Kaiju No. 8 Volume One introduces the reader to the two main characters, Kafka Hibino and Reno Ichikawa, and the world that they inhabit.

Kaiju No. 8 Volume One
Written by: Naoya Matsumoto
Publisher: Shueisha, Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: December 7, 2021

The series is set in a world where kaiju attacks are a regular event, and the Japanese Defense Force is given the task to kill them. Kafka Hibino works for a professional kaiju cleaning company called Monster Sweeper Inc., which is tasked with cleaning up the kaiju that the Japanese Defense Force take down. When he was younger, he and his friend, Mina Ashiro vowed to become members of the Defense Force after their town was destroyed by a kaiju. Mina went on to become famous as the commander of the Defense Force’s Third Unit, but Kafka failed the examination several times and ended up as part of a clean-up company. At 32 years old, Kafka thinks he has no chance of ever being able to join the Defense Force.

18-year-old Reno Ichikawa joins Monster Sweeper Inc. as a part-timer, but he has plans to join the Defense Force. Unlike Kafka, who has given up on ever achieving his dream, Reno is a determined young man who claims he’s not the type to ever give up. Right at first, Kafka is a little put off by the new part-timer, but the two develop a friendship. Reno informs Kafka that the maximum age for new Defense Force recruits has been raised to 33 due to the declining birth rate and tries to encourage Kafka to take the Defense Force examination. But before any more can be said, the two of them are attacked by a yoju. With help from Reno, as well as the arrival of Mina and her division, Kafka is saved.

Kafka and Reno, who have both sustained injuries in the yoju attack, are taken to the hospital. Thanks to a pep talk from Reno, Kafka decides to take the Defense Force exam… but then something unexpected happens. A small talking monster enters Kafka’s mouth and turns him into a kaiju. Kafka discovers that he stays fully cognizant in his kaiju form but has gained super strength. Unfortunately, Kafka’s transformation garners the attention of the Defense Force, so this forces both he and Reno to flee from the hospital. Kafka becomes the first monster to escape the Defense Force and is dubbed “Kaiju No. 8.” But even with this unforeseen event, Kafka is determined to take the Defense Force examination.

There is a three month timeskip, and it’s revealed that Kafka has been learning how to control his kaiju transformation in order to avoid being caught by the Japanese Defense Force. It’s also revealed that the first part of the two-part examination for the Defense Force has taken place, and that both Kafka and Reno have passed it. But Kafka’s problems always arose in the second examination, and the focus of the rest of the volume is on the second exam.

During the examination, the reader is introduced to Kikoru Shinomiya, a young woman who is a kaiju hunter prodigy and is the daughter of a high-ranking official in the Defense Force. She’s a very proud young woman, and we see through a flashback that she has been pushed by her father to be the best and that this has been her driving force. Prior to this flashback, Kikoru just came across as obnoxious. But after the flashback, I came to sympathize with her and understand the motivations behind her behavior. There are also a few other elite candidates at the exam as well, but Kikoru got the most focus. Not surprisingly, Kafka isn’t doing well, especially since he’s trying not to use his kaiju power. But right at the end of the volume, something unexpected happens, which forces Kafka to go into his kaiju form.

I really like how the world of this series was established. Matsumoto made a world being attacked by kaiju feel like it could really happen and wasn’t simply a contrivance. The type of interactions that Kafka and Reno have reminded me of Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks, Jr. in Tiger & Bunny, and it’s not just the fact that you have the older character paired with a young, new recruit that made me think this. I saw the similarities to that relationship in some of the interactions that these two characters were having with each other.

While it’s established that Kafka and Mina are childhood friends, we haven’t actually seen these two characters interact with one another outside of flashbacks. Mina only shows up when the yoju attacks, she shows up when Kafka’s transformed state is reported to the Defense Force, and she’s also watching the second Defense Force examination. This volume doesn’t delve into Mina’s psyche to show the audience her thoughts in regards to Kafka, but I’m hoping that this will happen in a future volume. I’d like to see what she thinks of Kafka.

I’m enjoying the art style that Matsumoto is using for Kaiju No. 8. Some of the exaggerated expressions on the characters’ faces are rather amusing to see. Another thing that grabbed my attention is that each character in this volume has a very distinct look and design to them, which makes it easy to learn who’s who in the story. I also found the designs for the kaiju to be striking, which helps to add a sense of realism to them and to the story itself.

Kaiju No. 8 Volume One was a very enjoyable read, and I think the series is off to a great start. I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to read Volume Two so I can see what happens next to Kafka and the others.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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