Story & Art: Nagabe
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Adaptation: Ysabet MacFarlane
Lettering & Retouch: Lys Blakeslee
Cover Design: Nicky Lim
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Fans of the dark and beautiful illustrations of manga creator Nagabe (The Girl From the Other Side, The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms) will be excited to get their hands on his newest English-language offering, Love on the Other Side. This anthology collects tales of interspecies love, where young humans find themselves attached to humanoid or otherwise anthropomorphised beasts.
This is hardly Nagabe’s first foray into odd pairings, having broached a human-bear romance in Wize Wize Beasts. Much like that story, he treats these love connections with gentleness and respect, and the animals’ ability to consent helps the reader feel comfortable with the liaisons. Of course, many of the humans involved are not necessarily able to do the same. Perhaps it makes sense that the humans depicted are mostly children or teenagers, since falling in love with animals seems very childlike in its whimsy. And indeed, not all of the relationships are explicitly romantic love, leaving interpretation up to the reader.
The one story that, while sweet in its way, stands out as inappropriate is “The Wolf-Man and the Girl-Wolf.” In it, Joschka, an adult humanoid wolf, is raising Gauna, a little girl with ink-black skin who was raised by wolves in the wild. Joschka, forever feeling different compared to his human family and peers because of his wolfishness, is determined to train Gauna to be a proper young woman, but she is slow to learn. As the years pass, however, she acquires language and propriety, and Joschka, now old, asks her to marry him. She responds by saying that such human conventions seem silly, for they have always been mates. From a wolf standpoint, this makes a certain amount of sense; from a human one, this is clearly grooming. And after all, Joschka insists that they are both human.
In “Emergency Rations & Bountiful Feasts,” there is another instance of a power imbalance when a humanoid bird of prey captures a young girl he dubs “Rations.” He convinces himself that he is fattening up the child in order to eventually eat her, giving her toys and clothes to placate her. When he sees that Rations trusts him completely, he decides against devouring her right away, reminding himself that she is emergency rations, not a feast. This is a very “Beauty and the Beast” type tale, where the young girl’s innocent affection disarms the monster who would entrap and prey on her.
These mildly unsettling tales should not prevent Nagabe’s fans from reading the collection, however. The entire collection is firmly rooted in fantasy, filling the role of fairy tales that balance warning with magic. The sweetest tales involve monsters. In “Midnight Waltz,” Gora the (frankly adorable) vampire believes himself to be human, and this belief is bolstered by a horde of faithful animal subjects and his human dancing partner, Corey. And in “Those Without Eyes,” a blind girl thinks she is trapped by a man-eating monster, only to discover that the monster is trying to protect her — and all humans — from something much worse.
Nagabe’s artwork is as spectacular as ever, his skill at rendering lifelike animals impressive. He so clearly has an intricate, wondrous world living in his mind that he allows to come forth on the page to the delight of readers. This is not the strongest of Nagabe’s works, but even if chaste human-animal romances aren’t your preference, this manga is worth reading just to take in his expertise with line and shade, to get lost in his Grimm-esque creation.
Love on the Other Side is available now through Seven Seas Entertainment, who also currently publishes Nagabe’s other English-translated works. Hopefully, they will continue to bring his beautiful pen and ink fantasies to English-reading audiences going forward.