by Rebecca Silverman,

Kaiju Girl Caramelise

GN 3

Kaiju Girl Caramelise GN 3
Kuroe and Minami are officially going out, but that doesn't mean that all of her problems are over. Kuroe's not sure how classmates will take the fact that the girl they deem as weird and creepy is now dating the school's favorite guy, and she's still got her little kaiju problem, which her mom refuses to talk to her about. Things aren't all bad, though – her new class means a new friend in Rairi, a girl who knows it's like to feel like you have to hide parts of yourself away.

After some stumbles in the sophomore volume, Kaiju Girl Caramelise is back in form with this third volume, which brings us one of the best kiss scenes in shoujo manga: a hot guy smooching a giant monster. Obviously there's a lot of backstory to that, and Minami's not 100% aware of what's going on (or of the link between his girlfriend Kuroe and the kaiju Harugon), but it's a moment that really sums up the message that Spica Aoki seems to be working towards in this series: that we're all kind of monstrous, so what's the point in being ashamed?

Granted, most of the more familiar monstrous moments of adolescence don't involve wide-scale property damage by a reptilian tail, but this volume really doubles-down on the parallels in other ways. In fact, it's easy to see this series as a lighter version of the novel At Night, I Become a Monster, which also explores themes of what it means to be monstrous. That book suggests that the narrator's outer shape shifts to fit his inner horror, something audiences have been familiar with since at least Oscar Wilde's 19th century novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but Aoki's variation on this theme is one that perhaps has more familiar implications. While we certainly see the Wilde version in the character of the boy Rairi had a crush on in middle school and who really is a jerk underneath his handsome face, the more important transformations belong to both Rairi and Kuroe. Kuroe, we know, can't control her monstrousness – when she's emotionally overtaxed (mostly with happiness, but any old emotional will work), she literally becomes a monster, a kaiju nicknamed Harugon. But Rairi is a different case – her natural face is one that isn't considered “beautiful” by anyone, herself included, and tired of being made fun of and rejected, she uses makeup to become someone more traditionally acceptable.

In this way, both Rairi and Kuroe have the same basic issue: both of them are ashamed of some facet of their appearances. While we might see Kuroe's as the more extreme version, no one actually knows that she and Harugon are one and the same, and she's thus far been able to fool people into thinking there's nothing physically going on with her. Rairi, on the other hand, went through elementary and middle school as the ugly girl, so her goal is to become someone she's always wanted to be – to become, as she implies she believes, human. That she never felt good enough or even like a person because of her appearance goes back to the idea of outer beauty hiding inner ugliness, because if anyone was the monster in her middle school days, it certainly wasn't the kind girl with the traditionally unattractive face. At the close of this volume, Rairi learns that revealing the truth isn't going to cripple her socially or emotionally again now that everyone's a little bit older or at least knows her well enough to understand that she's a good person no matter what she looks like. The tides of angry adolescence are, in other words, beginning to turn, and her high school classmates are able to do what her middle school classmates weren't mature enough to: look at her as a whole person, not just a face. While this is definitely moving up the maturity timeline a little, it's worth it for the message that things can get better and that you don't always have to hide behind a mask in order to be liked.

That's what Kuroe is leading up to realizing as well, and seeing Rairi's story play out before her is a major revelation. The fact that Minami clearly just likes her as a person is another big piece of her eventual self-acceptance; when she's fretting about them telling people at school that they're dating, he doesn't understand why. In part that's because he's moderately oblivious, but mostly it's because he genuinely likes her so much that he can't understand why anyone would tease them about dating – in his eyes, he's the lucky guy who gets to date Kuroe, the girl he things is great. He doesn't even seem to be freaking out about getting a kiss from a kaiju at the end of the book – it's weird, and he's confused, but as with Kuroe in her human form, he understands that there's more going on than a surface glance would indicate. Also, he might be starting to catch on.

With all of these positive developments, including Kuroe feeling cute even in her Harugon form, which is major, it's a shame that Kuroe's mom continues to be something of an irritant. Her blatant refusal to talk to her daughter about why she turns into a kaiju is denying Kuroe the chance to understand herself better, which in turn would settle her mind and maybe help with the whole “involuntary transformation” thing. While it isn't an exact parallel, it feels a little bit like parents refusing to have the puberty talk with their children confused about their changing bodies – and that's a subject where ignorance is definitely not bliss, or even particularly helpful. Luckily the woman is barely in this volume, because she's very much a low-light of the series.

Adolescence, it must be said, makes monsters of many of us. Kuroe just has a little more monstrousness on her plate than most people, and as a metaphor, Kaiju Girl Caramelise really is still working. The romance factor being raised has a lot of good implications for making Kuroe feel less freakish and alone, and Aoki's art continues to be a good combination of soft, pretty, and funny. It's a series with a great big, slightly scaly heart, and if you're looking for something a little different in your shoujo romance, this is the place to start.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+

+ Good parallels between Kuroe and other characters, Rairi's storyline is very hopeful. Romance plot is working nicely.
Kuroe's mom is still a pain, Minami can be a little too oblivious.

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Story & Art: Spica Aoki

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