Sunday, June 26, 2016

REVIEW: A Centaur's Life (manga, vol. 1) story and art by Kei Murayama, translation by Angela Liu

A Centaur's Life is a slice-of-life fantasy series. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.

My read-alikes/watch-alikes list is a stretch, and mostly focused on watch-alikes. I can't seem to think of any slice-of-life fantasy (or even sci-fi!) manga series that are similar to A Centaur's Life in overall feel/tone.

Review:

Himeno (nicknamed “Hime”) is a shy, pretty, and somewhat ditzy centaur currently attending high school. Her best friends are Kyoko, one of the goatfolk, and Nozomi, a draconid. In this volume, Hime deals with the awkwardness of having an angelfolk guy give her a love letter, starring as a princess in a school play, and everyone's differing physical abilities in gym class. Readers also get a peek at her family life and other everyday aspects of living in a world populated entirely by fantasy beings.

I remember being intrigued by the idea of this series when it was first announced that Seven Seas Entertainment had licensed it. A slice-of-life series with centaurs, angels, satyr-like beings, and more, in an ordinary modern day setting – sure, why not?

I currently own the first three volumes, and the very beginning of this one made me wonder if I'd regret having them. An angelfolk guy offered Hime a love letter, causing her to freak out and run off. It turned out that she was nervous about the idea of dating anyone, because dating could eventually lead to sex. A past incident in which a classmate teased her about her genitals probably looking similar to those of livestock made her worry about what an angelfolk guy would think if he saw her naked. Hime's friends tried to reassure her, asking her if she'd ever looked at naked people in public baths or elsewhere and compared herself to them, but she'd always been too embarrassed to look.

This was all uncomfortably detailed but, I thought, a legitimate (if premature) concern for Hime to have. After all, of all her classmates, she appeared to be the only one who wasn't human from the waist down. I absolutely did not expect Nozomi's solution, however. She suggested that she and Kyoko show their genitals to Hime, and then they'd look at Hime's. Everyone was at least a little embarrassed, Kyoko most of all, but everyone did it.

I don't know about other women, but I can't imagine I or my friends ever offering to do this when we were in high school. I especially can't imagine it going quite the way it did in this manga. To be specific, here's the dialogue when Nozomi showed hers off:
Either Hime or Kyoko, fascinated: “Can...can we open it a little?” 
Nozomi, blushing a bit: “Do what you want! Except...don't put anything in. Especially you, Kyoko.”
Nope. Just nope. I mean, WTF? No.

I might have liked the second chapter more if it hadn't been for the first chapter. In that one, the girls got ready for a school play, and there were stronger indications that Nozomi was probably a lesbian. An attempt by a male classmate to get Hime to kiss him backfired and resulted in Hime kissing Nozomi instead, and Nozomi spent a good chunk of the chapter blushing over and thinking about the incident.

The world-building was intriguing, but confusing. All (most?) of the races were descended from primates, but instead of Homo sapiens, evolution gave rise to centaurs, goatfolk, angelfolk, and more. There were indications that the races had previously been more segregated. Goatfolk like Kyoko once enslaved centaurs like Hime and used them as mounts in war, and some beings, like Antarctic snake people, still tended to be presented in a negative light in movies and fiction.

Architecture, furnishings, and clothing were set up to accommodate as many races as possible, but there were still awkward moments. For example, there were scenes showing what centaurs like Hime had to do in order to use a Western-style toilet, and Hime's family lived in a home that wasn't originally built for centaurs.

So far, Murayama's sometimes uncomfortably detailed look at the mechanics of living in this world is interesting. I'm morbidly curious about what the next couple volumes will bring. That said, Murayama doesn't incorporate most of this information very well, and some of it seemed like the kind of stuff that basic history and physical and sex education classes should have covered, if the races were really as integrated as they seemed to be. There were things that the girls shouldn't have needed to ask each other about, or that should have been more awkward to bring up than they were. I mean, Hime didn't even twitch when Kyoko mentioned that goatfolk used to keep centaurs as slaves.

Extras:
  • Several information pages about things like centaur undergarments and footwear (I don't think that horse hooves work that way, though), how angelfolk undress, tail holes in undergarments, and more. 
  • Two full-color illustrations.
  • A 2-page manga-style afterword in which God (Murayama?) is revealed to be a goat. An actual goat, not goatfolk. 
  • Two pages about Kanata City's past, present, and future. I was very confused about this bit, since it seemed to be info about a real-world city rather than world-building for the series, but my Googling indicates that the place names are probably made up. 
  • A 12-page preview of Monster Musume. It includes on-page sexual stimulation of a lamia, with enough nudity to show off the lamia girl's nipples and reveal that the artist found a way to incorporate human genitals onto a snake body. Basically porn.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Zootopia (CGI animated movie) - Those who'd love something else that gets into a lot of the nitty gritty details of life in a city where beings of all shapes and sizes live might want to give this a try. Just be warned, due to the first chapter of A Centaur's Life, the recommendation doesn't work both ways. I've written about this movie.
  • Babylon 5 (live action TV series) - Another one that might be good for those who are particularly interested in the "beings of all shapes and sizes living together" aspect of A Centaur's Life. This is sci-fi with political aspects, though, so otherwise very different from Murayama's work. I've written about the first season and the first movie.
  • Alien Emergencies (e-book) by James White - Medical science fiction. This omnibus isn't the first in the series, but it's the only one I've read. Again, on the surface not very similar to Murayama's work, but it might be a good one for those who'd like more "beings of all shapes and sizes living together" aspects. I've written about this book.
  • Mindtouch (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth - Maybe? It's basically slice-of-life sci-fi starring a humanoid empath and a centauroid being. There are indications that the world has a very dark past, but the story itself is gentle and often sweet. One warning, though: there are kids with terminal illnesses, and one does die. I've written about this book.

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