Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Monster Tamer Girls
It's a fairly obvious truth at this point that there's a large market for stories featuring cute girls doing just about anything, with bonus points if you wouldn't necessarily assume that cute girls would be participating in an activity. While that premise can be wearing at times, series like Monster Tamer Girls remind us just why they're so appealing. Taking place in a future where giant monsters have come out of the mists to live among humans, the story combines charming antics with an environmental tale about protecting and getting along with nature that really works.
The story takes place largely at a girls' school with a special Tamer program. Ion Hidaka has a gift for Taming and has newly enrolled at Tatara Girls' Academy, but she's a little bit afraid of the giant beasts. When she's out of the classroom for a moment, she gets voted to be the class representative to the Tamers' Committee, a group of students who care for the monster who lives on school grounds, a dinosaurish creature generally considered to be gentle. That doesn't really help Ion, however, as just the size of him is enough to freak her out. This surprises her fellow committee member, Sora, who's in the gen ed division, not having the right kind of voice to be a Tamer. Sora's largely unphased by the monsters, and although she's nothing but supportive of Ion, you can tell she's not sure why someone afraid of them would be in the Tamer program.
Naturally this all goes back to an incident in Ion's childhood, but what's interesting here is not so much the rehashed tropes of the Cute Girls Doing Things genre as the way in which they're used. The idea that monsters would respond well to a young female voice is a fairly solid framework to build the story, drawing from the fact that domestic animals tend to like higher-pitched voices while playing with the oft misquoted idea that “music soothes the savage beast.” (It's “breast” in reality.) Calling the monsters “kaiju” allows for recognizable visual elements as well as calling up images of old B monster flicks with creatures forming an attachment to a beautiful woman. Simply age those women down and you've got the middle school girls of the story, training to become their older selves.
While there are other girls in the school and on the committee, the focus of this volume is primarily on Ion and another older Tamer student, Tsukiko. Where Ion is afraid, Tsukiko is almost harsh, even though she really does care about the monsters. Unfortunately for her, they're much more drawn to the shy Ion, with the school's resident monster almost immediately offering to take Ion and Sora up on his snout, something he's never allowed Tsukiko to do. While there are plenty of jokes about why this might be – Tsukiko has truly terrible naming sense and randomly ad-libs words to her Tamer songs while Ion simply calls the monster “Blue” for his eyes – the fact of the matter is probably that Ion's fearfulness is what draws the monsters to her. This isn't necessarily because they're attracted to her fear itself, but rather because her nervousness makes her gentler and more soothing to the monsters. Because she's worried, she treats them with more respect (not that any Tamer disrespects them), seeming to consider them as intelligent beings in their own right while Tsukiko wants them to go along with her ideas of what ought to be done. This makes Blue and the other monsters who appear in this volume feel safer with her, and also perhaps a little paternal, as we do see a baby monster imprint on someone in this volume, suggesting that they do form family bonds.
Mujirushi Shimazaki's art is fairly simple, but it works for the story. There aren't a lot of backgrounds apart from the odd school building or a couple of town scenes, and the girls have a pleasingly generic look to them. The down side is that hair style is the easiest way to tell them apart, as age doesn't appear to make much difference in how they're drawn. The monsters are the most creative aspect of the artwork, ranging from dinosaurs to sea creatures to frogs and all with their own aesthetic appeal. Each also has its own personality, which makes them characters in their own rights – this isn't just a Cute Girls series, it's one that's shared with its monster cast in a very real way.
Monster Tamer Girls isn't the series for you if you want something action packed or with vast amounts of world building. At only two volumes, it isn't likely to go much beyond what we see here in this book. But it is a charming entry into its genre, a story that's just genuinely nice with characters it's easy to care about. Cute Girls Doing Things fans, take note – this isn't a slice of life story you want to miss.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Characters are charming and distinct, story is sweet and unique enough to stand out
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