“I like that nothing happens here,” the character Vampy says at the end of this volume’s first chapter. You’d be hard-pressed to find a book more dedicated to embodying its title than Hella Chill Monsters. This cute little tome stars a skeleton protagonist that makes no bones about Limbo being the Purgatory-style dimension where pretty much nothing happens. Instead, our creature-feature characters chill and vibe their way through comedic slice-of-death situations, odd little incidents, and easily-solved misunderstandings. It’s a simple strength to play to, but does it have enough meat on its bones to actually be a fun and entertaining read in the style it’s going for?
Questioning the entertainment value of Hella Chill Monsters itself prompts the question of how much there could actually be to talk about with a work like this. Fortunately, not only is it being reviewed by me, someone who could go on for pages about relatively little, but the manga does have a fair amount going on behind its neatly non-threatening presentation. The visuals are an immediate highlight, for one. Shuji Takeya‘s design sensibilities show a keen understanding of this medium’s typical black-and-white format, with character designs, settings, and layouts taking clean advantage of the two-tone look. Main bone-boy Bonzo’s design is the standout here, exploiting negative space to cut a cute skeleton silhouette, but the effects are obvious on everyone. Heads of hair cut against a bright background, and simple shapes build up things like a mushroom apartment building that remains recognizable even in tiny thumbnail panels. Everything about its look makes Hella Chill Monsters come off like such a cartoon of a thing. It’s got a visual veneer with its sharply-contrasted blacks and whites making it uniquely well-suited for digital reading, which is a good thing given that Kodansha‘s English release of it here is a digital-only affair.
Or it might simply be the case that the visuals mesh particularly well with the whimsical webcomic atmosphere of the whole affair. The fact that nothing really happens in Hella Chill Monsters is the go-to joke of the series itself: Bonzo is desperate to fulfill the active promise of his freelance-detective character shtick, but finds himself thwarted every step of the way by just how gosh-darned pleasant everyone in Limbo actually is. That’s not to say there’s no conflict within this first volume, as even this Manga About Nothing sees fit to throw in complications, like say, the debut of zombie Nero Lichman centering around him attempting to attack and capture Bonzo. But even that simply devolves into an effective Looney Tunes sketch, resolved with Bonzo extending that characteristic kindness to Nero, and culminating in an honestly outstanding punchline of what the zany zombie’s real goal actually was.
The momentary escalations in Hella Chill Monsters all tend to play out that way— adventurous problems that the crew nonetheless resolves without much fuss (or simply end up resolving themselves), usually coming away with more pleasant, rich connections with others confirmed. “Everyone makes mistakes without having bad intentions,” Bonzo explains towards the end of this volume, codifying the approach this book has to anything that could even resemble a conflict. This means the series probably won’t work for those who demand more urgent arcs or dramatic complications to their fiction. Even seemingly-major shifts like Bonzo and crew becoming online video stars eventually just sort of fizzle out with them deciding not to do it anymore. The last chapter in this volume itself specifically opens with Bonzo having received a request to tackle a real mystery for once, only for the case to wind up solved on the very first page, leading to a more meditative meet-up with one of the good bone-boy’s old acquaintances. The hella-chillness of Hella Chill Monsters isn’t simply its most strongly-advertised feature—it’s enthusiastically enforced by the series every step of the way.
If you’re down for that, then this volume can be a real treat to take in. Just getting to see what sort of goofy gag might come up next is reason enough to keep the pages turning, from Vampy’s flame-bursting struggles outside when he’s out of sunscreen, to an adorable little mummy girl who speaks entirely in hieroglyphics. Also, shout-out to ‘Goghoul’ as one of the cleverest in-context copyright-dodging names for Google I’ve yet seen. There are minor issues: sometimes the panels can squeeze things down a little too small, as if they’re counting on the simplicity of the art to carry the communication of what’s in them. But that doesn’t really diminish the fun factor of the volume, which even includes a nice bonus of a bunch of reference materials for the characters, detailing how elements of their designs work (including confirming that Nero really was designed to specifically look like he escaped from Adventure Time). It makes for a satisfying read that isn’t ultra-ambitious in its themes beyond its kind, cozy atmosphere, but still comes off worth having spent some hella chill time with.