Reviewby Carlo Santos,
"Freaks" are supernatural creatures that feed on the negative desires of humans. Only the "Stand," another type of creature, can destroy a Freak. Asagi Nanami is one such Stand, and with regular guy Amano, personality-switching Mahime/Yahiro, and rabbit-eared Freak-eater Tokiko, he leads a paranormal agency that investigates Freak behavior. Asagi has such a high reputation that even other Stands ask him for help, but when a new enemy emerges with the ability to create other Freaks, even a couple of Stands might not be enough. This villain, Hainuwele, is not a Freak herself, but her generative power is a threat to all humans. Even if Asagi defeats her, who's going to mop up the Freaks she leaves behind?
What a difference a volume makes. Category: Freaks, which looked destined for mediocrity, finds its niche in Volume 2 and becomes a gripping battle between arcane forces. Okay, so maybe that sounds like every other manga you've read before, but this one has a unique tone—not too melodramatic, not too gloomy, but streetwise and cynical as befits a modern supernatural sleuth. With tighter storytelling and stylish visuals as always, it looks like Asagi's exploits just got a lot more interesting.
This volume starts out small, introducing a couple of new characters, but soon escalates into an all-out battle against Hainuwele—an opponent so powerful that her story arc carries over into the next book. The episodic format still persists, with Asagi's agency fighting a specific monster in each chapter, but Hainuwele brings cohesiveness to the story as the main force behind each attack. The heroes also learn that brute force won't fend off all of her creations; unorthodox opponents call for unorthodox thinking. Soon enough, the story grows beyond mere spirit-hunting and into a "damage control" scenario where the Stands try to contain the various Freak phenomena caused by Hainuwele.
Meanwhile, the mood of the story becomes more pointed and cynical as it examines humankind's most immoral desires. The idea takes on a physical form when Hainuwele creates Freaks in the guise of fetishistic "flesh dolls," which the victims use for various unsettling purposes. Amid these improvements in plot and theme, however, Asagi's staff seems to have been forgotten. Amano only pops up occasionally as a sidekick, although he plays a key role in one chapter; Mahime reveals something about her past but doesn't do much else; Tokiko just bounces around being cute (and sometimes naked). This lack of character development mires the story in barely-above-average territory and holds back its potential as a horror thriller.
Matching the tone of its contemporary setting, the artwork is sharp and stylish throughout, with a strong use of blacks and whites. An efficient sense of design makes each scene flow well from panel to panel, although the action scenes aren't always clear—with too few lines, it's hard to tell what just happened. Bland character designs also add to the confusion; every handsome light-haired male looks like Asagi, making it hard to tell who's who when people come together. Nonetheless, every character has an appealing look, from the various bishounen to the wide-eyed cuteness of Tokiko and other Freak-eaters. The backgrounds could be more detailed, but various tone effects help to set the mood in the absence of walls and floors.
DrMaster's translation is surprisingly good here, with some well-written lines coming out of the characters' mouths. Asagi's thoughts on the predatory relationship between Stands, Freaks and Humans are especially poetic. Sound effects are left alone and translated alongside, although the English effects would benefit from better visibility and font variety. The print quality is a step up for the company, with high-contrast inks (a necessity in a series that uses so much black) and sharp resolution throughout. The paper quality, however, still feels cheaper than offerings from other publishers.
So don't be too quick to dismiss Category: Freaks based on the first volume. This next book in the series shows stronger plot direction, a more unified theme, and an art style that continues to improve. There are better spirit-hunting adventures out there, with well-developed characters and less visual confusion, but this is one that seems to have found its own place. At the crossroads between nihilistic, explicit horror and paranormal high school mysteries, there lies Category: Freaks.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Expands on the world of Freaks with a more cohesive plot and stylish art.
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