Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Beasts of Abigaile
Nina Tsukishiro has just moved to the tiny European nation of Ruberia in order to get a fresh start after being bullied at her old high school. She's thrilled to have the chance to start over, but when she's out walking around admiring the country's fabled roses, she's bitten by Roy, a luga (wolf person) and suddenly finds herself transformed into a luga as well. Since the human conquerors of Ruberia have enslaved the luga population, Nina is instantly whisked away to Abigaile, the fortress in the harbor. There she learns the dark history of Ruberia's treatment of its native luga people as she struggles to make a place for herself in a world she no longer understands.
Well, hey there, Little Red Riding Hood! Aarne-Thompson tale type 333, the story best known as “Little Red Riding Hood” in English, has been one of anime and manga's go-to fairy tales for inspiration, and Spica Aoki's Beasts of Abigaile is one of the most recent to call upon the girl in red's image in service of its story. It uses both the earliest version of the tale, where the girl is a heroine who saves herself, and the most recent incarnations of the story where she becomes a figure of rebellion and violence and mixes them with the best-known victim versions of the character to create an interesting plot that uses the folktale to create a dark fantasy story with themes of colonization and cultural isolation…with some very pretty young men thrown in for good measure.
The story follows Nina Tsukishiro, a Japanese high school girl who has just moved to the tiny European nation of Ruberia to live with her aunt and uncle. She's deliberately trying to start over following actions that got her bullied back in Japan, and she's excited about the prospect. Going out for a walk to check out the gorgeous, wealthy country's famous roses, she tries to help the police take down what she thinks is an escaped convict. It turns out to be Roy Balfour, a young man with ears and a tail – a luga. The luga are the indigenous people of Ruberia, and when the current population of what appears to be white Europeans took over the country, the adult luga were wiped out and the children enslaved. Now they're all kept in Abigaile, the former royal palace turned prison on its own island out in the harbor…and since when Roy bites Nina, she too becomes a luga, she's spirited away to the island as well.
What's interesting is that no one expected that outcome, least of all Roy – unlike more traditional werewolves, luga is a completely separate race and you can't “become” one. Nina still smells like a human to sensitive luga noses, but she's to all appearances now one of them. This sets her up to be an outsider who can infiltrate their poor treatment by Ruberian society, as well as to reveal the ugly secrets of the most beautiful country in Europe. Of course, first she has to survive Abigaile, which means both the guards and those luga who do not welcome her…which is mostly Roy's “home” or pack.
Luckily for Nina, she's a very strong person. While she's not happy about her new situation, she's mostly aghast at the treatment her new classmates receive, especially omega luga Poe, who is the punching bag (literally) for the whole community. While we do learn in volume two why that is, it doesn't matter to Nina, who can't stand to see someone picked on to any degree, much less that extreme. This is at the heart of Nina's character: she's always going to stand up for what she believes in, even if it means being made a victim herself. It's not only an interesting amalgamation of “Little Red Riding Hood” themes, but also a strong statement in a world where to stand up means to get hammered down. Roy is the only other person not afraid to be himself, but he takes a much more antagonistic route; Nina's only goal is to make sure that people are treated fairly – even at her own expense.
While Nina is the most interesting character thus far, both Roy and the other potential love interest, Gilles, are also worth paying attention to. Gilles, who may very well be the child of deposed luga royalty, is as keenly aware of the problems facing the luga as the other two, but he takes a much more political approach and gives the impression of looking out for number one just as much as he's watching out for the little guy. He's a little too under the thumb of his alpha, the luga daughter of a higher up, which raises the question of who she really is and what her relationship with Gilles might actually be. Roy, on the other hand, mostly cuts himself off from those not in his home, contrasting with both of the others. Also interesting albeit more problematic is Dario, the alpha who initially welcomes Nina into her home. Dario and her fellows are transgirls, and Seven Seas' translation doesn't seem to quite know how to deal with them. I get the impression that the original Japanese might not have been as understanding as the English is trying to be, and while Eva, Roy's fanatical beta, uses derogatory language for them, Nina always refers to them by their preferred pronoun. Likewise Aoki doesn't seem entirely sure how to handle their depiction – they run the gamut from slightly feminine to unfortunate “okama” stereotypes.
The fairy tale themes mostly show up in the artwork, with lugas at work on the mainland wearing hooded red capes and carrying baskets, and the staff of Abigaile looking decidedly predatory in their facial expressions and body language. That Red and the Wolf are subject to the whims of the huntsman/woodcutter figure in the original stories makes for an interesting use of the tale thematically. Given that in the versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” where the huntsman appears have him be the only one to actually perform a violent act (remember, in those versions Red and Granny have been swallowed whole), it makes a degree of sense to present Red and the Wolf as allies against him in this case. If nothing else, it's an interesting twist on an old theme, and one that Aoki handles well.
Beasts of Abigaile's first two volumes begin a surprisingly dark story with a few reverse harem and shoujo romance trappings. Nina's a heroine it's easy to get behind, and the use of folkloric and colonialist themes make things very interesting. With attractive art that occasionally makes references to the shoujo of the 70s and 80s, this is a series worth taking a chance on if you're looking for something new.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Interesting themes, Nina's awesome, distinctive cast of characters, nice artistic references
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