162 pgs. B&W | $12.99 | W / A: Synecdoche
Naoe is a massage therapist at an osteopathic clinic. His job turns weird one day when he welcomes a new client: Elfuda, an elf from another world who is stuck in the human world. You see, Elfuda loves french fries, so much so that she’s packed on too many pounds to use the portal home, as it requires you to be the same weight when you go home as you were when you arrived. With a little bit of massage therapy and advice on diet and exercise, Naoe is able to coach Elfuda through losing her weight and she returns home. But as we all know, french fries are too good to truly quit and she can’t resist coming back for more, especially since she has a surefire way to keep the pounds off in the future, right? Right?!
Naoe’s life was pretty normal, but with the arrival of Elfuda, the otherworldly girls with weight issues start piling up. Each 20-ish-page chapter introduces a new one: a sour-faced dark elf whose lack of exercise keeps her from being able to fit into her mystical raiments, a punny mermaid on land whose lack of swim time has caused her arms to get flabby, a plant woman whose overgrowth (both in her bust and in the flower on her head) due to too much sunlight is giving her back problems, a muscle-bound ogress with a drinking problem and the corresponding beer belly, and a lycanthrope who can’t say no to all the people-food the townsfolk give her in her dog form. A new girl arrives, Naoe gets to know her, dispenses some advice, and she’s nudged back to the path of health. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Much like Elfuda and her french fry habit, this first volume in the Plus-Sized Elf series is overstuffed with characters to an unhealthy degree. The girls are introduced and their problems solved in such little space that they come off as little more than the lazy archetypes from every harem manga you’ve ever read with a little bit of a belly and a little bit of fantasy window dressing thrown in for good measure. Naoe is an absolute blank page as a character, with no personality (save generic “helpfulness”) and no wants, desires, or conflicts that drive the plot; if it weren’t for his dispensing of health advise each chapter, you could remove him from the book entirely with little effect. With the exception of Naoe’s boss—a middle-aged woman whose problems are functional alcoholism and a penchant for sexually harassing her one employee—every single female character is a one-note cliché single-mindedly obsessed with her weight, which strikes a decidedly tone-deaf note in an era of increased body positivity.
It’s also decidedly at odds with the art, which is clearly a celebration of the zaftig female form. Writer/artist Synecdoche (whom, if random internet messageboards are to be believed, is probably just one person, is possibly a woman but probably a man, and is probably a second pen name for an artist who creates hentai under the name Methonium) is a master at drawing curvaceous women of widely varying body types, even taking care to draw the same characters at various weight stages such that they are totally recognizable as unique individuals even without the obvious manga crutches like differing hairstyles and fantasy accoutrements (elf ears, ogre horns, etc.). Bodies are drawn realistically, with screentones applied with such masterful care that the artwork looks downright three-dimensional, a big plus when curviness is obviously Synecdoche’s main aim. The faces, however, veer toward the cartoony side, capturing both wildly exaggerated emotions and subtle personal quirks with equal skill. His artwork gives the characters far more personality than the writing ever does.
In the end Plus-Sized Elf is a book of fairly limited appeal, and that appeal rests almost entirely on the reader’s propensity for curvy girls, monster girls, or curvy monster girls, which the art captures with as much talent and craft as you’re ever likely to find in an ecchi manga. (And if that appeals to you, the obligatory visit to a bathhouse—a haunted bathhouse, at that!—will certainly get your eyes popping out, especially given its hilariously half-assed attempts at self-censorship.) But the lack of character depth or any kind of overall narrative drive for the series makes it hard to work up much excitement to run out and buy another volume, and the mix of leering artwork with weight-shaming dialogue also hits a sour note. Also, for a book that purports to be a comedy, the jokes are far more miss than hit. Plus-Sized Elf is far from a filling meal, but might work for you if you’re in the mood for an unhealthy manga snack. | Jason Green