I find this volume intriguing, both in the sense of, “I would like to know more about these characters and this fantasy world!” and in the sense of, “Ooh, palace intrigue!”
The kingdoms of Senan and Belquat, crowded together on one island, are constantly at war. Periodically, they attempt to make peace via a royal wedding that unites them. The success record on this method is incredibly low: the non-native royal is generally assassinated within a few years, and then it’s back to the battlefield for both countries. However, hope springs eternal: Princess Nakaba of Senan has just been sent to marry Prince Caesar of Belquat. Unfortunately, a number of complicating factors threaten to make this the two kingdoms’ shortest marital union yet.
Nakaba has bright red hair – notable because the royalty of both Senan and Belquat have always been raven-haired. The populace is whispering, and Caesar scorns Nakaba’s commoner looks. This is nothing new to the princess – she met with the same reactions in Senan. Of course, there, being a “red-hair” was unlikely to get her killed. Here, even her husband, the handsome but prickly and possessive Caesar, is upfront about her likelihood of assassination.
Not that Nakaba is on her own: she was able to bring her faithful servant Loki with her. Loki, too, meets with much disapproval, being an Ajin. These human-animal hybrids – basically humans with animal ears and tails – have great strength, speed, and senses, but are relegated to the serving classes. Loki has a dog’s ears and tail, but manages to be quite handsome regardless – just one of the things that will get him into trouble at court.
Caesar has long been envious of the natural speed and strength of Ajin – and Caesar’s father, King Guran, hates them. Despite his name, Loki is no trickster, but his loyalty to Nakaba is so strong that he thinks nothing of drawing a blade against even Caesar when the prince disrespects her. And there are those at court who wonder how close the princess is to her powerful, good-looking servant. Just another thing to make Caesar jealous . . .
And Caesar has problems of his own. His older brother, Cain, is next in line for the throne, despite being the son of a concubine. Caesar’s mother, who is of higher rank, urges him to pursue the throne . . . as does Cain’s fiancée, whose father is the head of the army, and who is much more interested in Caesar than in her husband-to-be. Caesar himself doesn’t want the throne, but he’s not sure what in the world he does want – only that it isn’t the rebellious red-haired princess he’s been forced to marry.
On the other hand, after losing a bet to Nakaba and having to help her protect Loki from the king, Caesar may be starting to feel differently about the brave, caring woman he was so ready to hate.
Neither of them knows that Nakaba’s strange visions, which she dismisses as dreams, are due to the awakening in her of a power called the Arcana of Time. Loki may know something, but this strong-and-silent type isn’t talking – even to the princess, for whom he might have more than a servant’s devotion.
The art is attractive, the characters distinctive. The panels are spare, with most of the backgrounds drawn simply or just done in screentone, but the foregrounds are detailed, with luxurious clothing and clear action scenes. The speech bubbles have an odd tendency not to have tails indicating who spoke them, but it’s almost always self-evident.
This is the creator’s first fantasy manga and first long-running manga series, and it is fun to see her notes between chapters. She mentions, for example, that she gets a lot of fan love for Loki, and speculates on whether things would be different if she’d gone with his original, more dog-like, appearance.
There’s a little violence, mostly of the “minor wound with elegant arc of sprayed blood droplets” variety, though things get more deadly in one of Nakaba’s visions. No sexual content beyond a rather surprising amount of kissing. (Belquat, it seems, is not, in fact, Japan.) A fun volume that left me wanting more.
Dawn of the Arcana, vol. 1
by Rei Toma
Viz Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen