Beasts of Abigaile, Vol. 1

By Spica Aoki. Released in Japan as “Bara Kangoku no Kemono-tachi” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Princess. Released in North America digitally by Seven Seas. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley, Adapted by Marykate Jasper.

Once again, a manga I had very few expectations for manages to please me greatly. I always enjoy it when this happens, particularly when it’s shoujo. The premise of this seemed to be ‘Werewolf reverse harem’, which did not inspire confidence, and I admit that when I first read the words ‘Alpha, Beta and Omega’ midway through, my heart sank. But it won me over anyway, partly due to the art (the artist is really good at facial expressions, particularly in the case of Nina, the heroine) and partly due to Nina herself, who is a great combination of spunky, stubborn, and sort of goofy in the best way. We haven’t seen a title from the ‘Princess’ magazine in quite some time – Tokyopop used to do a lot of their stuff before they shuttered their manga line – and I like that it feels different from the Big Three’s shoujo titles.

The premise is that Nina and her uncle have arrived at the vaguely Mediterranean country of Ruberia, apparently to get a fresh start after getting bullied so bad in Japan she had to flee the country. Unfortunately, no sooner has she gone exploring then an escaped convict runs past her, and when she tries to stop him using her martial arts fighting skills (because yes, she’s that sort of heroine), he tackles her and bites her neck, causing her to pass out. After some brief suspicious guards catch the convict, they shove her into the paddy wagon as well. When she comes to, she finds herself on the prison island off the coast of the country, which turns out to be populated by werewolves, all of whom are prisoners of sadistic human guards, trained and tortured to be servants to the country’s human population. Which is troubling enough, except… Nina now has wolf ears and a tail too! Did the bite turn her into a werewolf? And how will she survive?

As you may have guessed by the description above, this title is gloriously silly and over the top. If you take it seriously, I’m not sure it would actually work. The characters are not blazingly original – we get the seemingly nice guy who’s actually in thrall to the Queen Bee, we get the incredibly jealous girl who hates Nina getting the attention of her love (no doubt she will attack Nina viciously in Volume 2), and of course we get Roy, who’s the sort of smug but sexy and mysterious jerk that every shoujo manga needs. Luckily, Nina fights back – in fact, the final moment in this volume made me laugh out loud at a shoujo cliche getting subverted, and I daren’t spoil it. Nina also ends up in a pack of trans werewolves, and while they tend towards the stereotypes and sometimes a punchline, they don’t seem to be there to be made fun of, which is nice.

Basically, as long as you don’t mind werewolf cliches (I did mention the alpha thing), this is a hell of a lot of fun, especially Nina. I look forward to the next volume.

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