The “monster girl” craze continues with this new manga by Eiji Masuda. My Monster Secret tells the story of Kuromine Asahi, a high school student with a nonexistent poker face who can’t tell a fib or keep a secret to save his life, to the point where his classmates have taken to calling him the “Holey Sieve” (because he spills everything). However, Kuromine has an important secret he doesn’t want blown prematurely, which is that he’s crushing hard on his quiet and mysterious classmates Youko Shiragami. He tries to catch her alone to tell her he likes her before his face gives him away, but in doing so, he discovers she’s a vampire! She plans to leave the school immediately, but he convinces her to stay with the promise that, just this once, he won’t spill the beans. What will be the outcome when the guy who can’t keep a secret embraces a secret that must be kept?
My Monster Secret has a very cute premise, and the execution lives up to its cute potential. Kuromine’s inability to keep his heart off his sleeve is funny and endearing, and the once-quiet Youko opens up to him to become a bubbly (and totally oblivious) girl with a million-dollar fanged smile. (Seven Seas Manga decided to translate her brash Osaka accent as a Valley Girl in their localization, which is an interesting choice, but for the most part it works.) Most of the other characters in the book aren’t as vibrant but do serve their purpose – the only exception is the class rep Nagisa Aizawa, who is actually more interesting than the two main characters and who has an odd secret of her own. And in terms of this book’s virtues, the artwork absolutely has to be mentioned. With unique and well-drawn character models and great facial expressions, the art is fantastic and is easily the best part of the book.
Unfortunately, the brilliant artwork is underserved by a lot of sub-par comedy and lazy writing. The big problem with My Monster Secret is that it’s a romantic comedy that’s neither particularly funny nor all that romantic. This book telegraphs its jokes about a page in advance so that by the time the punchline finally lands, it has lost considerable steam, and the book’s heavy reliance on characters’ overblown reactions (“Oh, wow! Oh, no! Isn’t that crazy?!”) is seldom enough to keep the gags from landing like a lead balloon. It also misses a lot of opportunities to use its “monster girl” premise in funny and creative ways by downplaying it. Part of what makes series like Monster Musume and A Centaur’s Life really work is that they don’t shy away from exploring the pros and cons that come with being a particular monster-person. On the contrary, they embrace it, and it’s often their most interesting subject matter and the source of their best jokes. Other than making sure people don’t get too good a look at her teeth, we don’t see much in the way of “vampire problems” from Youko Shiragami just yet. As for the romance department, the first volume contains minuscule romantic tension because none of the characters (even the lovestruck ones) seem to be able to work themselves into anything like anxiety or self doubt – anything more than temporary annoyance, really – over their romantic failures.
In this manga’s defense, I do get the strong vibe that perhaps it was geared toward a considerably younger reader than yours truly (I’m thinking younger teens, probably age 10-16), and a reader of that age might be a lot more forgiving than I was on the points listed above. With that said, I can’t help but think that even my teenaged self might have felt his intelligence a little insulted by its shortcomings. There are too many good series out there that allow you to have your cake and eat it too (funny jokes and interesting / emotionally mature writing) to completely excuse a lapse in either area.
Despite its flaws, I’m not ready to completely write this series off, because it has enough potential and positive things going for it that a second-volume rebound is entirely possible. The art is absolutely stellar, and the main characters are likeable enough that I’ll probably keep reading My Monster Secret if it manages to drag its emotional maturity up to a more adult level. I will be browsing Volume 2 in the bookstore before taking it home, though. I’d rate this one a mild recommend (and it’s very clean, ye parents) for readers 16 and under, but probably only for dedicated “monster girl” fanatics above that age.
Note: This review was also published by the author on Amazon.com under the same pen name.