Beast Master is the latest release by VIZ and comes from the mind of Kyousuke Motomi, who has a few manga titles in publication but is relatively unknown in America. That's kind of a shame really. After reading Beast Master it became clear that Motomi has a vivid imagination and is quite skilled at making interesting characters who feel real. This first volume has a lot of charm to it and it presents a rather unique romance story. The plot of Beast Master focuses on a teenage girl named Yuiko Kubozuka, who is more or less just looking for a pet to love. It's such a simple thing really, but Yuiko fails at every attempt. Birds fly away, cats claw desperately to get out of her arms, and dogs are not too friendly either. Poor Yuiko possesses absolutely no ability to befriend animals, which is probably attributed to the fact that she comes across as maniacal, overbearing, and spastic. One day everything changes, and she finds a rather unexpected pet of sorts.
While looking for her cat (who was smartly hiding, by the way), she has a chance encounter with a young boy named Leo. This feral looking lad has wild eyes and behaves more animalistic than human in a way. What is even stranger is the fact that Leo easily gained the affection of Yuiko's cat, even though they only just met. The situation naturally startles Yuiko, but things get worse when the kid shows up at her school the very next day.
Almost immediately all the students comment about how beastly Leo seems and how much of a freak he truly must be. This makes Yuiko feel bad for him, and given the fact that her cat seemed to take a liking to him, she decides to take a stab at friendship. Much to her surprise the beastly Leo accepts graciously and greets her with a warm smile and exuberance at the chance of getting to know her. He seems almost nothing like his appearance indicated, but there's a dark side to him that is unleashed soon enough.
A great part of Beast Master is the mystery that surrounds Leo, and it explores how he came to be who he is at length. His parents died off when he was younger, and he was left alone in the wilds of Africa for a great part of his life. One of his most dramatic memories involves being attacked by a leopard, only to black out and wake up with the beast dead at his feet with its throat sliced open. It's very intriguing to say the least, but Leo's history only gets more interesting when readers meet his caretaker, Toki, and learn about some of his other experiences. He's often portrayed as a Tarzan-like character and his animal qualities are highlighted by his interactions with Yuiko. She pets him, holds him like an animal, and he even nuzzles her and such. One of the more interesting characteristics he has is his violent blackouts when he senses danger, no matter how big or small.
Leo basically has another personality deep within him. When something happens he loses his boyish charm and becomes a raging beast, capable of murdering someone or at least beating them to a pulp. For some reason Yuiko is the only thing, aside from a tranquilizer dart, that can remove him from this state. Beast Master's first volume explores this bizarre relationship, and though it's clear to see how dangerous he can be, Yuiko really brings out his gentler side. Because of this, the relationship formed between these two characters is quite dynamic, though I must admit that Yuiko is dangerous herself when she gets excited about being close to an animal.
Motomi's writing for this series infuses a great deal of humor and personality into each scene. There's great slapstick humor that goes along with Leo's actions, but it's really the dialogue that sells this. The artwork is very appealing as well and the visual style is a bit reminiscent of the works of Tomoko Hayakawa's The Wallflower. The difference here is the lively interpretation of Leo's movements and animalistic intent.
Overall, Beast Master's first volume was very entertaining and was a good read from start to finish. It's certainly one of the more unique romance series I've seen in a while, and I'd almost compare it to a modern day Japanese retelling of Tarzan and Jane's relationship. The second volume can't come soon enough!