I give this compelling, somewhat violent shoujo manga about wolves and roses...an 85/100!
Ah, wolves. They've been used in stories and media since the beginning of time. It's not hard to see why: Wolves are cool, scary, violent, and badass. Why do you think the famous fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood has stuck around for over hundreds of years? Lots of books, shows, and video games feature wolves in some capacity. Some manage to use them well, others...not so much. Regardless, wolves and even Little Red Riding Hood in general are many go-to inspirations for a lot of stories we know of today, Beasts of Abigaile being the most recent attempt to use both for the sake of its story. I have to admit, I had low expectations going into this one, and while I do feel some parts could have been explored more or done better, I really like this manga. I kinda wish I had read this when I was in middle school or high school, because it deals with themes of discrimination, classism, bullying, and kindness, something I and many others can really relate to, though whether you're able to handle the often melodramatic and even violent way it portrays them is another story. Yes, don't let the cutesy, sparkly shoujo style artwork fool you, because this manga is straight up violent!
The story centers around Nina Tsukishiro, a young Japanese girl who recently moved to the fictional European country of Ruberia to live with her aunt and uncle for a while. After having endured vicious bullying at her previous school, she's determined to start fresh and make the most out of her new life. But when an escaped convict from the prison fortress Abigaile bites her, she finds herself sprouting wolf ears and a tail! It turns out the convict, Roy, is part of a half-wolf, half-human race called the Luga, once the indigenous people of Ruberia. All Luga are imprisoned in Abigaile, hated, tortured, and abused for their very existence, and trained for a life of slavery under humans. Because Nina suddenly has wolf ears and a tail, thereby making her a Luga in appearance, she's shipped off to Abigaile and treated the same way as the other Lugas. It's a dog-eat-dog world here, and Nina has to do what she can in order to survive in this terrible place, which has plenty of its own ugly secrets under their rose gardens.
If you're expecting Beasts of Abigaile to be a cute, sweet, fluffy shoujo romp featuring cute girls and sexy bishie wolves (Though the manga does have them), this isn't the manga for you. Beasts of Abigaile is extremely dark and violent, both in its themes, atmosphere, and storytelling, especially when exploring the Luga, their hierarchy system, and how they're treated. The characters regularly get abused, beaten, tortured, whipped, ripped apart, or thrown in dungeons for things like disrupting class or even just because you're the weakest and smallest out of them. The Luga all act like wolves and the manga makes no attempt to sugarcoat or romanticize their behavior. The Luga form packs with strict hierarchical ranks, they fight for dominance, they rip each other apart, claws and fangs and all, blood is always shown without the slightest hint of censorship, and the Luga have an insatiable grudge against humans after the latter killed their families and enslaved them ten years before the story begins. All of this forms the entire back bone of the series, and it can get really intense at times. Even so, that's no reason to not check this manga out, because the story is extremely compelling and intense, often leaving you wondering what's going to happen next.
Plus, the art is still pretty stereotypically shoujo, with soft, sparkly, detailed eyes, everybody having poofy hair, the kid characters being cute chibis, and so on. There's lots of large eyes, soft lines and shading, and detailed backgrounds. The manga even has some characters have 70s shoujo style faces and Jojo faces during certain scenes, which make for some pretty cute comedy considering the intense nature of the story. But the mangaka also adds in some fairy tale references in the story, such as having some Lugas wear red hoods and carrying woven baskets when they're out and about picking flowers (Mostly in the first chapter), and there's a lot of rose imagery and motifs. The staff of Abigaile are all evil and predatory in their expressions and body language, and the staff are based on the woodcutter/huntsman in the original fairy tale. The fact that the Luga are subject to the huntsman is a good thematic twist on things.
I'm a little conflicted on the characters. Nina, the protagonist, is thankfully not your typical swooning shoujo girl who's one-note and whose only purpose is to be cute and get with the love interest. Nina is bold, brash, doesn't take crap from anyone, calls out bullcrap even though it gets her into trouble, and isn't going to let people walk all over her. She even willingly fights bullies and abusive teachers with her fists and karate skills. When was the last time a shoujo protagonist actually took control of her own situation and actively tries to fight against her oppressors? She's impulsive and reckless, so she gets herself and others into trouble a lot, which prevents her from becoming a one note Mary Sue. The other main character, Roy, I don't have the same praises for. He's pretty much the typical abusive love interest who hates Nina but at the same time wants to make her into his property, only showing bits and pieces of compassion near the end of the story. Since he's part wolf, it he gets quite physical with her, and I really couldn't bring myself to root for him. The other characters, such as his brother Giles, the omega Poe, and the crossdressing Lugas in Nina's pack fall somewhere in between. Honestly, I think Poe is the best character, and I think Nina should have been paired up with him, because out of all the characters in the story, not only is he the nicest and sweetest, every moment he has with Nina is really sweet, heartwarming, and adorable. Why couldn't he be the main love interest instead of Roy?!
My only other complaints about the manga are that the teachers and prison guards are all stereotypically mean and abusive with nothing else to them, save for one character, and...well, the manga's really short, only four volumes long. I really wanted to read more of this manga and learn more about the world the characters reside in and how the Luga originally came about. But even in light of that, the manga's still very good. The story's always moving at a steady pace, the characters are reasonably flawed but fun to follow, the twists are pretty well done, the art is nice to look at, and it really stands above a lot of the more cliche shoujo manga that plague the industry. I certainly like it.
Overall, if you want a genuinely engaging shoujo manga that doesn't make you want to vomit, try out Beasts of Abigaile if you can.