Review: To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts, vol. 1, by Maybe
There’s something intoxicating about dark fantasy. The most popular manga in the USA is Attack on Titan, a dark fantasy giant zombie title I haven’t kept up with (I did review the first volume a long time ago in another life, review forthcoming?).
To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts takes a page out of Attack on Titan’s book with an action-packed David vs. Goliath premise as a way to reimagine the United States Civil War.
In To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts, the badly outnumbered North uses dark magical arts to create demonic supersoldiers called Incarnates, who, do in fact win the war, reuniting the North and South. Over time, these super soldiers lose their humanity, and must be hunted down. Their hunter, Hank, was the Captain of the Incarnates in the war, and we come to find out that he is an Incarnate as well. The reader stand-in is a elephant gun-wielding daughter of an Incarnate who hunts down Hank, who murdered her father.
There isn’t necessarily a prohibition on non-Americans telling the Civil War story (or “a” Civil War story), and I’m certain that some have done it quite well, but this reimagining of that conflict is inherently skewed towards supporting its fantastical plot points, rather than to the real causes of the war. There is, therefore, a certain amount of erasure at play here, which is disquieting. Using the American Civil War as the set dressing for an action-adventure comic about monster hunting feels lazy and disingenuous if you aren’t putting your comic into the greater context of the war. These characters aren’t interacting in a world recently shattered over the right to own slaves.
The other odd thing about the comic is its play on traditional European fantasies – Ovid’s Minotaur is reimagined into a fortress-building maniac, for example, and the Cornish spriggan is reimagined as a rhino.
From a storytelling standpoint, the problem with the comic is the power imbalance between monster slayer and monsters; none of the three Incarnates really stand a chance against Hank, and any injury he sustains is superficial at best. If you’re building a David v. Goliath comic, you need to make David a little punier, a little more likely to lose.
The art is “fine,” a mix between the big faces of Attack on Titan and the more contemporary shonen aesthetic. The pacing could use some work, and I keep noticing some localization issues in Vertical’s recent manga that make me cringe (the biggest being the continued use of “etc.” in word bubbles).
Darker fantasies, like Tokyo Ghoul and Ajin have proven fairly popular among smaller crowds, and it doesn’t surprise me that publishers like Vertical are hunting for the next Attack on TItan, just like shojo publishers were hunting for the next Fruits Basket 8-10 years ago. No one found a second Fruits Basket. I doubt anyone will find a second Attack on Titan. Attack on Titan, whatever your opinions are of it, has strong character building and a unique fantasy landscape.To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts feels lazy and unbalanced in comparison.