Hey guys! After a week away to rest, relax and binge my way through Kingdom Hearts 3 (for my first impressions of this please keep your eyes fixed on this blog), I’m back again with another manga morsel for you guys to enjoy. As the trend of taking the child-friendly, cute and inconspicuous, and turning it into something dark, violent and/or traumatic becomes ever more entrenched in the world of anime and manga, this week’s manga morsel takes a look at one of the more recent iterations. This time, the beloved franchise Pokémon receives a dark coat of paint, in the form of the manga Tomodachi x Monster. The question is, though, does this series capture the joy of collecting and battling monsters, but with heightened stakes, or does it take the trend a step too far? Well this is what we’ll be looking at this time on our trip down the otaku rabbit hole. Buckle up everyone and let’s get started!
Tomodachi x Monster follows Narimya Wataru, our lonely main protagonist and elementary schooler. One day, while in class, he hears a strange voice saying “let’s be friends” coming from the woods near his school. Upon entering the woods after class, he stumbles upon an unusual creature, resembling a human stomach on legs, who he affectionately names Peke. They quickly become friends and everything appears, at least on the surface, like your typical, happy, Pokémon-like experience. This blissful joy, however, only lasts a short while. He quickly discovers that he is not the only one with a “friend”, and that people with a “friend” are the only ones who can see them. Each of these friends resembles some common object, and each comes with an ability unique to them. However, it is these abilities and the implications of these powers that drives the world of Tomodachi x Monster down a path for the worse, transforming it into something… unpleasant.
As is the tradition in the genre, owners of these creatures are expected to battle and defeat their opponents to become stronger. The catch is, these powers have the potential to injure, maim or kill. To make matters worse, when the “friend” is injured, that injury is transferred to the owner as they share their senses – often resulting in some grotesquely visceral moments that overshoot the series’ goal of being a parody or dark interpretation of the genre, instead landing it in the realm of excessive violence for violence’s sake. While I can’t say what the original intention of this series was, I can say that this is undeniably one of the most horrific takes on an existing genre that I have come across. The art style does little to prepare the reader for the horrors to come, even if the cover, filled with blood spatter, does hint that this series will be far from a fun-filled experience.
The ways by which the characters are injured or killed are visceral to the extreme, pulling no punches in the depiction of death and gore with highly detailed illustrations and pages devoid of text to really drive home the events that have just taken place. Sadly, this does little to build high stakes, and instead provides a painful reminder to the reader that Tomodachi x Monster takes itself far too seriously. There is a lack of humour in this series and that element of humour is sorely missed. This ultimately results in this book being a difficult one to complete, instead becoming weighed down by its own dark ambitions.
One thing I must somewhat praise Tomodachi x Monster for is the way that it introduces the main antagonists of this volume, a group of homicidal grade schoolers with “friends”, known collectively as Carnival. These characters show a truly terrifying side of what children can accomplish if given access to power while being unaware of the true implications of their actions. Cold and calculating, these characters introduce a glint of potential and a promise that the series, like the “friends”, has the potential to evolve into something more, with an element of mystery as to the origins of said “friends”.
This is, sadly, something that is never delivered upon.
As someone who decided, in spite of the warning signs, to read on to find out where this manga ends, I can say with no shred of doubt, that this series does in fact evolve. But its evolution is one that leaves the reader with no strong sense of resolution. The series runs for three volumes, and sadly the ending feels rushed, with characters being both introduced and discarded as quickly and unfeelingly as you could possibly imagine. Should you choose to read this series, be aware that there is a very real risk of disappointment and repulsion in equal measure. You have been warned.
For fans of the violent and gory, I would probably say that Tomodachi x Monster with scratch some sort of itch for you somewhere, but this is something I cannot guarantee. In all good conscience, however, I cannot recommend this series for the vast majority of people. Lacking any semblance of comedic relief or tension reliever, this manga series is one that falls victim to its own aesthetic, becoming a caricature of what could have been. While I’m sure that one day there will be a take on the Pocket Monster genre that will voyage into the dark with great success in the same manner as Madoka Magica did for Magical Girls, I can say with the utmost certainty that Tomodachi x Monster is sadly not that success story. If you are in desperate need of a darker take on the genre, but with far less senseless gore and excessively serious tone, I would point you in the direction of the third series of the Digimon anime, Digimon Tamers, as it stands apart from its peers, having its fair share of dark moments, while still retaining humour and heart-warming moments that will keep you moving forward. As for Tomodachi x Monster, all I can say is, unless this series is something that truly appeals to you, then please leave this manga on the shelf where it belongs.
Thanks for joining me once again on this trip down the otaku rabbit hole. I hope you guys enjoyed this review. Until next time, keep it weeby!