Just because they’re monsters doesn’t mean they’re bad people. The five monsters that star in the latest manga series by Hiro Mashima (Rave Master, Fairy Tail) to make it to the U.S. are known collectively as “The Black Airs,” and each is relatively young, cute, and good-hearted.
There’s the leader of the group, the slightly older and matronly Mummy, who is swathed in wrappings, but not so many that she’s not also scantily clad, and who wears a gigantic syringe with some mysterious purpose on her hip like an oversized sword.
There’s Tooran, a sand golem who looks perfectly human most of the time and, like Mummy, doesn’t wear a whole lot. There’s the tiny Joba, a minuscule onion demon who makes up for in cuteness what he lacks in vocabulary. There’s James, “a frankenstein” whose stitched-on face has a tendency to fall off, revealing the empty cavity of his head.
And then there’s our protagonist, Aki, a monster of mysterious species, who seems to be the weakest of all but who conceals a great power that only gets unleashed under dire circumstances (generally at the climax of each story).
The world they live in is called Elvenland, a vaguely medieval, fantasy RPG-like world where man and monster live a side by side, but segregated and suspicious, existence, following some great human monster war of the recent-ish past. While human beings pay bounties on monsters—we’re first introduced to the Black Airs when a pair of numbskull humans try to capture them—the Black Airs fight for peaceful co-existence, X-Men-style. (In his afterword, Mashima explains the idea was to present the flip-side of RPGs where humans get rewards for the specific types of monsters they kill, and a desire to see how the monster might think of such a system; indeed, in the first storyline, the human hunters flip excitedly through a monster encyclopedia to determine the various types of monsters they’re facing, and what they’re values are.)
This volume contains a trio of stories. In the first, the characters take out some humans with designs on them. In the second, they’re wandering around (RPG-style, I guess), when they run across a zealot ghost trying to raise a monster army to launch an unprovoked attack on a human village in the hopes of reigniting the human/monster war. And, in the final one, a bull character from Aki’s past returns to trouble the gang once more—one of the more inspired designs, he’s a sort of humanoid Chimera in a leather jacket and leather pants (with a hole for his snake-headed tail to stick out).
Fans of Mashima’s previous series will find pretty much everything they liked about those books here, from the style of character designs to the rendering to the character types, sense of humor, and mixtures of action, melodrama, and comedy. New series, new world, new characters, same Hiro Mashima. That’s good news for his fans.