Seventeen-year-old Yuiko Kubozuka loves animals. Unfortunately, they definitely don’t love her back. (She is always trying too hard, apparently, and scares them away.) Then one day --- an appropriately stormy one where the rain is falling in sheets and bolts of lightning are lighting up the heavens --- she meets him, a boy who is practically a wild animal himself. The boy, as it turns out, is actually a transfer student at Yuiko’s school who had been living abroad for many years, and his name is Leo Aoi.
The student body is terrified of the scruffy, much-scarred and wild-eyed Leo. Yuiko soon learns, however, that Leo is actually more kitten than lion, and the two develop a fast friendship. It’s all going swimmingly until Leo manages to get on the wrong side of the wrong crowd. When they try to beat him into submission, he goes berserk, ready to kill everyone in sight with his bare hands. And he would have, too…had Yuiko not intervened to stop his rampage. Apparently, only she is capable of stopping him once he sees fresh blood. Will Yuiko be able to keep Leo tame, or will this beast ultimately be the one to take his master’s life?
Despite the lurid illustration of a chained and bloodied Leo embracing a sorrowful looking Yuiko from behind, the first volume of Kyousuke Motomi’s Beast Master is, like Leo himself, more mellow than monstrous. And, as the title correctly implies, it is more about the “Beast Master” Yuiko herself than it is about Leo. This, like the best sorts of shoujo manga, is about a girl who grows into adulthood. For Yuiko specifically, this means learning how to relate to others in a compassionate way that fulfills their needs and desires, and not just her own, and she gradually comes to realize that smothering someone with affection is not the same as love.
Of course, Leo is an appealing character after his own fashion as well. A dead ringer for L from Death Note, he is a character design type that has won legions of fans around the world, and Motomi almost certainly drew him with his antecedents in mind. Actually, character design is one of this title’s strongest assets. Although the quality of the artwork and layouts on its own terms is of the expected standard for mainstream shoujo manga and no more, the mangaka uses just the right combination of supporting character archetypes, from bald gangster to geeky father, to keep up the momentum of the story.
This volume of Beast Master also includes a stand-alone bonus story titled “Fly.” Unrelated to the main plot, it depicts a young woman who wants to become a pilot even though her parents want her to become a doctor, and with the encouragement of her boyfriend, she decides to follow her dreams. If this manga has a theme, it is that people cannot realize their individual potential alone, and the person to help them along the way is already right beside them. All in all, a pleasantly optimistic read that belies the lurid superficialities. Recommended.
Reviewed by Casey Brienza on October 18, 2011
Beast Master, Volume 1