“They call us monsters because it makes it easier to hurt us. But monsters are people, too.“
TITLE & AUTHOR: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
PUBLISHED : July 19th 2016 by Image Comics
MY RATING: 5/5
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
Well, I have to admit Monstress has sat on my shelf for more than a year without being opened. I bought it for the art, because I’m weak in that area, but I honestly thought the story will be a generic manga. Now I have to confess I dislike manga in general. Why? I don’t know, it all seemed the same and generic to me, and the art style never piqued my interest. But I had the same experience with anime, until I discovered Ghibli studio, and the genius which is Hayao Miyazaki. Now I cry in happiness each time Ghibli produces a new movie. Has the Monstress managed to change my mind about manga? I don’t know yet. I do know that this graphic novel is the gold, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for something like it in the future.
So, basically, Monstress is an Asian-influenced steampunk fantasy. In short. In a wider sense, it’s an epic, comprised of imaginary worlds, ancient histories, and various races. It isn’t difficult to follow, being a graphic novel, but definitely easy to get sucked into. To explain the main story-line, I’ll have to break down the basics first. Zamora is the capital of the known world, which blossomed because of the trade between all races, who met and prospered in what was then known as Zamor’ata. But tensions grew, and the world ripped in two, with humans and Zamora on one side, and the rebel Arcanics on the other, separated by a wall.
Arcanics are a hybrid race of humans and Ancients – immortal and mystical race which still survives, divided into two factions – the court of dusk, and the court of dawn. Arcanics are thus basically halflings – a forbidden race. They are born with both human features, but also with animal-ones, inherited from the ancients. There are also cats, but not your usual cats – these can talk, fight, manipulate, and are born with several tails. They are the oldest, but also the inferior race, often enslaved and used. And lastly, there are Old Gods. These mythical and devastating beings have been gone for centuries, only their shadows remain as a sort of an echo, walking the moonlit sky. And in the center of it all is Maika.
Maika half-wolf is an Arcanic girl with one arm and a strange tattoo on her chest. She is the main character who will lead us on her journey to revenge, and her discovery of her true past and descent. The main focus of her revenge are Cumaea – the female order of witches among the human race. While humans are magicless, there are still some who are born with telepathy, or another basic power, and Cumaea gather such girls for their order – whose main quest is for Lillium – a substance made of Arcanic body parts, used for power and worse. Cumaea are basically inquisition with a thirst for killing halflings.
On this quest, Maika will meet some interesting creatures, do some horrifying things, find some answers and open up many new questions. If you’re looking for action – it’s there, along with horror, drama, betrayal, humor, blood, and some characters too cute for their good. This graphic novel is gory, contains a lot of swearing and nudity, thus it’s adult. Kids, begone.
I realize what I wrote sounds like a major conundrum, but it’s all decently explained and not thrown in your face, and all these new details are interwoven with taste and skill. Art is beyond gorgeous, and a physical copy is well worth it. Read this graphic novel guys, you won’t regret it! I’ll buy part 2 shortly to revel in its glory.
P.S. I read the Serbian version, so it’s quite possible I wrote some names a bit differently.
Sana Takeda is a Japanese illustrator and comic book artist known for her work on Hugo Award winning Monstress series. Takeda was born in Niigata, and now resides in Tokyo, Japan. At age 20 Takeda started working as a 3D CGI designer for Sega, creating pictures of soccer and NBA athletes. In 2006-2008 she worked with C. B. Cebulski on creator-owned Drain series. In 2010 she started to work with Marjorie Liu on X-23 for Marvel Comics and in 2013 the two started to work on creator-owned Monstress series.