Giant Spider & Me is a gentle fantasy that’s tinged with whimsy and rue. The story focuses on Nagi, a perky tween who lives by herself in a well-appointed cottage, awaiting the return of her father from a mysterious trip. In his absence, she’s proved remarkably self-sufficient, growing and foraging for her own food and preparing delicious meals for herself. Our first hint that something is amiss occurs early in chapter one, when she stumbles across a mastiff-sized spider in the woods. Their initial encounter doesn’t go well — Nagi is understandably terrified — but her apprehension soon gives way to a unique interspecies friendship when she discovers Asa (her name for the spider) shares her passion for pumpkin dumplings and leisurely picnics.
What inoculates Giant Spider & Me from a terminal case of the cutes is the specificity of Kikori Morino’s vision. On a superficial level, Giant Spider & Me is a culinary manga that walks the reader through the process of making turnip soup and miso ratatouille while conveying the joy of sharing food with others. (And yes, recipes appear at the end of each chapter.) On a deeper level, however, Giant Spider & Me is a thoughtful reflection on what it means to share your home with an intelligent creature, recognizing the pleasures of such an arrangement while acknowledging the communication gap between species. Asa proves a lively and willful guest in Nagi’s house, scaling walls and punching a hole in the roof in its quest for greater freedom — a detail that frustrated cat owners will appreciate.
The other secret to Morino’s success is her artwork, which strikes an elegant balance between clarity and detail. She never explains what caused the apocalypse of the title, but hints at its devastation with small but important clues: a partially submerged city, a vigilante in a gas mask and military-issue poncho. Morino applies that same mixture of restraint and exactitude to her character designs; Asa is both menacing and cute, an eight-eyed, eight-legged creature whose terrible mandibles are balanced by a feather-soft abdomen and a puppy-like demeanor. By emphasizing Asa’s duality as pet and monster, Morino helps us see Asa as Nagi does while also helping us understand why other survivors take a dimmer view of Asa. Something tells me I might need a tissue or two before the series finishes its run. Recommended.
Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale, Vol. 1
Story & Art by Kikori Morino
Translation by Adrienne Beck; Adaptation by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane
Seven Seas, 180 pp.