Dawn of the Arcana 4

August 13, 2012

Rei Toma – Viz – 2012 – 10+ volumes

The plot continues as Loki, Nakaba, and Caesar head north to try and save a village from a deadly ambush. The problem is, Nakaba has seen the future, and knows that Bellinus’s sister Lemiria will be killed in the attack, so she has to try and prevent it. But! Bellinus double-crosses them! Oh no! How will they be able to save Lemiria then?!

There’s not a really good way to summarize the volume without it sounding a little trite, but I’m still really getting into Nakaba’s future vision and the very serious romantic triangle between Loki, Caesar, and Nakaba. Nakaba is definitely falling for Caesar in a way that she doesn’t see Loki, but Loki is strangely calm about this. He constantly twists Nakaba’s arm and calls her loyalty to the aijin and her country (Loki is both an aijin and a countryman), and always makes Nakaba feel guilty about her feelings. But never tries to steal her outright. He’s strangely calm. Such calmness, outside of shoujo manga, would make one suspect that Loki is merely biding his time until he murders Caesar.

One thing that did bother me was a nitpicky detail, and one that is better left unsaid… but still. I always hate plot points like this where a character can see the future, but by trying to prevent a tragedy, wind up captured in a scenario that they didn’t foresee. It’s so silly. She can see the future. Granted, the whole problem is that it only comes in unsolicited, random glimpses, but there’s still a tiny part of my mind that sees her in prison and whispers “Didn’t see that coming, did you?!”

The Bellinus betrayal was handled well, and he had good reasons for it. It was over a bit quickly, but it was still enjoyable enough.

I do miss some of the finer world-building details for which I liked the first few volumes, but the romance makes me a happy camper, and it’s rare that we see serious shoujo fantasy manga like this in English. I’m still really digging it, and I’m happy I have one more volume to pick up.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Dawn of the Arcana 2

July 17, 2012

Rei Toma – Viz – 2012 – 10+ volumes

I had to go back and grab the second volume of this one before continuing. As I’ve said before, well-written shoujo fantasy like this is a weakness of mine, and I like where the “visions of the future” angle is going in this series.

That part is downplayed in volume two, however, in favor of character development. I didn’t mind at all, as the characters were in need of a bit more direction at the end of the first, very interesting, volume. Nakaba is a stranger in a strange land, resentful of the harsh treatment she is receiving at the hands of her husband’s family, and she acts suspicious. Her guard is hostile, which is due both to the fact that Nakaba is being antagonized and that he is subjected to the series’ particular brand of racism (as a beastman, he is of a “lesser caste” than the royal family). And Caesar, Nakaba’s future husband, is alternately antagonistic and charming. Here, those character sketches are taken in a very shoujo-tastic direction, with romance developing between Caesar and Nakaba, despite the instincts of both Nakaba and Loki (her guard). To Caesar’s credit, his efforts to win Nakaba over are genuine, and by the end of the volume, you feel bad for the poor guy.

Alternately, while Caesar and his family are made to be the bad guys in volume one, it’s Loki’s cold logic that puts the reader off in volume two. There’s nothing terribly treacherous or complicated as of yet, but I still like the slight change of perspective so far.

And again, Toma’s writing is quite good, and the details of her fantasy world are slowly coming to light. I like less complicated, easy-to-understand fantasy worlds like this, especially if they take a turn for the expansive once the story establishes itself. This feels very much like that, and I’m curious to see how things begin to shape up in volume two.

I’m still really into this series. Volume two didn’t grab me like the great beginning in volume one, but I am happy to see the story getting legs and moving somewhere. I’m glad I snagged this volume before moving on with the rest of the series, and I’ll probably pick up volume four before five gets here shortly. If you’re into shoujo fantasy, this is probably one of the better current series running at the moment.

Dawn of the Arcana 3

March 25, 2012

Rei Toma – Viz – 2012 – 9+ volumes

I forgot how much I liked this series! I skipped volume two, though I shouldn’t have. Volume three picks up in a pretty clean place, to the point where I don’t feel like I really missed anything. But I like this story so much that I have to go back for volume two. This is great, because I was so disappointed by the last volume of Story of Saiunkoku, I’m glad that there’s another shoujo fantasy that I can revel in to my girly heart’s content.

In this volume, things begin to grow close between Nakaba and Caesar. But… you know. Not that close. Caesar seems fine and dandy with this, but it gives Nakaba pause, especially since she’s still being attacked for her appearance and generally mistreated by everyone at the castle. There’s a particularly ugly scene where the King and Queen force her to dye her hair for visiting foreign dignitaries, and both she and Caesar cut their long hair in protest.

