Our titular monstress is seventeen year old Maika Halfwolf, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about her, to be perfectly honest. Maika lives in a fantastical Asiatic inspired world where women rule, and the world is currently being torn apart by a war between humans and arcanics (magical beings, essentially; it’s more complicated than that). All kinds of magical shit is normal to this world: people with wings, immortality, ancient beings (literally called ancients) who look like animals but aren’t, a race of talking highly intelligent cats, adorable little kids with fox ears, cannibalism, resurrection, witchery, etc. And giant monstrous (harmless) ghosts stalk the landscape, reminders of a bygone age. Maika is haunted quite literally by her past. She’s a war orphan, she only has one arm, and a scary monster who sucks the life out of people has decided to make her body its home.
How unique you’ll find this comic depends on how much exposure you have to non-western lit and media, I think. I found a lot of it very familiar from the anime I’ve watched (the monsters in particular reminded me of the homunculi in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood). But I think a lot of that is deliberate. Monstress is a hybrid creation of western and eastern story structures, of manga and the western novel.
None of the story elements were really all that unique, but the whole thing does feel that way, largely because of the way it’s packaged. I’m sure if you’ve read any reviews of this at all, they’ve all mentioned how gorgeous the art is. And that’s true. Sana Takeda (who I know mostly from her work on Ms. Marvel) is brilliant at creating the visual language of this world. The art does a LOT of the heavy lifting to make you come away from this story feeling a certain way, to reinforce the worldbuilding, whereas for me, the actual writing mostly felt perfunctory and a little graceless. It’s also missing something that most manga/anime have, and that’s lightness punctuating the terror and the darkness. You know, humor, or moments of humanity and character. Right now, it takes itself verrrry seriously. The ending was also confusing as hell. Ironically, I was less confused at the beginning when I knew almost nothing than I was at the end, when I was clearly supposed to have figured some stuff out and/or had some revelations that have obviously gone over my head.
Rounding up from 3.5 stars on this one because I was thoroughly engrossed in it for the couple of hours it took to read. Really, it was a less than perfect read, but it deserves some credit for me ordering the sequel immediately upon finishing.