Leo Aoi looks like a crazy animal with wild eyes–and no one at his new high school will go near him! he does seem to have a special connection with animals though, which intrigues overzealous animal lover Yuiko Kubozuka. In reality, Leo isn’t as frightening as he appears, but Yuiko find out that he goes berserk whenever he sees blood! Will Yuiko be able to get through to Leo during these violent fits? Or will Leo’s ferocious side eventually devour her?
Beast Master is the first manga series by Kousuke Motomi to be brought over and introduce Western readers to her work. It’s a short, two-volume series that also includes a couple of short stories to fill up the volumes. While it has some engaging characters and humorous moments, the isn’t much meat on the story’s bones.
Leo and Yuiko are almost like mirror images of each other. Leo is the tamer of animals who most humans fear, while Yuiko is a tamer of people who most animals fear. Both have good hearts and mean well toward those they wish to befriend, but alone they can’t seem to get anywhere. It’s when they are together, that they get past the misunderstandings. Leo’s classmates realize that Leo isn’t scary after Yuiko encourages him to help find a lost dog, while Yuiko can get close to animals with Leo’s help. A lot of the humor in this series comes from the misunderstanding between Leo and people, and Yuiko and animals.
Yuiko’s lack of fear of Leo, even when he goes into “beast mode,” is the foundation for their relationship. It does seem like a master-pet relationship at first, as Yuiko tells Leo he’s a “good boy” and pats him on the head like one would praise a dog. It’s also built on Yuiko getting into trouble and needing to be saved. As a rule, I don’t care for the constant “damsel in distress”, but not all of the situations feel contrived. When she decides she wants to help the savage dog, it feels completely in character that she would try and fail.
The series has a few supporting characters, such as Yuiko’s vet father, and Leo’s guardian Toki, but the of the bunch is Boss. He is the leader of local gang who starts out trying to pick a fight with Leo, but ends up being his friend. He looks scary, in a yakuza kind of way, but like Leo, can be sympathetic. He pops occasionally and even adopts the dog Leo saves. He really was my favorite.
There isn’t much to the story. Yuiko usually ends up in trouble, and Leo has to come to her rescue. The element of an inheritance is added in the second volume, but all it does is give a different reason for Yuiko to be in trouble. There really wasn’t much to engage in, and it’s the strength of the characters that really carry it.
There are two short stories, one to end each volume. “Fly” is an early story by Motomi about a girl who wants to be a pilot but is being pressured by her family to be a doctor. “Cactus Summer Surprise” was written while Motomi was working on Beast Master, and is the stronger of the two. It is a fantasy about two high school students, one of which gets body swapped with a soul that was trapped in cactus they get from their school nurse. The soul is that of a Doctor who wants has something to do before she can move on. I really liked both the characters and story. It was mostly funny with some poignant moments near the end. I saw a lot of elements reminiscent of Dengeki Daisy, her series after Beast Master.
Overall, Beast Master is a fun read. The characters are engaging and cute animals abound. The art is good, but does improve over the two volumes, especially in the “Cactus Summer Surprise” short story. If you’re looking for a quick read to kill an afternoon, this is a good option.