Once Upon A Wizard’s Romance: A Review of Nagabe’s The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms

A lizard professor at work in The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe, Seven Seas Entertainment, 2019

The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms follows the daily lives of students at a wizarding academy. After the Wize Wizard Wizdom saw fit to bestow human intellect on beasts, the resulting demi-human race built a Hogwartsian structure, Wizdom’s, atop a large, forested hill and dedicated themselves to pursuing magical knowledge.

The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms

Seven Seas Entertainment

Anthropomorphic animals surround the title of The Wize Wize Beasts' cover. By Nagabe, Seven Seas Entertainment, 2019

The creator of the tale of insiders and outsiders in The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún (2017), Nagabe, eschews the boundaries between what is human and what is not in this eight-part anthology, translated and published by Seven Seas Entertainment in 2019, one year after its Japanese release. Nagabe extends his expertise in characterizing the non-human by connecting the realms of boys’ love and anthropomorphic narratives, and exploring animal relationships which can be mapped onto dynamics of human relationships—e.g. the teacher & the pupil, the hunter & the hunted, and courtship & friendship.

Nagabe creates space for expressions of queer desire. He textually and visually articulates men’s first loves, sexual experimentation, sexual repression, sexual expression, and personal and communal acceptance all through the lives of magical beasts just as sympathetically and empathically familiar to humans as they are literally mystical. Whether confessing one’s crush or learning how to kiss, we witness these wizards’ complicated, messy, and heartfelt expressions of sexual identity.

Wizdoms visually constructs this space for queer desire by centering panels mainly on characters and their relationships, choosing to feature black and white backgrounds as opposed to identifying any specific location in space.

An anthro cat and anthro bunny stand next to one another in robes in the first panel; they almost kiss in the next panel, the background is blank. from Two panels from he Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe, Seven Seas Entertainment, 2019.

When backgrounds do appear throughout all eight short stories, it is to locate queer desire within recognizable school spaces: the dormitory, the infirmary, a professor’s office, and the forest. The resulting panels visualize queer attraction and exploration within the everyday.

The dormitory in “The Cold-Blooded & the Warm-Blooded” provides comforting embraces of deer and lizards by pillows and firesides. “The Good Talker & The Good Listener’s” infirmary acts as an enclosed space, signifying sexual repression, whilst also operating as a place of physical and mental healing for those struggling with coming out. The professor’s office in “The Teacher & The Pupil” physically manifests the professor’s ardent internal pursuit of mathematical truth. “Beast & Man”’s forest cabin retreat carves out a safe, yet hauntingly beautiful space for reflections on identity.

A lizard professor writes on the board in his academic office in a panel from The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe, Seven Seas Entertainment, 2019

The remaining short stories include splashes of arched, wide-pane windows or material places of rest like chairs and sofas. Wizdoms’s lore is simplistic, neglecting to build elaborate magical spaces and places in exchange for a focus on character growth within the black and white backgrounds left behind. At times this reads as purposeful extensions of queer spaces by focusing on the queer bodies the empty space frames, such as in the stories mentioned above. But at other times it’s disorienting to literally lose place in the narrative.

Readers familiar with Nagabe’s Girl From the Other Side will notice some departure from his usual style. Whereas Wizdoms decentralizes place, Girl From the Other Side’s narrative — pitting a group of outsiders versus a group of insiders — necessitates strict attention to boundaries and in-betweens. The resulting paneling of Girl from the Other Side follows the titular characters as they move through contested spaces that persistently ask us to reconsider and reimagine what lies beyond known spaces.

So don’t come to Wizdoms looking for intricate backgrounds and unfamiliar yet wondrously magical scenery. For the most part, the manga does nothing new with its setting. Wizdoms‘ magic academy doesn’t reinvent the wheel, relying instead on: 1) our already present knowledge of magical boarding schools to substantiate its setting; and 2) our investment in the development of character relationships over the development of setting.

