Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Years ago the humans and the monsters warred with each other. The humans won, and now they and the monsters coexist uneasily in their separate worlds. Humans hunt monsters as bounties, and monsters mostly just try to live their lives. Among them is a group of four, well-known from the days of the war. They are Aki, James, Mummy, and Tooran, the Black Airs, and all they really want to do is to take care of each other and have a good time.
Before there was Fairy Tail, there was Monster Soul. In this first of two volumes, mangaka Hiro Mashima tells us that this was only intended to be a three chapter serial for a younger audience and that heroine Mummy turned into the inspiration for Erza in his next, rather longer, series. In all honesty, those may be the most interesting things about this book.
The story takes place in Elvenland, a fantasy realm where humans and monsters coexist. Many years ago there was a war between the two species, and with the humans' victory, monsters were segregated to their own towns and, presumably, lands. They have an uneasy treaty with the humans, basically – some people make money as monster bounty hunters, sneaking into monster lands and capturing (as well as presumably killing) monsters of varying degrees of rarity and dangerousness. The story opens with a couple of bounty-huntin' brothers who look like they've stolen Usopp's nose having captured a small, pointy-headed mascot character, a rare onion imp. The duo is planning to sell it when they are confronted by our four heroes, whose pet the imp is. They are Mummy, James (a “frankenstein”), Tooran (a golem), and Aki, an unknown monster race. Battles and quips are exchanged, and in good old shounen fashion, the good guys prevail and the villains are vanquished. The only real difference is that the good guys are the monsters.
As a concept goes, Monster Soul's is entertaining. Mashima makes an attempt to build on it with each chapter, and the second does lead into the third, which was unexpected after the first proved to be essentially a stand alone. Unfortunately the story is not particularly original, and neither are the characters or their designs. James the “frankenstein” (readers of Mary Shelley's book will understand why that is in quotation marks) is very similar to One Piece's Franky with his engineered powers and his build, although the latter can be better excused as the generic “big tough guy” body. Mummy's use of her bandages as weapons is interesting, and although her single eye is part of an overdone trend, Mashima's explanation for why she lacks it is a good one. Aki is the most standard of the characters, a guy with hidden powers, a simple mind, and an insatiable appetite of the type we see all over shounen manga. (Readers of Mashima's other works will also notice that he's autumn to Haru's spring and Natsu's summer, which is a fun little bit of trivia.) Tooran is perhaps the most creative of the quartet as a golem, a creature from Jewish mythology that we don't see very often. The world isn't particularly creative in its make up and looks a lot like that in which Fairy Tail is set. Some of the established items that can harm monsters are taken from popular mythology about werewolves and vampires – silver robs all monsters of their powers and holy water can burn any race's skin.
Mashima's art is up to its usual standard, derivative character design elements aside. Mummy's outfit is a nice play on the typical bandages usually given to the type, and there is a nice sense of movement to action scenes. Aki's monster form is neat to look at, particularly when he smiles. Scenes of James losing his face (a frequent hazard) are generally funny, and several of the other monster races are fairly interesting to look at as well, even if the ghost looks sort of like he has a turd on his head.
Monster Soul is not one of Mashima's best series. It lacks the originality of Rave Master or Fairy Tail and suffers from a lack of particularly interesting plot. Hopefully the second volume will fix that, because there are some moments in the third chapter that have promise. On the whole, however, this is sort of generic shounen fantasy, although at times it also feels like Monster High: The Shounen Manga. It isn't terrible, but it also isn't great, so unless you're a major Hiro Mashima fan, this book does not need to be at the top of your to read list.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Mashima's usual nice artwork, chapter three is pretty engaging. An interesting concept.
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