By Kei Murayama
Contrary to what its title suggests, A Centaur’s Life is more than a slice-of-life series with monster girls in it. Not to say it doesn’t have those storylines, but It’s also social commentary, a political thriller, a paranormal mystery, and a sci-fi fantasy among other genres it dabbles in. The story is quite dense and complicated, with several ongoing storylines following dozens of characters. Each volume has a general thematic through line, and volume eleven is no different. This volume contrasts how the characters adapt to a new school year, while the Antartic snake people begin the next stage of their conspiracy to integrate and take over into human society, and the Amphibians continue their uprising in the middle east. That these vastly different subplots actually all come together and affect one another is what makes Centaur’s Life as bizarrely intriguing as it is.
The themes of this volume primarily involve taking on new responsibilities and manipulating people to gain power. This is reflected by how the Chi-chans, who’ve previously been dependent on and doting of Mitama, no longer need or want her to be around them and have an easy time adapting to their elementary school and having fun on their own. Their newfound independence parallels the increasing adult responsibilities the older characters must start accepting. Hime and Mitama are encouraged by their peers to make use of their talents by challenging themselves with more proactive positions in their respective clubs. Characters insisting Hime make use of her natural abilities is a recurring subplot, brought up again when a talent agent encourages her to become an idol. While she shrugs off these ideas, not having the motivation to follow through with them, the series is heavily implying she’ll need to grow up and figure out how to make use of her natural gifts before she graduates. By contrast, Mitama doesn’t need much convincing from her sempai to be steered on the path to becoming student council president. Though also unsure of herself, she has a clear direction in life and goal she’s working towards, in contrast to Hime’s aimlessness.
Having the characters enter a new school year also allows the former middle school students like Ayaka, Inuki, and Karasuba be able to interact alongside the other high school protagonists more regularly. The particular methods and reasons why Karasuba joins the Student Council thematically ties into the political subplots in an interesting context. Karasuba intimidates the previous class representative into giving up the position, and uses smooth talking and psychic powers to manipulate the boys in the class to fall in love with her. Her duplicitous behavior is in service of gaining power as a student council member, simply to get closer to Mitama so she can eventually force her into submission and become top dog at the school. This parallels the Antarticans’s plan to diplomatically integrate into human society, while secretly climbing the political ranks until they are able to exert influence over the highest positions of power. The Amphibians have the same idea in mind, discussing how they will make allies with the humans by luring them with money and positions and power, then slowly depower them over time. These shockingly malicious power-plots to take over positions of power and subjugate other people contrast the cuter, lighter chapters where the Chi-chans play in swimming pools or when Hime and friends visit Nilnis’s idol agency, which heightens how disturbing the ramifications of what’s happening in this world are and the dark implications of what could happen to the daily lives of these innocent characters if they were to escalate.
Brief lessons detailing the history and culture of the Antarticans are noted after each chapter, serving as vital background information and hints towards their true origins and agenda. In particular, that they’ve been interfering in human cultures for centuries, at one point thousands of years ago perhaps being the dominant race on the earth who may have enslaved or warred against the other races. Understanding this context makes what they’re doing in-story even more suspicious and the implications more frightening. For instance, Nilnis’s spontaneous decision to become an idol is subject of what’s primarily a comedic chapter, but her true intentions placate public mistrust of Antarticans through positive media presence, which characterizes her actions in a far more sinister context. Also of note is Sassassul’s subtle character development, showing concern and embarrassment over her sister joining an idol agency, and melancholily contemplating how she probably won’t be going to college alongside her friends. Her superior Falshush notes how she’s gone beyond her mission to learn human mannerisms and has started thinking more like a human herself. Sassassul’s loyalties are wavering between her mission and her friends, and she starts to yearn for a life beyond what’s demanded of her by her superiors. What decision she’ll make when the time comes to choose is still up in the air, and it’ll be interesting to see how her character will develop moving forward.
The Amphibians have a greater presence in this volume than they usually do in the series: they’re treated as sub-human by other cultures through how soldiers derogatorily mock them as “frogs” and gleefully talk about hunting them down and eating them. Though human cultures see the Amphibians as barbaric, the way they treat fellow living creatures is show to be more compassionate and humane. When they infiltrate a sex-slavery ring to save one of their own, they also liberate the non-Amphibian prostitutes, giving them money and escorting them to safety. They even show this kindness to a woman who abused their comrade, encouraging her to learn from her experiences and become a better person. They abide by a code of honor, treating a soldier well when he surrenders and talking to him respectfully even when he’s a prisoner. The story of the soldier who joins the war to protect them also provides a clear subplot in which to learn more about the Amphibians, paying off with him donating an artwork given to him as a gift to a museum that Hime and friends visit, showing just how interconnected the series’s world really is. These chapters also give a broader sense of hwo the civil war in Tawantinsuyu is affecting global politics, particularly the schemes of the Antarticans. The Amphibians and Antarticans have been in league for some time, but this volume deepens the intrigue by showing that both are using each other for their own agendas and are allying with humans so they can betray each other without consequence down the line. It’s amazing just how much of the Amphibians’s subplot is developed in chapters that collectively comprise only a fourth of the total length of the volume.
As apparent from the above, A Centaur’s Life is not simply about a centaur’s life. It’s really about multiple people living in many different communities. This volume juggles dozens of characters and somehow manages to provide each of them character development, or at the very least moments that inform their characters in meaningful ways. The layers of political intrigue and the web of interweaving narratives in this volume is insane, as the plots involving the Amphibians and Antarticans start intertwining in deeper ways than ever before. Reading A Centaur’s Life is like glimpsing into the daily lives of real people occupying a living, breathing world with its own history and culture, and I can’t wait to learn what happens next.