by Rebecca Silverman,

Giant Spider & Me - A Post-Apocalyptic Tale

GN 1

Giant Spider & Me - A Post-Apocalyptic Tale GN 1
The world ended when twelve-year-old Nagi's father was a child, and now people live in isolated villages in a verdant but technologically desolate world. Nagi's life is more isolated than most – her dad, struck with wanderlust, moved them to a remote mountain far away from any town before deciding that he needed to travel, leaving his daughter all alone. Nagi's a little lonely, but she thinks she's coping okay until the day she meets a giant spider monster in the woods. She names the beast Asa and allows them to come home with her. In cohabitating with her new arachnid roommate, she comes to realize that life is much more enjoyable when shared.

Apparently “giant spider monsters” is the new big thing in creepy-cute manga creations. Kikori Morino's Giant Spider & Me - A Post-Apocalyptic Tale is the second title to come out in English featuring an eight-legged, multi-eyed protagonist, although unlike the light novel and manga So I'm a Spider, So What?, Morino's monster is nonverbal and definitely not a high school girl reborn into a spider's body. Instead, Asa is simply a helpful pet-like creature, recently born and confused when they meet Nagi in the forest. They're unsettling to look at, but if you don't have arachnophobia, Asa and Nagi's story is a delightful little slice of post-apocalyptic life about two beings who are just trying to get by as happily as they can.

Before Nagi meets (and names) Asa, we see that she's living by herself in a cabin in the woods, making her own calendars out of tree bark and still setting a place for her absent father. He's gone off on an exploratory voyage, something she tries to make light of despite how much it troubles her. Nagi says that she's fine on her own, but she's still making breakfast for her dad, so she's clearly not fooling herself, making her self-narration not just a convenient plot device, but a way to keep her spirits up by talking to herself. She has no reason to fear for her life, and the nearest town is fully aware that she's living on her own, but Nagi's in a pretty bad place emotionally. That's probably why, despite being afraid of Asa at first, she quickly warms up to them. The book opens with Asa hatching alone in the forest, so we know that they are also lacking in parental guidance or companionship, and in this case the lack has resulted in not knowing how to feed themselves. Like many a stray animal, Asa is drawn to Nagi because they're hungry and Nagi has food.

This initial point of contact speaks volumes about Morino's characterization of Asa. Rather than being painted as a wild beast or a monster, Asa instead acts like a hyper-intelligent dog or cat who just happened to follow Nagi home. They want Nagi to pet them, they sleep in Nagi's bed (one of the best panels in the book), and if the door won't open when they want, they'll find a way to make it in and out of the house. This greatly decreases the potential ick factor of having a giant spider monster as a main character in a slice-of-life story, and Morino alleviates most of the remaining discomfort by combining fantasy creature design with more scientific spider imagery. (She mentions that she spent a long time doing research for Asa's design and ultimately opted for this hybrid for both visual and story reasons.) Asa has leaves growing on their back and a soft furry head, multiple eyes (but not in a traditionally arachnid way), and eight legs. But they also have giant teeth, a tongue, helpful tentacles that function as arms, and the ability to deploy claws out of their actual legs when threatened. It hits a good balance that reminds us Asa is a wild beast, but still makes them cute and cuddly enough for the story to work.

The highlights of the volume are Nagi and Asa's interactions, although more serious plot begins to unfold at the end of the book. As Nagi realizes how much she's missed having someone to cook for and talk to, she also struggles to both understand Asa and remember that Asa's a wild animal with all the risk that implies. This opens the story up to Asa carrying heavy objects for their new bestie contrasted with a couple of great “say 'ah!'” moments when Nagi and the forkful of food she's holding are dwarfed by Asa's gaping maw. Like a large dog, Asa clearly has no concept of their own size, and that helps to make them more endearing.

Asa aside, Morino does a good job of giving us small bits of information about the world without actually telling us what happened. We see a few scenes of a mostly-submerged and ruined modern city and learn that some incident happened when Nagi's dad was a child, meaning that Nagi has lived her entire life in this world as it is, but many adults around her have not. There still appears to be some electricity (the ceiling lights in Nagi's house work), and cooking isn't done over a fire. The art is detailed without getting overwhelming, making Nagi's house look lived-in and decently modern (mid-20th century). Nagi herself is simply and cutely drawn, looking like a believable twelve-year-old.

Seven Seas' translation reads just fine, but it is remarkable that this is the first time I've seen a manga translation rely so heavily on the gender-neutral “they” pronoun. This works very well for Asa, because the spider is a non-gendered character. (Or at least Nagi has no way of knowing their gender.) Using “they” rather than “it” acknowledges Asa's role in the story as an important personality, which makes this a particularly good choice on the translator's part.

Giant Spider & Me - A Post-Apocalyptic Tale is a pleasing entry in the fantasy slice-of-life subgenre. It's cute, sweet, and gives us just enough info to get you excited for volume two. The spider monster route won't be for everyone, since spiders are somewhat divisive in general, but if you don't mind your animal companions many-legged and multi-eyed, this is a charming read.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ Story is sweet and touching, nice design for Asa that balances creepy and cute
Still not a good read for arachnophobes, recipes don't add much to the story

Story & Art: Kikori Morino

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Giant Spider & Me - A Post-Apocalyptic Tale (manga)

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Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale (GN 1)

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