Devil’s Candy Volume 1 Review
Creating an entire fantasy world from scratch is no small feat. While some manga struggle to convey the intricacies of everyday life, building an entirely different world with unique characters and systems at play is a completely different undertaking. It’s in this way that Devil’s Candy is so impressive; even in volume one, Bikkuri and Rem have laid the groundwork for an imaginative underworld that feels lived in and distinct. Some questionable and clichéd scenarios keep this from reaching its full potential, but the atmosphere, art, and cast may be enough to warrant making the plunge regardless.
At its core, Devil’s Candy is a cheesy, action-packed shounen revolving around the daily misadventures of high school students in the underworld. Monsters from all over come to attend Hemlock Heart Academy, a huge melting pot where everyone has a chance to learn the same subjects and skills no matter what their species is traditionally suited for. It’s here that we meet Kazu, an academics-obsessed softy who strives to go above and beyond with his scientific pursuits.
Tasked with creating a living being for biology class, Kazu –with the help of his best friend, Nemo — ends up giving life to a powerful Frankenstein’s monster-esque girl named Pandora. What ensues are three silly yet entertaining adventures that find Kazu, Pandora, and Nemo in wild predicaments all centered around school life.
The narrative’s episodic nature is perfectly suited for a monster of the week-type structure, with the only real narrative progression being Pandora’s gradual growth from a mute and aggressive monster to a slightly more civilized, sporadically thoughtful monster. It’s an endearing transformation to behold, particularly because of how protective she is of her painfully weak creator. Watching her slowly learn how to speak and understand emotions is a joy, while her overly aggressive attitude makes for some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
Pandora also slots in nicely next to the more grounded Nemo, who’s a near-perfect match as Kazu’s best friend. The juxtaposition between Kazu’s idealism and kindness with Nemo’s street smarts and strength is a match made in hell, and he’s just spontaneous and mysterious enough to keep readers invested and hoping for more backstory in the next volume.
It’s when we get to the broader cast that the character writing in Devil’s Candy starts to get a bit iffy. Take Hitomi, an adorable cyclops with a huge crush on Kazu. At first, she’s established as the stereotypical flustered yet determined girl who swoons over the protagonist and falls over herself when he’s nearby. It’s nothing riveting, but she fits the mold well and it lends to the lighthearted nature of the series. Flash-forward to chapter three and Hitomi suddenly becomes a badass full of confidence and raring to fight whoever messes with her. The shift happens so inharmoniously that it almost feels like some character development was cut out in between chapters. Though the intention may have been to give the bashful Hitomi a “shy girl stands up for herself” moment, the build-up is rushed and it all comes off more confusing than sensical.
Poorly conceived moments like these, the tendency to lean into character tropes (of course there’s a mean girl with a legion of adoring followers), and a couple of plot points that feel just a bit too convenient all come together to hold Devil’s Candy back from making a stellar first impression. The writing quality just isn’t consistent; the attention to lore building is fantastic (e.g. TV shows and depicting interspecies marriage) but the scenario and writing are hit or miss.
What varies much less are the top-notch character designs. There are a metric ton of monster types between the students and faculty, and many of the more prominent ones in the story aren’t your typical ghouls and vampires. From twins who have split personalities à la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to a literal ice queen who makes all those around her shiver and sneeze, the thought and imagination that’s gone into the inhabitants of this underworld is a blast to behold.
In fact, the world-building and art direction overall are strong across the board. Series illustrator Rem does an admirable job fully realizing what an underworld city might look like. For instance, Kazu doesn’t just live in some creepy boarded-up house—he lives in a castle with an exterior flush with gothic inspiration and an interior full of the classic candles and vintage chandeliers one would expect. The cityscape is comprised of buildings resembling decrepit corpses shrouded in a heavy mist. Even little details like the cars having creepy insect legs instead of wheels does a ton to further the mythos of Devil’s Candy’s world.
These are ultimately the reasons to pick Devil’s Candy up: the art and world-building are strong, and the cast (on the whole) is fun and varied. It’s a lighthearted romp that’s thoughtful in some ways and frustratingly typical in others. While the premise is perfect for plenty of zany adventures and the core cast has a solid dynamic, there’s some serious room to grow in terms of scenario writing and natural character development. If you’re just looking for a good comedy with solid fight scenes and some cheesy adventures, however, Devil’s Candy may be to your taste.