Manga-ka: Rei Toma
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: December 2011
Synopsis: “Princess Nakaba of Senan is forced to marry Prince Caesar of the enemy country Belquat, tantamount to becoming a hostage. While Caesar is pleasing to the eye, he is also selfish and possessive, telling Nakaba outright: “You are my property.” With only her attendant Loki at her side, Nakaba must find a way to cope with her hostile surroundings, her fake marriage… and a mysterious power!”
When a ‘red-hair’ Princess is forced to marry the Prince from a neighbouring country in a bout of political play, Nakaba finds herself in unwelcoming territory of her country’s opposing nation. With her dependable friend and servant, Loki, at her side, Nakaba must maintain her native-country pride and survive. Determined as she may be, however, her efforts to stand firm are marred by a story that pits her against genre-trope odds to disappointing result.
Fantastical settings, political intrigue, a fiery red-head, her pretty-boy attendant and a dash of magical foreshadowing – Dawn of the Arcana had a lot going for it when I started. Unfortunately it’s flaws became all too apparent with a level of predictability that felt suffocating for even the earliest attempts at character development. Nakaba already seems destined to get with the Prince, with the last couple pages of the book really setting her clear on the path. Sure he’s a selfish, arrogant and controlling guy on the outside, but inside there’s an inkling of sad-faced emotion that surely we know Nakaba will find. Alas, where does this leave Loki? Loyal, strong and kind, Loki is Nakaba’s guardian and best friend. He loves her dearly, evident by action over words, and has cared for her since she was young. He’s good looking, cunning and entirely self-sacrificing for her – naturally by shoujo story reasoning, he doesn’t have a chance. It’d be fantastic to break the ‘nice guys finish last’ trend for a change.
As a series where the romance already looks like a key element, these issues I had with the story were detrimental to my enjoyment. So many times my mind reeled with ‘why, why, why?!’ reading through the scenes. Then there’s the lead, Princess Nakaba. Nakaba is a strong character for much of the story – standing up for herself and Loki – but other times I couldn’t understand why for any reason past plot development and fan-service that her resolve crumbled before us. One scene in particular stood out where the Prince attempts to force himself on her. She resists and threatens him with a dagger. Once he grabs onto her and forces a kiss, suddenly she melts like pudding. Was his kiss just so darn good that she had to succumb? Would she have let him do what he liked had a certain someone not shown up and interrupted?
Other plot points are developing to give the story some girth and my fingers are crossed these play out to good effect. Loki seems to be pulling strings to set in motion internal events that go past just protecting Nakaba. Flashbacks to the duo’s past paints a bleak picture for the involvement this kingdom had in old affairs that changed their lives forever. I especially liked the potency of a scene where the King is confronted by his own memories at the sight of Nakaba’s familar clothing. There’s also the hinted at “mysterious power” that pops up briefly from time to time, simply a foreshadow now but we assume soon to be much more.
The artwork is a winning feature of the purchase though. A quick flip through was all the prompt I needed to buy it in the first place. You can tell right away that the creator is an experienced artist. Her character designs and the consistency of their rendering is always sharp and attractive. I loved how each of the characters looked, bringing a wonderful look of fantasy and culture to the story. The panels are also very clean, free of clutter and neatly laid out. It makes following the story very simple. The only real downside is it lacks the more organic feel of a more creatively utilized layout. Reading at the back of the book that Rei Toma is fairly new to manga, and comes to it as a character designer, said a lot for the pros and cons of her comic work.
Further evidence to the fact was the finishing where it looks clear Dawn of the Arcana is a manga of the modern age. The majority of the text bubbles look computer generated using an ellipse tool, making them perfectly round. Few of these bubbles are contained or cropped to their specific panels which leaves them sitting atop of every page instead of being more carefully integrated into them. This is one of the visual cues I often see differ between manga and mainstream American comics, and it looks very stiff in a manga where bubbles are typically drawn in as a part of the artwork.
Dawn of the Arcana is a pretty book with a winning concept – there could never be enough fantasy-based manga series for my liking! It’s too bad that the execution is stiff and predictable, and that contributing factors made me feel little to no sympathy for any character but Loki and only occasionally Nakaba. I’ll be back for volume two based on the eye candy but my fingers are crossed for some more agreeable substance.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures
Your note on the perfectly elliptical shape of the text bubbles was so interesting!! I hadn’t noticed that on my first read, but now the lack of variation in shape (with a few exceptions for “effect”?) totally stands out. Looking closely (really closely), I do think I can spot some line variation in a few of them, which leads me to believe they were inked, but definitely with the aid of some kind of tool.
Now you’ve got me going through all my manga within arm’s reach to check out their bubbles. I found the same sort of ellipse-shapes in Betrayal Knows My Name (though they don’t stand out as much, because there are more spiky and oddly-shaped bubbles mixed in, and the artist likes to add screentone in the bubbles or make them transparent to show the artwork). Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution has them too, which doesn’t surprise me at all since the screentones were also added digitally in that title. Hmm, fascinating :D
As for this series, I read it right after reading (in Japanese) Akatsuki no Yona v1-2, another fantasy about a red-haired princess. I liked that series a lot more—I felt much more interested and invested in the characters even after one volume—and am wishing/hoping Viz will license it as well (would it be weird to publish two titles about red-haired princesses at the same time?). But I’ll keep reading Dawn of the Arcana too, for now. I’m curious, but not hooked yet.