The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
As Miss Beelzebub Likes
What's It About?Once she was an angel, but having sided with Satan, the lovely Miss Beelzebub is now his right-hand woman and one of the most feared beings in all Pandemonium. Well, sort of – actually Beelzebub is a little bit lazy and fully obsessed with cute fluffy things, much to the distress of Mullin, her aide.
In his quest to make sure Beelzebub does all of her work and perhaps doesn't sleep naked, Mullin has to cope with his burgeoning crush on his boss and the oddities of the other demons around her, like Azazel and his refusal to talk or Belphagor and her nervous bladder. But even if the job is harder than he expected in some strange ways, Mullin wouldn't trade it for anything…especially because little miss Beelzebub may be starting to like him back.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
Four-panel manga are much more hit-or-miss, if only because they have so much less space to tell their jokes. As Miss Beelzebub Likes lands more on the hit side, but really only after mangaka matoba has had a bit to get the story going. The first chapter, while it has its moments, feels like almost any other four-koma story about a guy and a cute girl trying who have vaguely opposing personalities. That the setting is Hell and the characters are the demon Beelzebub and her assistant Mullin almost doesn't matter when you're rehashing gags like her sleeping naked and him walking in on her.
Fortunately things take a turn for the better fairly quickly. While the jokes never really delve into anything spectacular or particularly new, as matoba gets her feet under her with the story, each chapter feels more and more coherent and the charm begins to ooze from the page. Juxtapositions between characters' appearances and personalities, like Azazel's manly physique and apparent stoicism hiding his otomen nature or the fact that Beelzebub is actually Satan's right-hand woman despite the fact that she's a cute-obsessed flake, form the basis of the series, and largely that does work. It's very clear that matoba is well-read and very knowledgeable about demon lore and literature from the afterward, referencing numerous compendiums and 18th and 19th century novels that aren't the old standby Faust, so there's a very good chance that someone more in the know about demon lore than me will find plenty of hidden references within the manga. For readers more caught up in contemporary pop culture, comic titles frequently reference manga and anime sources and if those angel hairballs aren't tribble references, I'll be very surprised.
At its heart, As Miss Beelzebub Likes is a romantic comedy that just so happens to star demons. As a romance, this just gets cuter and cuter as the book goes on, and even if it relies on old standbys like movie tickets randomly won and someone coming down with a mysterious fever, it still manages to be pretty darn adorable. While it's clear that Mullin has a crush on his boss from the start, Beelzebub seems to develop hers as this first volume goes on, which feels very sweet, especially since Mullin is never creepy about the whole thing. (We leave creepy to Astaroth the lady killer.) The art is somewhere between buxom moe and basic bishounen in terms of characters against impressively detailed backgrounds.
At the end of the day, this is a decent story, both mildly romantic and relatively amusing. There are a couple of jokes that don't entirely work, like Belphagor's persistent peeing problem which gets old quickly, but even if you don't find it particularly cute or funny, it's still ultimately harmless.
What if demons were rendered entirely in pastels and were also very cute? That's the central point to As Miss Beelzebub Likes, a four-panel manga oozing with saccharine demon government officials who love things like Alpaca fur and cake and stuffed animals. Each character centers around a cute quirk like an obsession with fuzzy things, an inability to speak without using giant signboards, and an uncontrolled bladder.
I expected this manga to be cute, and I have zero complaints about matoba's artwork which is very much my kind of frilly, pastel aesthetic. But As Miss Beelzebub Likes rests heavily on what it thinks the audience will find cute to the point of repetition and, in the case of Belphegor just...having to pee all the time. That joke ran on for far too many panels than needed before veering into “the urge to pee is also sexual/ecstasy” territory. After her fourth or so trip to the bathroom, she finally disappears for the rest of book and I didn't have to sit through any more pee jokes.
What the book fails to grasp is the potential of its setting. The entire story takes place in Hell and all of its inhabitants are major figures in demography but the story never seems interested in engaging with or pulling from that lore. Instead, perhaps in an attempt to be ironic, everything looks a lot more like Victorian-era England with fanciful building facades and cute cakes. Beelzebub goes on “dates” with her attendant Mullin and the two have a blossoming romance set against the finely detailed backdrops.
Okay but, where's the appeal of this manga's setting? Everyone is simply a demon in name only. I'm not suggesting you can't find a way to make Hell cute, but shouldn't tings be scary-cute or the characters shown to have a different cultural idea of what constitutes cute, given they're demons and all? I just can't understand the point of having demons at all if there isn't any real interest in having that history influence the work. Give Beelzebub cute little bug wings or give Belphagor a steampunk aesthetic.
The manga's four-panel presentation also created some issues, as it felt like its attempts at humor were diluted by reading each strip one after another. The rhythm of “scenario set-up, joke presentation, dead-pan, joke resolution” started to feel rote by the book's end. It might just be better not to read manga in this format all in one sitting so its structure isn't burnt out so quickly.
As Miss Beelzebub Likes has a cute premise, but it doesn't fully execute its own promise. Beelzebub, lord of the underworld, actually being a cute, carefree lady and lover of fluffy things could lead to a lot of jokes about her temperament not matching the requirements of the job. However, there's nothing demonic about this setting or these characters, short of their names. Beelzebub's tasks are never made clear; she simply has paperwork to sign. Virtually all of the demon characters have soft sides to them. That makes them more empathetic, to be sure, but the joke that these demons are actually sweet doesn't go far if the reader rarely sees a single thing demonic on the page. The characters even work and live in a beautiful castle, and there's a town full of what look like normal humans nearby—with modern conveniences like movie theaters. It's jarring, and while the characters are fun to watch, they're all rather shallow as well, with only Beelzebub herself progressing as a character by volume's end. The fact that she no longer sleeps in the nude because of her budding crush on Mullin—and her growing embarrassment around him—makes her even more endearing as a character. However, the joke that this petite, airy woman was once a mighty fighter in Lucifer's army doesn't get far when we're given all of a panel or two of her in her pre-fallen-angel days.
Mullin being harried and put-upon by Beelzebub's lack of decorum and care is a joke stretched thin over the length of the volume, though he is a likeable character. Among the secondary characters, Azazel stands out the most as the giant man with a sculpted physique and a love for cute bears. Even so, that's just another example of a demon being sweet. Astaroth is perhaps the most demonic, but only because he's obsessed with Beelzebub's cuteness to an unhealthy degree.
matoba's rounded faces and soft character designs suit this fluffy, sweet atmosphere. Every demon looks like they could be knocked over with a feather. The chapters follow a pattern of a few page spreads, then a number of four long, panels, then back to the spreads by chapter's end. Since there are so many attempts at punchlines, this works well, but background details are limited almost exclusively to the spreads and when they do appear, they paint an odd picture of a cheerful, welcoming underworld.
As Miss Beelzebub Likes volume 1 is cute but doesn't succeed in clashing the common dark and grim expectations of demon life with the warm and welcoming one contained in these pages. These characters didn't even need to be demons for this story to work. It's a fast read with likeable characters, but it's not as funny or as bold at the premise suggests.
discuss this in the forum (28 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history