Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Beast Head: Love, Politics, and Crippling Anxiety


Confession: as much as I loved working on the first volume of Gear Drive for J-Novel Club, I was slightly disappointed that I didn't get to work on something with a "real" light novel style title. You know the type I mean: five thousand words long to the point that no one actually calls it by its real name anyway. There's no legitimate reason I wanted that, save for it being such a prevalent joke in both the industry and the fandom that I wouldn't feel right until I had a title the length of a full sentence under my belt.

Thank God, then, for Apparently It's My Fault That My Husband Has the Head of a Beast.

It had everything I wanted in a light novel title: length, the family angle, the supernatural angle, and that distinctive conversational tone that comes with so many of these outlandish storylines. "Welp, I inadvertently destroyed my husband's life. Must be Tuesday."

Okay, title jabs aside, I really enjoy this project. All I knew coming in was that it was going to be JNC's first shoujo title, and I can jam with some shoujo. And, yep, it really is very much a girl's side fairy tale romance, complete with a tsundere boy who hates her but seems to be coming around. Oh, and a catgirl maid. Um. Kinda.


So, the book's "prologue" is deceiving, as it's actually a context-free scene lifted from late in the first chapter. Read on its own (as it is), it looks like a lovelorn girl declaring to her maid that she's found the different boy of her dreams and is going to go across the room and propose to him then and there because her kokoro.

What's actually happening is she has found literally the first person in seven years who doesn't look like a fucking spite-driven monster, and she is terrified that if she doesn't latch onto him now she will spend the entire rest of her life afraid to interface with humanity.

Yeah, see. This is, whether Eri Shiduki intended it or not, a massive metaphor for anxiety.


Our heroine, Rosemarie, suffered something several years ago that gave her an odd condition. Her eyes have been magically altered in such a way that, if someone near her is negatively motivated in some way, their head appears to change into that of an animal. That could be her trusted maid Heidi sporting a cat's head when she's pissed off at someone, a knight appearing to be a stag when he's doubtful of someone's intentions, or ladies of the court turning into dogs and birds as they offer false compliments.

There's another issue: Rosemarie is a princess. Granted, she's the princess of a small pacifist nation called Volland and really isn't called on to do a lot as a princess. But her condition catches those negative feelings no matter how well someone masks them, no matter how deeply covered they are. Simply existing in court means moving among strangers who compliment her through giant animal mouths.

It's... no wonder she wants to wear a bucket on her head all the time.

When she meets Prince Claudio of Baltzar, considered to bear a fearsome visage and wield mighty magic, she sees... nothing amiss. No matter how many hands he shakes or compliments he weathers, no matter how deeply he doesn't want to be at his own event, his head remains human. She immediately races to him, seeing someone at last who could be a relief from her condition, someone who will never terrify her no matter what happens.

From the cover and title of the book, I'm pretty sure you can guess the reality of the situation. And if you think for five seconds or so, you can probably land on a theory that's close to what's actually going on. What it means for Claudio and Rosemarie personally, though, is a whole other story.

As I said, I have no idea if the author intended this to be an on-the-nose metaphor for anxiety. As someone who suffers from it, I can say it is an on-the-nose metaphor for anxiety — specifically empathic people with anxiety. And I don't mean that in some sort of "woo" way, I mean anyone who's especially good at body language or whatever you credit with the ability to "read" a person.

The combination of an ability to suss what people are thinking and an illness that deprives your brain of the resources it needs to parse that information is nasty. Nasty and terrifying. And when you can see quite clearly that someone is angry at you, or lying to you, or using you for something, yeah. You really would want to lock yourself away or wear a bucket over your head 24/7.

Don't get me wrong, Beast Head is not a deep dark psychological read. It's a story of how two people who grew up with two very different issues, and are now married to each other whether they like it or not, attempt to find common ground and a cure for their respective issues. It does have an undercurrent of understanding, though — one shared character arc is on the very difficult topic of acknowledging that both you and someone else can be suffering at the same time, and the solution is not to decide which of you is suffering more.

There's more to the story as you dig deeper in, concerning political intrigue and magic. But I don't want to spoil that for anybody. Instead, I highly encourage you all to give it a read, or a sample if you're not a JNC member. And if you like what you read, be sure to pick it up when it goes into publication!


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