TL manga fans, your [steam]ship has docked. Not that there hasn’t been TL manga available in English before, but with the exception of Seven Seas‘ release of Fire in his Fingertipsmost of it has been digital-only on platforms like Renta!, BookWalkeror Kindle exclusives, so not only is it nice to have physical releases, but it’s also great to see Seven Seas‘ gamble with the flirty fireman pay off. It shows that there is a market for explicit romance aimed at an older female audience (although gender is no bar to enjoying this), because little girls grow up to be women with disposable income who’d like to read books written with them in mind, too.
All of that said, Outbride: Beauty & the Beasts‘ particular fetish may be difficult for some readers to stomach in a post-Roe US, and I kind of wish the publisher had pushed this back and launched the line with a different title. That poor Mashiro has somehow survived the fall of humanity only to be told that she needs to bear the children of four hot “celestial” guys (as in demi-human, not the old racist term for Asians) is, well, frankly kind of distasteful right now. Hopefully, however, we can all set that aside and take this for what it is: a sexy fantasy about one normal girl who suddenly becomes the object of desire for four ridiculously attractive men of varying supernatural traits. There’s Alfred the angel, Oma the oni, Fei Shen the dragon, and Noel the wolfman, so most bases are nicely covered, whether you prefer animal ears, wings, or horns. Each man is drawn very distinctively as well, not just in terms of their physical traits his, but also when it comes to their wardrobes and bodies his. There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of variation in musculature, but we’ve also only really seen Fei Shen without a lot of clothes on, so that may come in later when the story gets raunchier.
Not that things are by any means tame right now. The basic conceit of the tale – that Mashiro is there to bear the quartet’s children – exists because the world of the gods and the Earth unexpectedly merged due to some sort of cosmic snafu. When that happened, the human world was infected with celestigen, an element that the human body isn’t able to handle, which caused most of them to die. There is a way to prevent celestigen poisoning, however: if a human ingests the bodily fluids of a Celestial, they’ll gain some immunity… and the more species who share their fluids, the better the protection. While this is clearly a paper-thin plot point intended to let the guys all French Mashiro before she’s emotionally stable enough for sex, it does give her time with each of them alone, and when Fei Shen decides to take things a step further and deliver his saliva vaginally, well, I suppose we can call that world-building as it proves to be more effective than oral delivery. More importantly, Fei Shen’s – and often Alfred ‘s – actions emphasize something that both Oma and Noel are very strict about: Mashiro’s consent her. All of them are at least marginally interested in that, (Noel on the cover there wins the prize) but whether or not they can stick to it becomes the more pressing question. Alfred, the virginal member of the harem, has the most difficulty because of his attitude towards sex in general – he views himself as “saving” his virginity for her and hates the idea of her doing things he thinks of as “dirty” with other men, which drives him to pressure Mashiro much more than the other three. He’s the most developed of the five characters at this point – Mashiro is mostly just too freaked out and confused by the change in her circumstances her to do a whole lot. Hopefully she’s not just going to remain a blank slate heroine for readers to project themselves on, because this would be a stronger story if she got the chance to be a person and not just a harem master.
Obviously, this series will appeal more to readers who already don’t mind the old “I can’t control myself” trope (readers may remember its heyday in western romance novels of the 1970s and 80s) or who like their reverse harems to MEAN it, because there’s not much room for Mashiro to just ride off into the sunset with one of the guys due to plot constraints. But it’s really a pretty decent book on the whole – the art is attractive, the plot tries its best within its contrivances, and if Mashiro’s a bit of a doormat, I’d say she has good reason to be, given that she went from “dying in the road while politicians discussed covering up her death” to “being hit on by four hot supernatural men” in what to her feels like the blink of an eye. Long story short, this is a decently done, relatively explicit romance manga released with some truly unfortunate timing.