Every fiber of my being wants to hate this book. Look, I don’t like spiders. I mean I really don’t like spiders. Ever since one crawled up my leg as a kid, I’ve held an aversion to these multi-legged nightmares. I couldn’t comfortably sit through portions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movies because of their pro-spider agenda. Yes, I know that they are good to have around because they go after bugs and whatnot, but do they have to be so scary? And do you see how they move? For god’s sake, some spiders can jump! So when I see there’s a manga called Giant Spider & Me, in which a young girl befriends a humongous arachnid, my gut reaction is to “Nope!” my way out of the room and burn it behind me. I want you all to know that in the interest of performing a public service, I fought every urge to run away from this 180 page series opener. And most strangely of all, I found it to be, well, kind of cute. My attitude towards arachnids has not completely turned over, so let’s accept this manga as a brokerage for an uneasy alliance.
Giant Spider & Me by Kikori Morino is a saccharine sweet story of friendship about a girl and her huge mutant spider companion. I was already on board when I found out that this is a foodie manga. I love foodie manga. Food Wars! was my introduction to the genre and because of that series, I try to make the effort to read more books that feature delectable cuisines. There’s more than just food going on in these stories: Food Wars! had its Iron Chef vibe and T&A. Sweetness & Lightning used food to strengthen the relationship between a single father and his daughter. Delicious In Dungeon’s fantastic concept involved fantasy adventurers exploring dungeons and fighting monsters for their delicious meats. And Toriko was basically Dragon Ball Z but with food. For Giant Spider & Me, the hook lies within its setting: a post-apocalyptic future. Not in the Mad Max or Fallout wasteland sense but rather a new world in which nature has taken over, creating lush forests and peaceful fields layered on top of the remnants of human civilization, a la The Last of Us. The star of the story is Nagi who lives comfortably by herself in a home owned by her father (who is “missing”). As one of only few humans left in the world, you wouldn’t know anything has gone wrong judging by Nagi’s routine and positive outlook on life. She doesn’t want for anything: her house somehow has all the water and electricity she needs to not only live but thrive. This stands in contrast with scarcity and barbarity typically associated with apocalyptic fiction. Nagi spends her days collecting ingredients for meals, preparing just enough food for herself and her father should he come back. Her father only appears in memory and at one point, Nagi offers the suggestion that the dad is exploring but I’m already bracing for the truth bomb to drop and shatter the comic’s strange, idyllic veneer.
While gathering up food for the day, Nagi comes face to face with a large, inquisitive spider creature. Its large size, rows of fangs, and mossy backside clearly differentiate this creature from “regular” spiders, raising further questions regarding the influence of the mysterious cataclysm that claimed the Earth. The pair meet over a pumpkin and despite its size and intimidating appearance, the spider shows itself to be as skittish and inquisitive as a puppy. After being followed home, Nagi thinks the spider hungry and prepares it a lovely dish of pumpkin dumplings. The creature, whom Nagi affectionately names “Asa,” is delighted by the food and a mutual friendship is born.
I found the post-apocalyptic setting is frequently at odds with the lighthearted, “gee whiz” atmosphere of Nagi and Asa’s escapades. It’s almost as if the setting really doesn’t matter. Nagi is barely in any danger (which is odd given societal collapse) and when she is the situation is resolved without much conflict. Nagi doesn’t appear to put much thought into the state of the world which might suggest she was born after the event and relies on her father’s memories of society to give her any frame of reference. Furthermore, she doesn’t let her father’s disappearance and the suggested lack of social order get in the way of cooking a good meal. When the reality of the situation edges its way into her peripheral, such as the appearance of a hungry survivor, it’s presented without the cynicism or darkness typical of apocalyptic fiction. The wild dog is frightened away by Asa’s threatening posturing and the survivor is invited in. I’ve read The Road and The Walking Dead and situations like these never end as well as they do here: with no hint of anger or jealousy that this lonely little girl appears to have it so good. I guess what I’m saying is, reading Giant Spider means having to suspend a lot of disbelief.
No foodie manga would be worth its salt without tantalizing images delicious meals. The dishes Nagi makes aren’t quite as detailed as those found in Food Wars!, but I still came away feeling really hungry. Morino’s artwork and panel design make it easy to treat the cooking scenes as the recipe guides, especially with how she draws Nagi’s food prep techniques like cutting up dough into fourths before rolling them out. Though the artwork may lack significant detail, it’s a good fit for the dreamy, lazy summer day feel that define’s Nagi’s existence. It’s worth pointing out that the colorized pages, along with the front and back cover, are done using a watercolor look that I love very much. I almost wished the entire book was colorized in this style because it’s quite perfect.
Giant Spider & Me didn’t change my opinion about spiders but the mismatched relationship between Nagi and Asa is sweet and the mood is constantly light and fluffy. The two live in their own pastoral bubble, unconcerned with the overgrown ruin that is our planet. I’m curious to see how the series can sustain its innocence. Will there be encounters with raiders and other desperate people? Can I expect every conflict to be resolved with a fine cooked meal? Without any hint of danger, does a story of friendship between a girl and a spider have legs? (heh)
Title: Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale Volume One
Author: Kikori Morino
Artist: Kikori Morino
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Release Date: 2/20/2018
Format: Physical, Digital (Reviewed)
Page Count: 180
Purchased or Received For Review? Received For Review
Where To Buy? RightStuf, Amazon, Barnes & Noble