It’s not unusual to see shrine maidens in manga, but Kuma Miko has a special kind of shrine maiden: one who hangs out with a talking bear.
In fact, all the bears in 14-year-old Machi’s rural village are able to talk. They trace this back to a kind of squeamish legend between a bear and a human, and now the bears and humans here have an alliance. (While the legend is squeamish, nothing in Machi’s interactions with her bear friend would fall into that category. They’re innocent and comfortable with each other like friends or family.)
Natsu, the anthropomorphic bear, wants to keep Machi around the village, although she keeps saying she wants to go to school in the city. She takes offense to being called a “bumpkin” and then gets embarrassed when Natsu asks her questions about the city that she’s unable to answer. Unfortunately for her, she’s so unsure of city customs that she thinks there’s a chance you can get on the train by bartering with fruit. Meanwhile, people who come from outside the village appear pretty clueless about how the village runs, like the police officers who try to warn kids that bears have been spotted in the area. (The kids couldn’t care less because they’re so used to being around talking bears.)
In the past Natsu stopped hibernating because Machi would cry so much each winter for him, and now he seems hurt that she would want to leave. Machi also doesn’t seem spiritual (though she did wake up one night in a trance to chant Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as if it were a religious incantation), and this also appears to be why she feels awkward as a shrine maiden in her little village. She’s experiencing growing pains and doesn’t know quite what to do about them.
While the school theme appears again and again, each chapter of Kuma Miko feels more like a little short story as opposed to a manga with one fast plot. Like the village they live in, Kuma Miko feels laid back, evenly paced and sweet-natured. (And rather quirky, too.) It’s a strange and mellow manga, but that works. Kuma Miko has its own unique charm to it, and it’s not really clear where the series will go from here. It’s certainly different from other shrine maiden stories you find out there, even though some shrine maiden stories are known to get pretty esoteric or unusual themselves.
Story & Art: Masume Yoshimoto
Publisher: One Peace Books
Danica Davidson’s book Manga Art For Beginners is out now. With more than 200 pages and hundreds of drawings, it takes a thorough look on each step for drawing your favorite manga character types, including ninjas, butlers, chibi, bishonen, schoolgirls and schoolboys.