MANGA REVIEW | "Kaiju No. 8" - Vols. 1 & 2
When one looks at the cover of Naoya Matsumoto’s Kaiju No. 8, you’ll be forgiven if you think you’re walking into a Godzilla-like tale. There’s no doubt that the King of Monsters plays a big influence on this series, but it’s more than just a killer giant story. In fact, once you see what the name of the main character is, you’ll start piecing together that another classic tale plays a big role in Kaiju No. 8’s narrative.
The story follows Kafka, who works in a unit whose job is to dispose of the giant monsters who’ve been killed. He dreams of being on the Defense Force team, but his age is keeping him from going for it. Upon hearing that the age limit to join has increased — on top of an unexpected kaiju run-in — Kafka’s dream is reignited, swearing that he’ll try again once he heals from his wounds. But then, another kaiju appears in his hospital room and transforms into the very thing he wishes to kill.
Thankfully, Kafka’s humanity stays with him in his new form, as he and his newfound friend Reno escape before the Defense Force comes to put him down. After hiding and learning to transform back into a human, Kafka jumps back into aiming for his dream. The tests become a challenge, but it’s the final one that puts him face-to-face with a similar kaiju he faced earlier. As the younger blood and Defense Force watches on, Kafka must show his loyalty while keeping his kaiju powers a secret.
Kaiju No. 8 is a very interesting twist on the classic tale Metamorphosis. Instead of turning into a giant bug, Kafka instead turns into what could be considered the most grotesque being in this world. Although he has the trust in his friend Reno, it’s the other people who he must be careful around. After all, as the classic tale goes, even those close to Gregor became so disgusted by his very existence.
When Kafka transforms into the monster, a more humorous side of the story starts to unfold. The way he tries to hide his appearance is very funny, especially when his dorky mannerisms come through in his new body. His banter with Reno helps to elevate the jokes and one-liners, as the old man deals with both his new problem alongside his older problems. It can be somewhat shonen-y, but there are enough unique surprises that Kaiju No. 8 has that will definitely grab people’s attention.
In its second volume, Kaiju No. 8 takes the opportunity to sit back a it to get to know its characters. It’s clear that there’s loads of tension due to their line of work, but that doesn’t mean there’s no time to get chummy. The public bath gives the characters a chance to talk about their origins, with Kakfa’s relationship to Captain Ashiro becoming a hot enough topic to cause everyone to faint! Then there’s Soshino, whose hard exterior hides a worthy adversary to Kafka’s goal in life.
But once another kaiju shows up, the friendly chit-chat vanishes as everyone throws what they got at the new threat. Kafka is surrounded by a gaggle of badasses, with Ashiro’s gun skills and Soshino’s way with a blade being unbelievably cool to read in action! However, Reno comes face-to-face with another humanoid kaiju, resulting in a battle that’s as intense as it is frightening! Thankfully, help arrives just in time, and the end result is wonderfully satisfying!
Visually, Matsumoto’s art is stellar in every frame. From the monster clean-up scenes to the training fight with the kaiju, everything is presented with a great mixture of cleanliness and grotesqueness. The design of the kaiju is a great blend of classic Japanese monster movie and Guillermo Del Toro, with some hints of tokusatsu in both movements and personality. It also knows when to show its more comedic side, with Kafka’s reactions to Ashiro’s skills looking as wacky as a Tex Avery cartoon.
Volumes One and Two of Kaiju No. 8 are a strong intro to a world that knows how to deal with monsters already. It spotlights an unlikely hero given a cursed blessing, as he hopes to join a more respectable rank. How those close to him will react to his secret once revealed is still unknown, but from one Kafka to another, it’s bound to be a very tricky slope to slide down. Thankfully, Kaiju No. 8 is looking to be one fun and action-packed twist on that old monster-of-the-week narrative!
VOL. 1 RATING:
VOL. 2 RATING:
Promotional consideration provided by Chantelle Sturt of VIZ Media