2 out of 5
I think we’re used to manga not necessarily being about what it’s about. The isekai genre is all about this: transported to a crazy world, the story is often not really about the Whys or Hows of that transport, and is instead just a normal (generally) shonen mix of drama and action; the premise is rather a shorthand for not having to explore the background. Sometimes we are met with a crazy concept up front – titans roam the planet – and the history of that is also sort of just accepted, but the series will wrap back around to it, and that looming mystery is ceded in to the story, with the immediate focus instead placed on the threat or impact of that concept. That works.
And then there are stories like Cagaster, which land on a rather dissatisfying middleground between the two, in which we’re given a premise – people are turning in to violent bugs, called Cagasters, and the “exterminators” specialize in putting them down – but then not given much immediate need to dive in to that… but also not given much need to do anything, with the framework for shonen stuff established but left dangling.
Kiddow is an exterminator; Ilie is the orphaned girl he rescues from a Cagaster attack and takes under his wing. Kachō Hashimoto’s first volume of this story is, thankfully, completely lacking in any fanservice, and has a couple of interesting quirks – a crossdressing bartender whose attire isn’t called out; some well balanced scuffles between exterminators and the army, who each have their own preferences for / thoughts on hunting Cagasters – but things are, otherwise, almost completely lacking in any defining traits. Kiddow and Ilie’s designs are standard spiky-haired hero / young naïf; the action is competent but not necessarily stirring; the comedic moments are appropriately sprinkled throughout but not necessarily laugh-out-loud; the setting is clear – humanity lives in worn down stone and wood buildings – but generic. Storylines are half-committed to, toiling with subplots that don’t build up any steam while the main story of Kiddow vs. bugs doesn’t express any sense of urgency.
The whole volume reads like a template for something – a sketch of ideas into which another draft would add detail and sharpen somethings up. As such, while Hashimoto’s work is more consistent and technically competent than a lot of manga, the general lack of definition makes it rather a slog to get through.