The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
How To Treat Magical Beasts
What's It About?Young mage Ziska is one of the last of her craft in a growing, industrialized world. Few people are susceptible to magic cures now that they know longer believe, but animals and magical beasts, on the other hand, still require folk magic to cure their ills.
Ziska is apprenticing under the local veterinarian whose day-to-day patient calls sometimes lead the duo to encounter magical beasts. The pair will need to combine knowledge of the practical and the fantastical to solve these medical mysteries.
How to Treat Magical Beasts: Mine and Master’s Medical Journal is an original manga by Kaziya. Seven Seas released the first volume on May 22.
Is It Worth Reading?Lynzee Loveridge
Show of hands for everyone left with a gaping, magical void in their life since The Ancient Magus' Bride anime wrapped up. It can't just be me who is sorely missing that very specific flavor of grounded, practical magic. Fortunately, How to Treat Magical Beasts is here to fill that void for me and anyone else who related deeply to Hagrid and his rotating menagerie of misunderstood magic creatures. The story takes place in what appears to be turn of the century Europe. Factory smokestacks are beginning to cut into the horizon and humans are finding the answer to their ailments in modern medicine instead of relying on folk remedies. Ziska and her master (in the apprentice sense, not the ownership sense) are using this burgeoning form of science to practice veterinary medicine, although Ziska's magical talents are still utilized whenever they encounter a not-so-mundane animal.
The manga touches on a lot of topics in its first volume, and that's not including its very interesting variety of creatures. Manga creator Kaziya seems interested in saying something about the abandonment of tradition for convenience and that both still have a place in modern society. The Master discusses how modern remedies, like painkillers, are simply more efficient versions of folk remedies like using the poppy plant or willow bark. It's not that the previous treatment was wrong, just that science has harvested the most useful parts to create something more effective. Yet, the result is humans abandoning magic all together and characters within the manga's world are now unable to see magic creatures at all.
Each chapter's self-contained stories illustrate that Ziska and her master's skills work best complimentary to each other. In the first chapter, they perform surgery on a Lindworm suffering from metal poisoning from a bullet. It's common to Pagan folklore that magic creatures are fundamentally harmed by metals, especially iron. The Master is able to perform the surgery to remove the bullet using special tools while Ziska is able to ease the Lindworm's pain by smudging over a cauldron with an herbal bouquet. This is an example of how the manga continues to marry the two lines of thought, one magic and one science. Another chapter focusing on a sick salamander was incredibly interesting, focusing on two forms of the same mineral (asbestos vs serpentine) to help deduce what was wrong.
On occasion the stories can get a little technical. If you aren't interested in a deep-dive about mandrake plants this might be a little dialogue heavy for you. The characterization is also a bit weak, as I found I was never in Ziska's shoes while the individual cases were going on. I think she could use a little more personality outside of her magic knowledge and feelings of helplessness. These aspects kept me from giving the manga a full-on 5, but as it stands How to Treat Magical Beasts is extremely my jam and worth checking out.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its relaxed pace, How to Treat Magical Beasts: Mine and Master’s Medical Journal volume 1 paints a fantastical picture of a medieval village touched by magic. Though it relies heavily on the “if you don't believe in magic, you'll never see it” trope, it still manages to come across as original and inviting. Magic veterinarian assistant Ziska, optimistic and naïve, is nonetheless painted as a three-dimensional character, eager to help the magical creatures around her and never so wide-eyed and glib as to seem like a stereotype. Her no-nonsense master, veterinarian Nico, fills the instructor role nicely, supporting and encouraging his ward, gently admonishing her when she makes mistakes, and showing her how his scientific know-how can work in symbiosis with Ziska's magical talent. This is a world where magic is disappearing, and it's harrowing to see the suffering of the injured and ill creatures Ziska and Nico do their utmost to help. These two factors lend a slightly melancholy tone to the proceedings, despite the positive outlook of the main characters. As for side characters, appraiser Kamil has a humorous, easygoing relationship with Nico and the introduction of his new plucky slacker apprentice, Annie, in the last chapter of this volume promises to expand Ziska's relationships beyond that of her older master and the cute animals they make better.
Kaziya's art is another strong element of an already enjoyable manga. Though Ziska herself is cute and Nico is a touch more bishonen than gruff adult, it's refreshing that they don't lean either way too much toward realism or moe. The magical animals are truly the highlight of the art—adorable enough to elicit pathos in the reader because of the creatures' suffering, ethereal enough to inspire awe. Backgrounds are finely detailed without overwhelming the main focus of the story.
How to Treat Magical Beasts volume 1 is simultaneously beautiful and haunting, slow-paced but never uninspiring. In some senses, it invokes a similar atmosphere to The Ancient Magus' Bride, only without the romantic element to the main characters' relationship. True, it's missing an antagonist or an overarching conflict beyond the “magic is disappearing” angle, but because of its magical “slice of life” vibe, an antagonist doesn't seem necessary as of yet. With Ziska coming into her own and developing her magic to help the helpless, the series promises to become even better as it progresses.
There aren't many veterinarian manga translated into English; in fact, I can't think of any since Bow Wow Wata hit the shelves. (Inubaka was about a pet store, if you remember that title.) There are, however, a fair amount of mythology-based series currently available, which makes How to Treat Magical Beasts feel like the right gateway title for its other subgenre: it's a story about a young witch who is apprentice to a veterinarian using her skills to treat magical creatures alongside the more ordinary ones. Mostly drawing from medieval European mythology, Ziska encounters a flame salamander, a dragon, a horned rabbit with wings, a mandrake, and a kelpie, also known as a water horse. This is interesting in and of itself, but what really sells the volume is how she and Niko, her master, comingle herbalism, veterinary medicine, and mythology to form a narrative that always manages to feel believable.
Of course, this requires dealing with some of the harsher realities of practicing veterinary medicine, and the story doesn't shy away from those. My own vet has had people bring in animals they wanted put down because they were old or ugly (the vet refused, obviously, and rehomed the pets), as happens to the rabbit in the book, and this leads Niko to have a very frank and important discussion with Ziska about what's best for an animal who is suffering from an incurable illness. The rabbit in question is covered with tumors, and Niko gently tells Ziska that ultimately they have to decide if prolonging its life is only making it suffer unnecessarily. Luckily for Ziska, this is a fantasy manga and the rabbit turns out to be in the process of transforming into its more magical self, but if you've ever had to go through the process of deciding what to do for a terminally ill animal in pain, the chapter will resonate with you.
An underlying theme of the volume is the line between what people see and what's truly there, and the story uses the idea well. The chapter about the salamander opens with a huckster selling “fire lizard skin” clothing, which Niko suggests is actually woven from asbestos ( something people used to do), leading to a discussion of the way some mythological animals may have been created by humans to explain natural phenomenon. This comes up multiple times throughout the book, and gives the story an interesting scientific background, albeit one grounded in what feels like the 19th century, given both the apprentice system and the mention of gas lighting. Add to this the soft, attractive art and obvious research, and it's easy to mostly ignore the one off-note joke about thirteen-year-old Ziska ingesting an aphrodisiac. If you're an animal lover or just like mythological beasts, this is a series you're not going to want to miss.
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