By Asaya Miyanaga. Released in Japan as “Nicola no Oyururi Makai Kikou” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine Harta. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Christine Dashiell. Adapted by Rebecca Schneidereit.
The title and cover art alone tell you that this is another in what is fast becoming a genre of “innocent young girl walks around a fantasy world with her supernatural friend who is usually caustic and/or sarcastic”, and that is indeed what it is. That said, it managed to surprise me in several ways. The girl in Nicola, a human who has made it into the world of demons, where she is frequently unwelcome. Her guide around the world is Simon, who has a very nice hat and is also frequently exhausted by Nicola’s exuberance and lack of filter. Together they two of them negotiate an underworld bazaar, have some tasty demon food, meet new friends, find rare mushrooms, stay at haunted hotels, and get a bit too involved in a magic tournament. As events go on, Simon learns that Nicola may be far more than just an innocent human girl…
The first thing I wanted to point out is the art. Given that it’s in the same magazine as A Bride’s Story, Delicious in Dungeon, and Hakumei and Mikochi, there’s a high bar to clear, but Nicola sails over it with a compelling artstyle all its own. It feels as if the entire manga is pencilled, and the character design feels more like it came from a Charles Addams or Edward Gorey cartoon than a Japanese manga. There aren’t any “stunning art two-page spread” designs, the art is simpoly quietly excellent, prepared to show off the supernatural wonder when need be. The demons also have a wide variety of designs and types, and avoid falling into the standard fantasy tropes and/or yokai tropes that we’ve seen a lot of lately.
That said, the most interesting thing about the title may be Nicola herself. As the volume goes on, and the artist begins to see where to take the series, Nicola slowly goes from a Yotsuba-esque little girl to someone far more savvy. The second story has her chiding Simon for describing all the demons he points out to her in stereotypes, and then shattering each of those stereotypes in turn – including the one he uses for himself! Her backstory is merely hinted at, showing that she lived with a witch before coming to the demons’ world, which allows her to use some magic – she can conjure up flowers, and attempts to be able to use a light spell like the young demon girl she befriends. It’s clear that she has a lot of innate magical talent, she just hasn’t activated it yet. But honestly, even more than Nicola’s magic potential, it’s Nicola’s empathy that drives the series, and makes each chapter a delight to read. Simon is mostly there to play minder and make sure things don’t get TOO sweet. He succeeds admirably.
This may be a growing genre, but I don’t think we’re glutted on it quite yet, and Nicola is an excellent example. If you like clever and energetic young girls and fantasy landscapes, along with a unique artstyle, this is a definite pickup.