Monster Musume (Vol.1-6)

It's a bit of a crapshoot what manga will become popular. You can make something truly amazing, and it could easily be ignored by the public at large. On that same note, you can make something terrible, but proper timing can create a juggernaut (Naruto still being a thing is proof of this). But sometimes you come across something that's simply baffling in how successful it is. Monster Musume (which is getting an anime this Summer) is one of those things. After six volumes, I get why it is popular, but not to the point of wild success it still remains at. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a strong premise can make up for most any shortcomings, and in many ways, Monster Musume does just that. Well, not at first, and just because it has a great idea and some fun times doesn't mean it's not a series without flaws. If anything, I'm surprised it functions as well as it does with some of the plot turns it makes.

Monster Musume is an ecchi comedy series about Kimihito Kurusu (though he's more known by the many affectionate nicknames he receives), a normal guy who accidentally becomes a host for a cultural exchange program. Said program is between human culture and the culture of mythical beings, and he ends up housing a lamia named Miia, who grows obsessed with him rather quick. Things spiral out of control quickly, however, as various other monster girls start smashing their way into the poor guy's life, including a scatter-brained harpie, a chivalrous centaur, a masochistic mermaid princess, a slimegirl that copies everyone, a bondage obsessed spider woman, and a childish roleplaying Dullahan. Shenanigans ensue.

I know raunchy content usually has something to do with anime and manga getting a lot of attention from the masses, but so does an interesting hook. Monster Musume has both of these things in spades, and the audience its gathered because of this is staggering. The premise really is brilliant, taking a tired harem set-up and giving it some life with bizarre personalities and quirks not possible in a normal story. The ecchi stuff also appears in full force, and I'm a little surprised a series that gets this raunchy found borderline mainstream success of any sort (this series commonly gets top spots on the New York Times bestsellers list). I get if that's a turnoff for a lot of people, but I still think there's something kind of wonderful here despite.

The series starts off pretty slow, introducing the first three girls, our main character, and Ms. Smith (an exchange program agent and arguably the best character). The first four chapters focus on building a basis for a relationship between Kimihito and the three girls he meets, but it's not until the slimegirl named Suu appears that the series starts to find a groove. Suu is completely alien compared to the rest of the cast, and her presence allows for some creative gags not possible before. Even the dirty ones work more often than not because she simply doesn't know any better and acts with strange reason (like absorbing moisture). From there, the new characters that appear have something weird about them that makes them stick out, like Mero's obsession with reenacting the tragic ending of The Little Mermaid (you know, the version where the heroine turns to sea foam), or Rachnee's aloof attitude and love of tying up her various housemates. Chemistry starts to form between the girls, and it leads to a ton of great gags, even a few based around adding animalistic qualities to the inhuman characters (Miia is cold blooded, Papi the harpie has bad memory, centaur Cerea has ridiculously strong taste buds, ect). There's a surprising amount of creativity on display, and that includes during the dirty bits, as the inhuman abilities of the girls gets used to the fullest (especially with Suu).

The series becomes a lot of fun by the time Rachnee joins the cast, but there are still stumbling blocks here and there. Mainly, anytime the series plays a harem trope straight that involves the main character. Kimihito is barely a character, and his traits can be applied to every bad harem protagonist out there. He's really nice, protective, and not judgmental, so the opposite sex throws themselves all over him. That's literally all there is to him and his relationships with the main characters. The series is even aware of this, with a minor character making a pot shot by comparing him to a bland light novel hero, yet plays it completely as normal. It's a big flaw that drains a lot of life out of the series whenever it pops up.

It's a good thing the series is more interested in slapstick and general lunacy than actual character development. This is one area where Kimihito actually works, as his reactions to the constant stream of pain and misfortune he suffers are hilarious. Series creator Okayado has a great sense for visual timing and makes really fun, overblown expressions. It gives every character a lot of life and personality, and no one character looks similar to another. It also leads to endlessly amusing panels. It helps that he gives every character an overblown personality of some sort, letting him play to his greatest strengths in the art department. I also love how he balances the human elements of monster design, especially with Rachnee's multiple eyes and the stitching on Ms. Smith's henchwoman Zombina. You can tell this is someone who's had experience in the H-manga world, both in good and bad, showing a good bit of range that allows the art to work in any given situation, even one gory scene involving the mentioned Zombina (who's a zombie, if you couldn't tell).

The smut stuff is where the series starts to trip up near constantly. I once described the series during its early phases as constantly taking a step back and then another forward, and while it eventually goes in a positive direction, that description still comes into play whenever something sexual pops up. Some of these scenes can be effectively funny (mainly any scene involving Rachnee being a sadist or Suu not getting what personal space is), but others are just unpleasant or go so far into raunchy territory that any joke that was there all but evaporates, especially during the first chapter with the plant girl. The artist can clearly make good porn, but Monster Musume isn't just trying to be porn. Those indulgent moments become really distracting and take me out of the series comedic energy, and it would just be better off for it by leaving such scenes out, or at least giving them some sort of joke or punch line (like that chapter with the orc terrorists, which is a great joke about the hentai industry).

Monster Musume, though, comes together when it needs to, and I've had a lot of fun reading it up to this point, and I plan to keep following it. I totally get why someone wouldn't like this, but it knows its audience and pegs down all the right notes to attract and keep them around. If only it played a few of those notes less and let its stronger elements take center stage. Still, this is a great showing for a relatively new talent in the manga scene, and I'm interest in seeing where Okayado goes from here. Making something this smutty so enjoyable takes talent. I like what I read, even if I'm not in love with it.

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