Story & Art: Asaya Miyanaga
Translation: Christine Dashiell
Adaptation: Rebecca Schneidereit
Lettering: Lys Blakeslee
A romp through Hell doesn’t seem like the best fare for an all-ages manga, and yet that is the premise of the decidedly kid-friendly Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World. Little Nicola, a witch who has stumbled upon a strange new world full of demons, is found by Simon, a passing Devil merchant. The two move from town to town as Simon sells his wares, trying to keep Nicola’s human identity a secret — for she is not supposed to be among the demons!
Our narrative begins after Simon and Nicola have already struck up a companionship, the uncharacteristically kind Devil feeling pity for the young lost witch whose only magical ability seems to be producing flowers out of thin air. Readers are immediately tipped off that Nicola can only eat certain foods in the demon world, since much of what is served is toxic to her. She also lets slip her human background, and the two travelers are chased into the Black Bazaar, where guards are fewer and the seedy district’s denizens are less concerned about a person’s land of origin.
It is in the Black Bazaar that Nicola exhibits some more advanced magical abilities for the first time, but unfortunately she is unable to replicate the results. This becomes a running theme as, time and again, Nicola’s innate talents are thwarted by her attempts to control them. She is not always aware that she is producing more advanced magics, but it is clear that Simon has picked up on the fact that Nicola is more than what she seems.
Though it seems that there will be an ongoing plot wherein Nicola discovers and strengthens her powers, it is cushioned in a gentle, rolling narrative where the reader discovers the demons’ world alongside the protagonist. At a tavern where Nicola is barely able to eat anything for fear of toxicity, Simon introduces her to some of the different types of demons: Devils (like himself), Fluff Monsters (which look exactly as one might imagine), Gaboorians (reptilian types with horns and sharp teeth), and Popays (tiny, round creatures who mostly perform servant duties). He describes them using stereotypes, which annoys Nicola who then seeks to disprove his prejudices.
At the palatial home of a wealthy Devil with whom Simon is trying to do business, Nicola is tasked with playing with the little girl of the house. In this instance, she is reminded that things like embroidery or playing tea with dolls take on a more sinister appearance in this world. (One of the dolls has removable skin! Neat!) Regardless, Nicola helps this young heiress with her magic and the girls become friends, aiding Simon in his quest to make a decent sale. Nicola’s personable nature proves helpful again soon after while the pair are hunting for a rare mushroom. She heals and befriends a small mushroom fairy called a Clough, who reunites with his family and gifts her the star mushroom they have been seeking.
Nicola is a convincing child character, precocious but also easily tired, a little whiny, and with a strong sense of morality. She is cute without seeming overly saccharine, a feat which is helped by mangaka Asaya Miyanaga’s sketchy hatching art style, printed in sepia ink instead of the standard black. The manga is full of instances where Nicola must make ethical decisions, even surrounded as she is by the denizens of what is basically Hell. Her relationship with Simon is sweet instead of creepy (as is too often the case in manga about young girls), and he is consistently mistaken for her father — a stand-in for Nicola’s grandmother who readers learn has passed away, no doubt.
This is a really great read for that kid who has a penchant for the odd, who likes series like Over the Garden Wall or films like The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is also a great read for any grown-up who hasn’t lost their sense of wonder, and who would enjoy a truly wholesome story of a little girl on a wild adventure! The first volume is available now through Seven Seas Entertainment, with the second volume slated for release in February of 2020.