Written by Naniiebim
Drawn by Naniiebim
£6.35 (Book 1) • £9.53 (Books 2-4)
Maria’s life is quiet, simple, normal. Until she sees the man on the subway with horns and a tail and strange eyes. He seems nice enough certainly, and that’s the first thing that bothers her. The second is, of course, the horns, eyes and tail but the thing that really, really bothers here is that she’s the only one that seems to notice. A demon walks unnoticed amongst the inhabitants of her city and Maria seems to be the only one who sees him, or cares. So, she does the one thing everyone does in that situation; pretends it isn’t happening and pays no attention. Pays so little attention, in fact, she keeps running into him.
Until he moves in next door.
And loses his keys.
And she tries to kill him with a chicken.
Naniiebim’s work effortlessly combines a couple of established manga and anime tropes with a unique, very personal, tone. There’s a realistic, grounded sense to the story despite Mephistos’ (Meth to his friends) somewhat unusual line of work that’s very different to the usual approach this sort of story takes. It’s something I’ve seen prose urban fantasy play with but rarely, if ever, comics and the end result is both great fun and extremely charming. Naniiebim has a fantastic eye for laconic, deadpan comedy and there are several big laughs that come from moments of observation as well as the sort of demented sense of mischief that culminates in Meth trying to work out why there’s a frozen chicken embedded in his door. Meth and Maria feel like real, grounded people and they’re both extremely likable from the moment you first meet them.
The friendship between the two, and the hint that it may develop into something more, absolutely blossoms under this careful, precise observation. Maria is quiet and considered, distant but not shy whilst Meth is a basically decent young demon with punctuality problems and a growing sense of living in two worlds at once. A lesser book would have held off on both the romance and the fact Maria is the only one who can see Meth’s true form for volumes before addressing it. Here, both are raised, explored and dealt with in the first four issues, leaving the two to explore this very odd new world they find themselves in.
Meth suddenly has a friend outside work, and Maria suddenly has a world much larger than before. The effect it has on both is seismic and, in a true mark of excellent writing, dealt with very subtly. Two moments in particular standout; one, where Meth leaves a party early because it’s bothering him and one where Maria leaves her flat and meets Meth, hovering in mid air. The first is set up, pretty clearly, as Meth no longer being comfortable in his old life whilst the second is both a great sight gag and a clear indicator of how Maria’s life has changed, not to mention a very funny one.
The art is every bit the script’s equal, a distinct, almost sketchy style of manga that emphasises expression over action. It’s a brave choice, and several small motions in the book are stretched out across multiple panels, but it simultaneously keeps the book grounded, and it must be said, very well observed, and also throws the fantastic elements into sharp relief. When Meth’s boss turns up, for example, it feels like she’s teleported in from a different manga and that’s exactly the sort of visual wit and invention that’s present throughout the book. The script, the art and even the way you read down the page are all used to help the story along.
Mephistos is a carefully-observed, gentle, often very funny series. It’s beautiful to look at, gently funny and cleverly uses its medium to enhance the story rather than restrict it. Polite, funny and acutely observed, it’s a must for manga fans and anyone who’s ever had a frozen chicken lodged in their front door.