Beasts of Abigaile
薔薇監獄の獣たち (Abigaile no Kemono-tachi)
Shoujo – Drama, harem, romance, supernatural
4 Volumes (complete)
After being bullied in school, Nina goes to live with her uncle in the country of Ruberia, home of rare roses. On her first day in this new land, Nina comes face-to-face with an animal-eared beast-like guy, and he bites her! Suddenly, Nina has those characteristics too — and she’s forced to attend a prison-like school where these “luga” learn how to serve humans. Can Nina ever go back home, and, more importantly, go back to being a normal girl?
I’ve said before that my preference is to have manga in the 10-20 volume range. Enough for some story twists and to dive into characterization, but short enough to get the heck out before the plot becomes repetitive. Of course, there are some excellent series both above and below that range.
But for series with harem elements, four volumes is very short. This is especially noticeable since outside of the romance angle, there’s the existence of luga — the demihumans in Beasts of Abigaile — and the fact they are viewed as being inferior to humans. So, unfortunately, the manga faces crunchtime in the final volume on both aspects.
So while Nina heads to Ruberia because of bullying, don’t underestimate her — she’s actually well-versed in karate. It’s obvious right from the start that she’s not overly depressed about the situation either. In fact, since Ruberia is a land full of beautiful ocean views and sparkling roses, her time might actually be fun. She’s even looking forward to finding out more about the rumors that werewolves roam the area. Her uncle dismisses it as a way to increase tourism, but a stranger says that the prison located just off the shores is a monster den. And Nina gets an up-close view of one when the escaped prisoner she was trying to capture has wolf-like ears.
This luga, later introduced as Roy, bites her, and when Nina awakens later, she’s a luga. Plus she’s being transported to Abigaile, the training facility for luga slaves. It’s a facility where whippings and jailings are common. A member of the student council, Gilles, steps in when Nina defends a luga child, but she must hide her true identity as they figure out how to get Nina out of there and return to being human.
So you can see the love triangle setup: bad boy Roy vs the kind, gentle Gilles. Over the course of the story, we are introduced to a couple of girls that are important in their lives. But while Roy and Gilles are the love interests, Nina also gets significant arcs with Poe, considered the weakest luga in Abigaile, and Darius the fashionista. Poe is like a younger sibling to Nina despite being the same age, while Darius provides Nina some much-need guidance and support.
Neither are actual threats to either Roy x Nina or Gilles x Nina shippers, but, again, they take up pagetime. The manga isn’t rushed for most of its run, but the pace quickens in the fourth volume. There we:
- Learn about the luga king’s whereabouts, whom the luga have been waiting for to return.
- Find out about the reason for Nina’s transformation
- Have the luga face a crossroads about their future and the resulting conflict
- Close off the path for one of the two love interests and cement the other
- Show an epilogue
Beasts of Abigaile‘s story is very weighted to the final volume, and a fifth volume would have served wonders. Romance just less effective when there’s little time between being rejected and realizing you have strong feelings for someone else. Plus, the manga keeps lobbing truth bombs at Nina and readers. More space was needed so that the story could have dropped better hints about the revelations, more time to segue between the two love interests, and have a more detailed conclusion. The epilogue is rather short, and while it’s not an open ending, there is something that will make you go, “Wait, how did that happen?!”
The rest of the volumes go at a casual pace that build up toward conflicts between humans and luga and Roy vs Gilles, but I’d probably rather have some of the earlier parts trimmed if the series was going to charge ahead in the final volume. I liked Beasts of Abigaile the way it was here, with Nina slowly capturing hearts as she tries to build up the lugas’ self-confidence and inspire hope for a better future. However, she must put work before getting to that point: Nina finds herself in dangerous situations since certain luga find out her secret rather quickly.
Not to mention her reunion with Roy, which caused this whole chain of events in the first place. Roy is the trouble child of the academy, but even as he spends his time both trying to make Nina his and push her away, he does look after those he cares about. One of Nina’s first challenges is finding a “home” to belong to — basically, a crew that sticks together. I know I keep talking about adding a fifth volume, but considering the mystery of the missing king, Nina’s transformation, etc., this could have gone on longer. After all, there are lot of story possibilities with a harem, even if some of them aren’t necessarily romance targets. Beasts of Abigaile didn’t need to turn into some sort of super-harem where Nina keep drawing more and more people to her home, but to cause any sort of revolution, a person needs allies. And the more allies, the better.
Still, it’s hard to dislike Nina. She’s strong-willed and not a pushover. A lot of heroines are pretty helpless when an alpha male sets their sight on them, but Nina does make several bold declarations that Roy is not going to stop her. She has the skills to back up her declarations, but I wouldn’t necessarily take points off if she wasn’t a butt-kicking karate student. Roy and Gilles both have their flaws as love interests, but the bigger issue is that the manga keeps up the love triangle going for too long. Personally, my favorite character was Darius and his crew of beauty-loving male luga. The story does have an antagonist, and there’s a lot to say about their psychological state of mind.
Aoki’s art is beautiful. It’s a great blend of old and modern shoujo visuals and a bit like otome game sprites. Darius is probably the best example of retro looks. But Nina herself is bright and just sparkles off the page. Roy reminds me of bit of Ranmaru from Uta no Prince-sama thanks to his short, white, somewhat spiky hair and sulky expression. Ruberia being a country of roses means there are plenty of opportunities to flower-up the pages. All the luga are supposed to be like werewolves, so we don’t get a range of designs. That’s a bit unfortunate since Aoki’s art is so pretty. She is also fond of close-ups that take up a large part of the page, but a lot of the layouts remind me of Sailor Moon. There’s not much I disliked about the art, but I will say that Aoki’s strength does not lie in comedic scenes. They looked forced, and most of the jokes weren’t that funny.
Except for one instance, Japanese name order is used for Nina. Not sure if this was an error or if the person was reading her name like that on purpose, as luga wouldn’t have Japanese names. I think I remember spotting a couple of typos (like missing a space).
Note that 薔薇監獄 in the title is given the reading アビゲイル — Abigaile. The kanji is Bara Kangoku — Rose Prison. That’s why this manga is sometimes given the name “Bara Kangoku no Kemono-tachi” (Beasts of the Rose Prison / The Rose Prison’s Beasts), but that’s not how you would pronounce it. In fact, the Japanese covers has Beasts of Abigaile in English as a subtitle/reading.
Beasts of Abigaile needed one more volume to level up from pretty good to good. But it at least levels up from pretty good to good thanks to the gorgeous art.
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