Fourteen-year-old Machi is the priestess for Kumade Village, which lies deep within in the Touhoku Mountains. The village has a secret: it has a relationship with the bears, and Natsu, the bears’ representative, lives in the village and instructs Machi. When Machi announces that she wants to go to high school in the city, Natsu arranges a series of tests for her to prove she is prepared enough to survive there. While Kuma Miko has the potential to become a unique coming-of-age story, the first volume does little to move the story along.

One of Kuma Miko’s strengths is its adorable artwork. Natsu’s character design strikes a good balance between realistic and cute, and Machi’s pigtails and traditional dress will win over readers. The panels mix the exaggerated chibi reactions that are a hallmark of manga with strong, detailed backgrounds and character designs. The result is a charming set of images with plenty of humor. My one complaint is that the text sometimes fails to maintain the story; the placement of speech bubbles can make it difficult to tell who is speaking, and occasionally the words do not make sense in the context of what has come before. This occurrence is relatively rare, but it’s still enough to prevent the story from flowing smoothly.

Machi herself is an interesting and relatable character. As a teenager, she is trying to figure herself out, but she’s up against several challenges, among them her own temper, naiveté, and laziness. Admirably, Machi admits her faults and wants to change, even if she doesn’t always follow up on her goals, so it’s disconcerting that her anger when others treat her dismissively seems to be played for laughs. However, the final scene gives me hope that maybe she will finally start getting some respect.

Unfortunately, many of the main events in the first volume of Kuma Miko do not tie into Machi’s goals. The first volume includes only two of Natsu’s tests for Machi, and the rest of the volume is taken up by stories that do little to advance the plot. For example, there is a scene in which the villagers hold a contest to design some clothing for Machi, yet while the opportunity is there, the reason for the contest has no bearing on her mission. While these stories certainly introduce the reader to Machi’s world, they considerably slow the story’s pace and prevent it from making any real progress. Despite my frustration, I am still tempted to try the second volume to see if Machi makes any headway.

If you decide to purchase Kuma Miko, there are a few things of which you should be aware: there is some implied bestiality, and there are a few panels that show Machi in her underwear. Kuma Miko might appeal to teenage and adult readers looking for a light-hearted, slow-paced slice-of-life story, but because of its other content, it should be shelved in teen or adult collections.

Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear, vol. 1
by Masume Yoshimoto
ISBN: 9781935548539
One Peace Books, 2016

  • Megan

    | She/Her

    Features Writer

    Megan earned her MLIS from Simmons College and is currently the evening librarian at Bay State College in Massachusetts. She satisfies her voracious appetite for graphic novels and manga through regular visits to her local public libraries and puts her love of graphic novels to good use by adding to Bay State’s collection whenever possible. Megan maintains a personal blog, Ferret with a Strobe Light, where she discusses awesome books she’s read lately. When not engaged in reading or library work, she likes running, drinking tea, and working on her own stories and art.

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