However, Wizdoms’ grounding within preexisting magical boarding school narratives complicates its character relationships and their representations of queer desire. For example, Alan and Eddington in the first short story, “The Gifted & the Average,” are a rabbit and cat pair. Eddington the rabbit creates a love potion that will cause its recipient to fall in love with the first person they see. Confidence bolstered by Alan the cat’s, the recipient of the love potion, visible affections for him (Eddington orders Alan to kiss him), Eddington confesses his love. (Something he “could never tell [Alan] for real.”) Unfortunately, Eddington diluted the side effects of the love potion, forgetfulness, by adding it to a drink. Fortunately, Alan is willing to pursue a relationship with Eddington and calls a do-over on the beginnings of their romance. But giving your crush a love potion and ordering him to kiss you appears ethically problematic—no matter how much magical universes might legitimize the use of wizardry to get what you want.

“Courtship & Friendship” details Doug the crow’s strategic manipulation of Huey the Indian peafowl’s classmates into believing the peafowl as romantically involved, thus causing widespread buffering of Huey’s attempts to form romantic connections—and the reinterpreting of such attempts as playboy behavior. Doug legitimizes his actions as a response to the potential of losing his special place as Huey’s friend: “I know just how incredibly beautiful he is. No one else needs to understand it. I won’t let them.” His infatuation leads to obsessive tendencies, such as collecting and wearing Huey’s fallen feathers.

The two short stories that follow focus on two young students discovering the difference between a kiss and batty regurgitation and a unicorn agonizing over whether to come out to his griffon colleague and friend. Clearly, not all of Wizdoms’ stories should inspire us in our own pursuits of sexual expression and self-acceptance. If we intend to take the positive queer discourses this magical anthology promotes to heart, then we must face the reality that not all matters are good for the heart.

In Nagabe’s afterword, he states his previous 2013 yaoi work Buchou Wa Onee (The Boss is a Sister) received criticism for the characters’ looks being the “only non-human thing about” them. This manga received no translation, but its presentation and style appears to mark it as a predecessor to Paru Itagaki’s Beastars (2016). Beastars also focuses on anthropomorphic (furry) characters with animal tendencies and human relatability, tackling issues of sexuality and prejudice, social taboos, and growing up (to name a few).

Nagabe improves on the criticism of Buchou Wa Onee in Wizdoms, moving us closer to a Beastars future, using “characters’ animal types to decide what their abilities, environments, and relationships would look like”—as well as implementing an animal’s unique quirks into the story (e.g. vampire bats’ blood sharing). We witness his dedication to perfecting this characterization in the narrative’s focus on blending animal behaviors with human tendencies (leaving hickies becomes a wolf’s bites and a desire for companionship becomes a lizard’s desire for a deer’s warmth) and the concluding encyclopedia entries at the end of each story.

“I’d be really honored if this work exposes more people to non-human characters…And if all goes well readers will recommend this work to others and drag more people into the swamp—er, I mean fandom,” Nagabe says, noticing a wary passerby knee deep in a swamp whom he then pushes in (“Go on! Get in there up to your neck!” he smiles). Has Nagabe successfully dragged us into the swamp? How effective is Nagabe in representing non-human characters with human intelligences? Effective enough to blur the lines between the familiar and the unfamiliar, causing reevaluations of our own expressions of identity. As Star Bear says in the concluding story, “Beast & Man:” “Hearing your stories about the human kingdom is so interesting. It’s all so different from the world I know. I think that’s a good thing. It’s the same with people. I think it’s good that we’re different.” As for whether we’ve entered the swamp—come on in, the mud’s fine.

With the recent rise of non-human works like the Aggretsuko (2018), Beastars (2019), and BNA: Brand New Animal (2020), Nagabe’s work of developing queer desire, of depicting non-human boys in love, is of contemporary relevance. A manga page depicting a human boy and an anthropmorphic bear, proclaiming that it's good they're differeent, from The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe, Seven Seas Entertainment, 2019.The setting might be a little too familiar and the romance at times rewards problematic behaviors, but The Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms helps us renegotiate what it means to be human and to be different.

Lillian Martinez

Lillian Martinez

An aspiring multitasker, Lillian Martinez juggles her fascination with the rich worlds of comic books and video games with a tendency towards erratic sleep schedules. She can be found writing about Final Fantasy in her graduate seminars and spending hours on character customization before actually playing the RPG she spent months waiting in anticipation for.