“Gotta kill them all.”
– Ooba Mei, Tomodachi x Monster
Tomodachi X Monster is a horror/black-comedy manga by Yoshihiko Inui. The series was first published in the seinin magazine “Manga Action“. The series ran from June 2014- June 2015. The manga has since been licensed for North American distribution by Seven Seas Entertainment.
Tomodachi x Monster follows Narimiya Wataru, a 5th grade student who has a difficult time making friends. One afternoon, Narimiya hears the call of a mysterious voice beckoning him into the woods behind his school. It’s there that he meets his new friend and partner, Peke (pictured on the cover above). Narimiya soon discovers that he’s not the only child with a “friend.” Some of these children have come to enjoy battling one another to grow stronger and enhance the bond they share with their monstrous friends. Unlike Pokemon, however, these battles are to the death.
Soon after finding Peke, Narimiya encounters the gang “Carnival.” Carnival is made up of children with monster-friends who have a passion for battling. Unlike our protagonist; however, the members of Carnival have no problem with killing. They give Narimiya a simple choice: join us or die. When Narimiya refuses to join, he discovers there is no place to hide from Carnival and he that must fight to survive. He joins up with a small band of like-minded people who also have monster-friends. Together they attempt to withstand Carnival’s onslaught, but will they be able to defeat Carnival without losing their souls in the process? What exactly are the “friends” and where do they come from?
For those not familiar, seinin is a Japanese word meaning “youth.” Seinin manga is marketed towards older adolescents as well as young men in their 20’s. The audience for these manga is typically older than that of shonen manga (ex: One Piece, Naruto, and Dragonball). Seinin manga tend to be more graphic than their shonen counterparts and Tomodachi x Monster is no exception.
I stumbled upon this manga one day while wandering through the book shop. As a long time fan of the Pokemon franchise and horror aficionado I couldn’t resist its premise: “What if we injected some reality into the idea of giving tweens access to incredibly powerful monsters. Monster’s who obey their master’s every command.”
Slight spoilers after this point.
Tomodachi x Monster is an excellent parody of the deluge of monster battling anime and manga that flooded the market in the late 90’s-early 2000’s. The first chapter of this series appears to be a boring, cookie-cutter, monster battling manga. It’s so successful in mimicking other series that I almost put the book down while flipping through it. The story shifts gears with an excellent execution of paneling, ending in one of the most shocking and brutal deaths in the series. Those two pages alone convinced me to purchase the entire 3-volume set.
The art is purposely simple and cute, but lurking behind the initially passive visuals is a very talented horror manga artist. The gore in this series is incredibly well done, and during the battle scenes it does a very good job of blending with the more generic style of the characters. I had never heard of Yoshihiko Inui before encountering this book, but I definitely look forward to seeing his future work.
Unfortunately, the book loses some of it’s steam once the punchline is revealed. The manga’s story is played completely straight. The dark humor comes largely from the context and subtle references to the tropes of the monster-battle genre. Readers who aren’t familiar with Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, etc. probably won’t get much out of this series.
The reliance on context isn’t the story’s only problem. While I enjoyed Inui’s art, his writing leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is very generic, which would be fine given what this series is, except that a number of subplots and story threads are introduced that go no where or are forgotten about entirely. I wasn’t able to find out much about the series’s history. I got the feeling that it may have been cancelled prematurely and hastily wrapped up in the second half of the third volume.
The third volume enters it’s climax suddenly and with barely any page time dedicated to explaining what’s going on. The final battle suffers from a rushed pacing and confusing visuals. Many new powers and abilities are introduced and some explanation would have helped me to better understand what was happening. All of it culminates in a final, unsatisfying cliffhanger with a message from the author saying: “Let’s meet again in another work somewhere! Thank you for reading all the way to the end…” Which is the only way that I knew the series had ended. Up until the last page I was expecting that there would be at least a 4th book.
I enjoyed Tomodachi x Monster, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a general horror audience. If you happen to be a person who enjoys both Saw and Pokemon, though, then Tomodachi x Monster may be a fun way to pass an afternoon.
Inui, Yoshihiko, et al. Tomodachi x Monster. Seven Seas Entertainment, 2016.