Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Beauty and the Beast Girl
Heath is a lonely monster whose anger at the human world that shunned her resulted in her burning a village down nearly twenty years ago. Ever since then she's lived alone in the forest, convinced that not only will no one ever love her, but that she doesn't deserve to be loved in the first place. Then one day she meets Lily, a blind human girl who can't see what a beast Heath is. As the two of them form a bond, Heath is forced to rethink not only her past actions, but also whether or not she can move forward from them – and if she deserves to be loved like anyone else.
No matter what the folklorists say, for most people “Beauty and the Beast” is simply a story about learning to see the beauty someone has within. That's what Neji's yuri manga Beauty and the Beast Girl is working with, and they more than do it justice. The story follows Heath, a “monster” of the chimeric variety, who has spent her entire life being rejected by humanity. Since all she wants is to be accepted and loved, that's a terrible blow, and somewhere around twenty years before the story begins, she finally allows her hurt and anger to get the best of her and burns a town to the ground. At that moment, wracked with guilt, Heath retreats into the wilderness, taking up residence in an abandoned cottage and swearing to keep to herself from now on.
All of that changes one day when, while out picking apples, Heath meets Lily, a young blind woman. Immediately sensing a chance to form a connection with someone who can't see her hideousness, Heath begins to tell Lily stories about her “travels” (all actually lifted from books she's read), and before long the two are meeting up every day. Heath begins to dare to think that Lily may actually be the person she's been waiting for when Lily reveals a horrible truth: she lost her eyesight due to the fire Heath caused.
As might be expected, in its heart of hearts, Beauty and the Beast Girl is about not just love, but acceptance and being seen for who, not what, you are. Heath's appearance (and ability to breathe fire) keep her isolated, but Lily points out that she's not the only one that happens to. In a very real, but also unexpected, twist, Lily states that people only see her disability, her blindness, and never look beyond that to who Lily is as a person. Much as Heath doesn't want to only be identified by her species/race (depending on how you want to phrase it, given that she does have scales, a tail, a horn, etc. and could therefore be classified as not human), Lily doesn't want to be identified by her disability. She's a person with a disability, she says, not a disability with a person. Although she hasn't resorted to Heath's methods, she clearly feels just as unfortunately defined; it's just that she's smothered rather than abandoned.
While these points absolutely help to make Beauty and the Beast Girl a very touching romance, they also take the story beyond the confines of its genre. Yes, it's a love story between two women, but it's also about the ways those who are different are isolated in various ways, from the outright rejection Heath faces to the overwarm embrace Lily gets. Both make the women feel other than normal and singled out, and those are feelings that anyone who has ever been made to feel “not normal” can identify with. Too often, the story reminds us, people who fall just outside the very narrow lines of “normalcy” can be made to think that they don't belong, aren't worthy, or that their personality is less important than their disability. If Lily and Heath can break down those walls, maybe they aren't so very insurmountable.
That's the greatest strength of this single volume. Neji (who does mention that they'd like to do more with the characters in the afterword) blends both a genre-standard romance with themes more typical in topical stories that are bent on making a point, with the result that both halves of the story come together to form a stronger whole. Without the romance, the book would just seem preachy, while without the point, the romance would be much more stereotypical. That they're mixed so nicely is a testament to the strength of both, making this a particularly good book in general.
Of course, it does still have its faults. The single-volume format means that parts of the story feel very rushed, particularly the actual falling-in-love bit, and characters who aren't Lily and Heath are barely developed at all. (In fact, they're really only present in the final chapter, which is also an issue.) Neji's art isn't particularly adept, either – although Lily and the other fully-human characters look fine, there's a lack of continuity to Heath's depiction, particularly in terms of how long and thick her tail is and the fact that her horn isn't even noticeable until chapter three.
Despite this, Beauty and the Beast Girl really is a lovely book. Romantic and meaningful, it's the kind of nice story you could give to someone who isn't necessarily into yuri, as well as being a good book for a general library graphic novel collection. If you're into charming feel-good tales, this is not one you'll want to pass up.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Warm, sweet story with some good real-world details
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