The meat of the story lies in the identity of one of the visiting foreign dignitaries. He happens to spy the princess and recognizes both her traditional dress and the tattoos around her guard Loki’s eyes. Akhil knows about the Arcana of Time, and knows right away that Nakaba has the ability. He begins to request that she use her power to benefit his country, in exchange for knowledge about who she is and how to use the Arcana of Time. She’s tempted by his offer, since Loki won’t tell her anything, but both Loki and Cesar think Akhil is bad news, and tend to intervene whenever the two have a conversation.

I feel tempted to compare this to Story of Saiunkoku, even though that’s not very fair (they’re completely different types of stories, Saiunkoku is a manga adaptation of a novel, and… they just don’t share any common ground). But comparing the two helps me sort out why I like this better than the other, so compare them I will.

Saiunkoku moves slow, especially compared to this. Dawn of the Arcana feels very brisk alongside Saiunkoku, but it is actually taking its time and doing quite a bit of effective world-building, introducing a limited number of neighboring countries and facts about the cultures. Saiunkoku uses its slow pace to… build it’s characters, I suppose, but there are so many, and they all have to appear in each story, that it feels like not much gets accomplished. Dawn of the Arcana also has a limited number of characters at this point, and is taking its time to get all of them just right. Saiunkoku is set in a fairly interesting world with a different caste and government, but it’s based in reality, and not much time is spent fleshing out anything but certain government protocols (since it’s what the main character is most interested in). Dawn of the Arcana is set in a fantasy world mostly divorced from reality, so it can make up things as it goes along, and is doing a fine job of it.

Basically, while it feels fast in comparison to Saiunkoku, I’m really getting to know Nakaba, Cesar, Loki, and the world they live in. I care about their problems, and am getting drawn into what appears to be an impending conflict, or possible cultural revolution. The romantic elements aren’t marginalized, and seem to be just as important as the plot, which is exactly what I want.

So Dawn of the Arcana is my new go-to shoujo fantasy. I like it quite a bit, and it seems to be improving with every volume. I think volume two probably brings Cesar and Nakaba closer together (considering the former is no longer a jerk), and I think I’m going to have to pick that up before volume 4 comes out. Can’t wait.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Dawn of the Arcana 1

December 12, 2011

Rei Toma – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

Ooh. I picked this up without knowing very much about it, but it’s exactly the type of shoujo fantasy I like to read. It’s got a fairly complex story, and volume one is obviously just the first step, giving us a taste of a potentially very sprawling and detailed world and complicated character relationships.

The series opens with a look at the arranged marriage between Nakaba and Caesar. Their marriage brings peace to their warring countries, though it becomes clear that there’s no love between Caesar and Nakaba. Nakaba is submissive in action, but her attitude is very defiant, and I loved that she did as she was told under a very stony protest. Caesar is portrayed as rather cruel. Not only does he have no interest in the marriage, he also berates Nakaba because of her hair color (royals in both countries have black hair, whereas Nakaba’s hair is a lower class red).

Nakaba has an ally in Loki, a servant and lifelong companion she brought with her from her own country. The trouble is that Loki is an Aijin, a kind of human with animal ears that is treated as the absolute lowest class in both kingdoms. Caesar doesn’t take kindly to having Loki under the same roof, and Loki doesn’t take kindly at all to the way Nakaba is treated.

There’s a lot of interesting directions for the story to take here, and I love that volume one only seems to have touched a little bit on the beginning of it all. By the end, we begin to see that Caesar may be softening his attitude towards Nakaba, that he may have reason to be jealous of Loki, and that Nakaba may possess some sort of precognitive ability. There’s a complex caste system at work, which will obviously play a big part in the story, and I suspect Nakaba will be revealed as yet another type of “special” class before too long. We also begin to see the barest hints at some complex politics and history in play between the two nations.

I can’t offer too much in-depth commentary because I feel like the story is just getting started, but again, I love fantasy stories like this that take their time at developing things. This one shows a lot of promise after volume one, and is worth a look if you enjoy something like Apothecarius Argentum or Story of Saiunkoku.

Strangely, this series runs in Cheese! magazine. I was under the impression that Cheese! only ran smutty romance series (hence the name). I’m not sure what to make of that. Perhaps there will be some unlooked-for spice later on as well, but it doesn’t seem to fit at the moment. Then again, this could be Cheese! magazine’s token fantasy series or something.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.