Mori Kotarou‘s Stray Little Devil presents a rare conundrum in manga art. On one hand, Mori’s art is incredible—the level of background detail and the beauty of the world he creates are on par with the likes of Nihei Tsutomu. His character art and designs are even a step above Nihei’s, having an unrivaled crispness from panel to panel. These qualities, along with an entertaining story and intelligent writing, ought to make Stray Little Devil an instant classic, but taking a look at these pages from the first volume reveals where its perplexing trouble lies.
Stray Little Devil reads too fast for its artwork. It combines the art of a fantasy/action manga with the dialog of a comedy, which creates difficulty in finding an appropriate pace for reading. Nihei Tsutomu makes his high-detail action scenes work by depriving them of dialog, so that the reader need only concentrate on the artwork. 4-koma comedies use simple art so as not to overcrowd their small panels, and to keep the reader’s focus on the dialog.
Trying to read Stray Little Devil like a comedy, not only does one miss out on the luscious artwork, but it can be hard to tell what’s going on if the crowded images are taken in passing. However, trying to slow down and take in the artwork, the comedic timing is weakened and it can be harder to follow what’s going on. As a result, the only way to get the full effect of the manga is to reread it at least once. (This isn’t helped by the fact that while DrMaster’s English print is very high quality, the volumes are tiny, obscuring the images further.)
Stray Little Devil is worth the work because its various components are so exceptional, but the flaws in its architecture prevent it from reaching the level of greatness that it could’ve attained.
(Stray Little Devil is licensed in my region by DrMaster.)