Dawn of the Arcana Volume 1 by Rei Toma
When I first saw that Viz had announced this title I was immediately intrigued because I am a sucker for fantasy shoujo series and I thought the cover art for this volume was very striking. After reading it, I found Dawn of the Arcana to be an intriguing new series that is well worth reading even if it isn’t executed perfectly. This is the first volume of manga from Rei Toma and as a whole it is very well-executed even if there are a few minor deficiencies in the plotting and art.
Two tiny nations that make up both halves of an island have been warring with each other for years. The political bickering is only interrupted occasionally by a political marriage. The latest poor maiden to be sacrificed to preserve the peace is Nakaba, a red-haired princess who is feistier than the reader might expect for someone who is willing to take part in an arranged marriage. Her new husband is Prince Caesar, an arrogant young man who is constantly referring to Nakaba’s red hair as a sign of her non-noble demeanor. Nakaba is accompanied into the hostile country by her servant, a man named Loki who is a member of the Ajin, an underclass of demi-humans. Loki seems more like a protector and partner than a servant to be bossed around, as seen in the first confrontation between the new husband and wife. Loki pulls a knife on the prince after Nakaba comments on his rudeness in manhandling her. Nakaba promptly smacks Loki across the face in order to prevent him from being killed or punished by anyone else, saying that since Caesar is her husband, “That makes him your master as well.” When Caesar stands there gloating Nakaba punches him in the face and comments to Loki “disciplining my husband is my duty.” With all the face-punching happening in the first few pages of the book, it made me immediately inclined to root for Nakaba.
As the volume progresses Toma lays out some plot elements that I can see will drive the manga forward for the next few volumes. Nakaba is haunted by memories and visions, suggesting that she isn’t exactly a normal princess. There’s conflict between Caesar, his father, and the older illegitimate brother who is the heir to the kingdom. Loki’s protectiveness of Nakaba may go way beyond their bodyguard/master relationship, and the political machinations of the nobility ensure that Nakaba’s first few weeks of marriage are going to be a test of survival instead of a honeymoon. I was surprised to see that Dawn of the Arcana appeared in the magazine Cheese! originally, because I always thought that Cheese! was the go-to source for more risque shoujo, but maybe things get more dramatic later on in the series. The art in Dawn of the Arcana is attractive but a bit generic. There isn’t really a distinct style to enjoy here, and occasionally several panels suffer from not having much going on in the background. This seems like a bit of a lost opportunity for some world building, but I’m hoping that the art will get more detailed as the series progresses. For a creator’s first collected volume, Dawn of the Arcana is quite accomplished. Not all of the plot details are conveyed with much subtlety, but I put down this manga very interested to see what would happen next with Nakaba’s story. This manga would also be an excellent choice for anyone missing the shoujo fantasy catalog from CMX, as the combination of quasi-medieval setting and political intrigue reminded me of several CMX series that I enjoyed very much.
Review copy provided by the publisher.