Cavo, a huge and terrifying beast, has lived alone in the forest all his life – until one day he encounters Liam, a smartly-dressed, white-haired human. To Cavo’s astonishment, Liam is not frightened at all – quite the opposite, he seems eager to get to know more about him. And although Cavo looks fearsome, behind his long locks and sharp claws lives a gentle soul, eager to find out about the world outside the forest yet unable to venture beyond its bounds because of his appearance. Since their first meeting, the two have grown close and gone on many adventures together (Cavo can conceal his presence within Liam’s shadow) – and on those travels, they’ve encountered two knights of the Royal Guard who are on a mission to arrest Liam. It seems Liam is wanted for attacking the king and his ministers fifty years ago.
When the two track him down again, Liam decides it’s time to stop running and tell his story – because he wants Cavo to hear the truth as well as his vengeance-driven pursuers. And it’s a grim tale, dealing with abduction, murder, child abuse and scientific experimentation on children. Liam – or Virgiliam – was stolen as a baby and subjected to unspeakable experiments in the name of the king. As Cavo and the two knights listen, they become more horrified as Liam’s tale unfolds, all the more so as Liam relates the experiences he was forced to undergo so calmly, so detachedly – that when he reaches the final encounter with the king and his guards, what transpires seems inevitable. But will the two knights believe him – or will they take their vengeance? He is, after all, the monster, not kind-hearted Cavo.
In this final (and long, but I’m not complaining) volume of Liam and Cavo’s story, mangaka Renji goes to some painful places in revealing Liam’s horrendous ‘childhood’. We get to understand why he’s happy now just to travel, see new places and eat delicious food. His relationship with Cavo also makes sense; he’s been betrayed by humans so many times that finding love and acceptance with a supernatural being is very understandable. He doesn’t know how long his artificially-prolonged life will last or his powers to ‘enthral’; for all he knows, he might be immortal as he’s already outlived the last of his tormentors. Cavo also has no idea how old he is, measuring his growth and years so far in relation to the growth of a tree in his native forest.
The underlying question in Renji’s fantasy manga is who is the more monstrous (or beast-like)? Is it Cavo, whose hideous inhuman exterior frightens away all who encounter him, yet is really a shy, kindly soul – or is it Liam, whose elegant manners and handsome face conceals a past steeped in blood and betrayal? Liam is also very free with his favours; he’ll sleep with anyone if it will gain him what he wants, even if it’s just physical pleasure. Cavo, smitten, finds this aspect of Liam’s personality very difficult to accept. He doesn’t understand why Liam is unwilling to commit himself to anyone and it’s not until he hears his story that he begins to understand. Can there be a happy ending for this unlikely pair of lovers?
Monster and the Beast comes shrink-wrapped with a Mature rating and there are several intimate scenes which are explicit to a certain extent, although they are nevertheless censored. Liam’s story of his childhood, however, contains scenes that although not wholly explicit are distressing to read; our reactions are put into words by the two knights who, as they listen, begin to realize that the version of the events they’ve been told may be a tissue of lies.
It’s been quite a wait for this long finale to the series (Volume 3 was released in 2020) – but has it been worth it? All in all, I’d say yes. Renji has successfully brought her tale to a satisfying conclusion and her graphic style, which is quite angular yet distinctive, fits the fantasy world she’s created well. There’s probably an article to be written about the current popularity of pairings of giant/titan/monster with human (as in The Titan’s Bride, Sacrificial Princess & the King of Beasts, The Ancient Magus’ Bride etc.) but I’m not sure how relevant that would be here, given the direction in which Renji takes the story.
There’s a wintry chapter where Cavo discovers snow for the first time and then a final chapter that’s unexpectedly (but deservedly) moving. The visual theme of flowers has flowed through all four volumes, with some attractive images, culminating in those of the concluding chapter.
I wondered as I was reading, due to the autumnal tone of Liam’s conversations with Cavo, whether the mangaka was leading the story to a bitter-sweet ending, given the many hints about Liam being much older than he looks. However, it seems as if she wasn’t thinking along those lines, even if I was picking up hints from the text that implied a very different kind of resolution (and, personally, I think it would have worked better than the charming but more consoling ending that she opted for).
Yen Press’s print edition matches the earlier three volumes well and is translated again by Taylor Engel with lettering by Chi Bui. There is a glossy colour illustration at the beginning and two little bonus stories: Someday in the Future and One Steamy Night.