
Relies too much on familiar genre elements and plot devices.

Story & Art:Kotaro Mori

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