The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Naoe is a therapist working at a clinic that specializes in weight loss and body image, and he's seen a lot of clients. He's not prepared, however, for one from another world, which is exactly what he gets when Elfuda walks in.
She's a light elf from another world, and she came to this one because she was tired of all of the bland foods back in her own. The problem is that she got hooked on French fries, and now after subsisting almost entirely on them, she's unable to return home!
Naoe can offer her diet and exercise tips, as well as massage, but unless Elfuda is willing to change her eating habits, he could have a long-term client on his hands…to say nothing of the other other-world travelers he begins to bump into. Plus-Sized Elf is an original manga created by Synecdoche. Seven Seas released it in October and it sells for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
I'm not sure if this was the title I was least looking forward to, but it's certainly right up there. Weight and body image are difficult topics requiring a bit more sensitivity than Plus-Sized Elf is quite up to mustering, although I also have to admit that it's no where near as awful as it could have been. Eponymous elf Elfuda does have a diet problem – no one should exist entirely on French fries, elf or otherwise – and Naoe's basic advice to her feels pretty sound. But he then fails to address the unhealthy nature of her crash dieting lifestyle, which is primarily used for comedic effect – not something I'm entirely comfortable with. He also completely fails to discuss ogre Olga's binge drinking (or his boss'), despite the fact that the results are basically the same for Olga as they are for Elfuda. Throw in some questionable choices in language (referring to dark elf Kuroeda's skin as “chocolate” is a no-no, as is the use of the term “chubby chasers”), and it's kind of difficult to figure out what creator Synecdoche is trying to do here.
That's a shame, because if there was a genuine interest in doing a story about healthy eating habits and exercise that just happened to also cash in on the isekai craze, it could be kind of fun. This story, however, feels more interested in humiliating its female cast, however, by a variety of means, such as clothes splitting or just making the lycanthrope act like a dog against her will. Synecdoche also makes a few poor choices in censorship and isn't great at drawing the lower body of a woman with a big stomach; the way the whited-out portions of Elfuda's anatomy are done it looks kind of like she might be a little boy. Given that one entire chapter is pretty much in the nude, that's a real issue.
That particular problem aside, the art isn't terrible, although breasts get increasingly out of control as the volume progresses. Mostly, though, this just feels a bit tone-deaf, as if it isn't sure if it's teasing, helping, or just outright laughing at its overweight characters. That's a confusion I can do without, and saying that this isn't as bad as it could have been really does feel like damning the book with faint praise.
Plus-Sized Elf is yet another monster girl fan-service manga, but this time with an exercise and health-related bent. I found it to be surprisingly effective as the latter, but this genre is just not my thing. The art is solid, however, and I've seen a lot worse.
The interest this manga has in health and anatomy is real and a lot of its advice seems shockingly solid. From detailed exercise and stretch routines to exact outlines of tension in the muscular system, Plus-Sized Elf enlightened me to a lot of coping mechanisms and bodily issues I had no idea of. Honestly, it was the thing that helped me to get through the manga, as there really isn't much story content aside from TNA and the occasional exercise infodump. To see an element this unique and earnest amidst all the mediocrity was a nice, lovely surprise.
Aside from that, the details are as average as they come. Though he starts out as strangely lecherous, the main character quickly becomes a milquetoast helping-hand who has no personality beyond his health knowledge. The manga is structured around introducing a new type of monster girl with a problem specific to their species every chapter, like a mermaid whose time on land has kept her from being able to swim. Even when the details change (walking by a flower shop, a trip to a hot spring) it's still extremely repetitive. I do appreciate that the girls themselves aren't a harem who falls head-over-heels for the lead for no reason, and that their focus is on personally improving their health and own self-image. That said, I do question how the manga equates chubbiness to unhealthiness, especially since that seems to be the primary fetish being catered to. It's very strange to spend an entire manga ogling girls and then look down on them for their body type, made even worse since the manga acknowledges that the decision to get healthy is an entirely personal one.
Plus-Sized Elf is incredibly specific in its appeal. It's a monster girl manga about actual massage practice and healthy living, two niche interests thrown into a pot. And mostly I found it boring. But if those do correspond to your interests, then, well...have I got the manga for you. Otherwise, maybe skip this one.
Plus-Sized Elf gets points for depicting (otherworldly) women of various body types, as that's the crux of the concept. It's clever to make it so that the fantastical beings have to be the exact same weight they were when they crossed through the interdimensional portal to return rather than having their weight loss goals motivated by body issues and a desire to be thin to meet a specific beauty standard in society. However, the way they talk about their extra flab isn't that far removed from people who are self-conscious about their bodies, and it's particularly damaging to see women who are barely “plus-sized,” if they are overweight at all, talk as if a little extra fat is something to be ashamed of, all the while they can't stop themselves from gorging on the Earth junk food they don't have back home.
That said, the women are clearly framed in seductive fanservice poses, highlighting their attractiveness, whether they're pear-shaped, apple-shaped, or hourglass-shaped. In that sense, this manga celebrates body shape diversity, but it's so singularly focused on the sense of shame that for these women comes along with a chubby/flabby tummy, butt, or arms, for example, that it's hard to balance the celebration of their body types with the message that they need to diet. However, at the same time, the manga is somewhat instructional, with milquetoast Naoe sharing actual stretching and workout tips along with diet and massage techniques to help the women get into shape. He never shames them, even when he catches them breaking their diets. In that sense, though he's largely forgettable, he's also at least a likeable addition to cast.
The art is lovely, with Synecdoche's skill for fanservice front and center on practically every page. Backgrounds of the city landscape bring a sense of reality to this absurd fantasy, and the inhuman women are depicted memorably as fantastical creatures in modern attire, even if Earthling Naoe's character design is rather lackluster. Plus-Sized Elf volume 1 tries to be celebratory of different body types, and it almost succeeds, but there are still a few cringe-worthy moments in this manga's obsession with dieting and staying slim. That said, it does succeed on the fanservice front, and there's a little bit of comedy to keep the relatively simple plot from becoming too stale and repetitive.
There's a lot of great tasting food in the world, but to elf Elfuda, French fries are the peak of cuisine. There's only one problem, she has gained so much weight that she can't get back to her home world until she loses it all! Stumbling into massage therapist Naoe's place of work, The Smiley Boar, the two work together to get Elfuda to lose weight.
Once Elfuda is successful, the allure of fries is too strong and she comes back to the mortal realm to dine on her favorite food. Back to square one, Naoe accepts his fate and lets Elfuda become a permanent fixture in his life. The two bump into several other monster girls hiding in plain sight and Naoe helps them with all of their weight problems while still trying to juggle a normal life. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Plus Size Elf is a supernatural slice of life made for the body conscious otaku - there are even directions on how to do Naoe's suggested exercises in this volume. Each chapter is a monster of the week situation, but instead of killing off baddies, Naoe and Elfuda befriend, help, and sometimes even fight other elves, mermaids, ogres, and werewolves. Think Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid but with more variation to the monster girls.
If you're expecting a memorable thought-provoking masterpiece, this is not the manga for you. However, if you like squishy monster girls who are moe through helplessness and sexual faces made at the thought of french fries, then Plus Size Elf is your holy grail.
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