Darren Shan and Steve Leonard are best friends with a shared taste for creepy things. Steve is a fan of horror movies and has an interest in the occult, while Darren’s favorite things in the world are spiders. When a mysterious circus arrives in their town, both boys are wild to see to the spectacles. But their viewing of the show has unexpected consequences that will put their friendship to the test.The Cirque du Freak manga is adapted from a long series of teen horror novels by Irish author Darren Shan. (Yes, the author’s pen name is the same as his lead character’s name.) While some English-language novel series have been adapted directly in English-language sequential art (see: Warriors and Maximum Ride), this manga was actually adapted into manga in Japan from the novels, and then licensed by Yen Press for U.S. publication. As a result, it still reads right-to-left, as this version does not flip the Japanese version. I haven’t read the original novels, so this manga adaptation was my introduction to this story.
Like so many series openers, Volume 1 of Cirque du Freak is mostly setup. The chapters here serve primarily to introduce readers to Darren, his friends, his family, and Mr. Crepsley, a performer from the Cirque du Freak who catches both Darren’s and Steve’s attention. The actual events unfold in an extremely predictable manner. In fact, the ominous hints on the very first page pretty much give away the entire volume’s plot. I appreciate foreshadowing in storytelling, but good foreshadowing isn’t so obvious that it renders reading the actual manga unnecessary.
Arai’s art is energetic but occasionally awkward. The characters’ faces and figures sometimes seem distorted, as if they were too hastily drawn. I also wished that Arai had come up with a better design for the important character of Crepsley. Crespley’s character design reminds me too much of the minor villains from Rurouni Kenshin; it may be physically exaggerated, but it is short on personality.
Cirque du Freak doesn’t break any new ground as a horror story. Still, its emphasis on thrills and action makes it a good alternative for those who are tired of reading about ageless monsters with the emotional maturity and tortured love lives of emo high school students. Why should shojo fans get all the vampires? Fans of the novel will definitely want to pick this one up. Other readers, however, may be better served by waiting to see if the second volume manages to build on all the setup work done by the first.
Volume 1 of Cirque du Freak includes an excerpt from Darren Shan’s novel and a behind-the-scenes comic by Arai on the making of this manga adaptation.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
Review previously published at MangaLife.com.