This is the kind of high fantasy you’ll find in Monstress, a strong tale of magic, honor, and death that is beautiful to look at.
Marjorie Liu brings us this rich tale and has a very firm grasp on her world and how things move and live in it. There’s no learning curve, no lengthy exposition, and yet there’s enough interest in what’s happening to bring us along for the ride willingly. The fact that the first issue is incredibly massive (66 pages!) gives her the freedom to let the world simply happen and let us catch up to it. There are so many interesting facets to the plot and characters that everyone will find something to intrigue them, whether it be the war between the two large states and the subservience and casual eradication of the other, the mystery of the “ghosts,” the incredibly strong and resilient (and supremely angry) Maika Halfwolf and her own personal mysteries, or just the incredibly nuanced layers of plot that draw together in a tight weave.
The artwork in this issue is simply incredible, bringing to mind the beautiful delicacy of a Miyazaki film. Every image that Sana Takeda puts on the page is so thoughtful and well composed that it makes the pages fly by. This is no tale for kids, and the violence is only part of the gruesomeness. The character designs (especially Yvette - Holy crap is she creepy!) and the backgrounds serve to create a unique picture from every angle. There are no cookie-cutter characters here; every person is well thought out and truly individual. Even tertiary characters who quickly leave seem to matter to Takeda, and it shows in the thoroughness of her design. Oh, and every page is astoundingly gorgeous. That’s not a word I use lightly. This may be one of the most gloriously rendered single issues I’ve ever seen, and there’s an incredible amount of talent on display. It alone is worth the price of admission.
I think what sets Monstress apart from the pack is the obvious thought and attention to detail that is on display. This is a series where the creators care so much that everything is mind-numbingly perfect. In acting, the discussion of Eastern vs. Western technique is one of approach, where Western actors tend to approach their training horizontally, accumulating as many roads into the character as they can find, whereas Eastern technique tends toward the vertical, finding one path and exploring it in exquisite detail. This book reminds me of that distinction, and every piece feels deliberate and truthful. Fans of Inuyasha, Bleach, and anime as a whole will love this series, and high fantasy fans will too. It’s really, really good stuff.
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