I’m always on the lookout for fun fantasy series, so I decided to give The Twelve Hour Ruler a try when I saw it appear on Jmanga.com. The series blends attractive art, a large cast of characters, and some intricate geopolitics when building a story about identical twin princes and the fate that awaits them.
The first volume opens with a popular gambit – the old introductory crazy barfight! An attractive young barmaid named Koyuki suffers the loutish attentions of a local government official when an arrogant young man decides to step in and save her. His name is Twelve, and it turns out that he’s the prince of Orchis, a vaguely Middle-Eastern Empire with a complicated creation myth involving twins. Twelve’s older brother Eleven is treated not as a prince and heir, but as a disposable commodity while the younger prince is viewed as the source of goodness and light. One of the things I enjoyed about this manga was the difference in personality between the brothers. Twelve basically acts like an arrogant rich boy, yet he has a streak of kindness that he tries to disguise. He bomes to Koyuki’s aid quite often, even though they fall into the habit of bickering with each other. Eleven is watchful and more cynical. He genuinely cares for his brother, but he tends to observe rather than participate due to his many years of being pushed aside for his twin.
The characters in The Twelve Hour Ruler are all attractive. Eleven distinguishes himself from his brother by having shorter hair and earrings, but he puts on a wig if he suddenly has to act as a decoy for the heir to the Empire. Twelve gradually gets to know Koyuki better, and he seems to almost enjoy having someone to call him out on acting like a spoiled brat occasionally. My one quibble with this manga is the pace of new character introductions. In short order, the reader encounters a large portion of the extended royal family, all of whom have names and number designations. While the characters all look distinct, it is a little dizzying reading about people who just seem to pop up for a chapter or two and then disappear from the rest of the narrative. Twelve’s piratical uncle Four and his daughter Lulu are some of the more consistent supporting cast members. When a large dark-skinned man with amnesia drops through the roof of Koyuki’s bar, Lulu decides that he’s Skazy, the hero of her favorite story and she promptly decides to adopt him. The twin princes move forward through a complicated progression of court ritual, as the day approaches when Twelve will be crowned as ruler and Eleven will be cast aside.
In addition to a plethora of characters, The Twelve Hour Ruler also deals with various forms of fantasy nation desert geopolitics. It turns out that Twelve has to be married before becoming Emperor, and while the court elders are aware that Twelve has a preference for Koyuki, they won’t allow him to pick his own wife. The main candidates for Empress are Sakura, a girl with the power of foresight and a Pirate Princess named Yuan Fang Long. Koyuki seems oddly philosophical about the women circling Twelve. This volume slows down the pace of character introductions a little bit, showing the reader some flashbacks of Twelve and Elven as young children. I’m somewhat mystified as to what is going on with Skazy, as he’s referred to as a “Monster” by observers, and I’m not entirely sure if this is based only on his strength and appearance or if he is actually a non-human creature. Skazy and Lulu provide a bit of comic relief as he deals with her marathon shopping sessions. Twelve moves forward towards his succession, but it turns out that the desert tribes have a competing myth that favors the rule of the older twin, and representatives descend on the city to check out Eleven to see if he is suitable. The combination of unconventional setting, attractive art, humor, and action offsets the extremely crowded cast and plot. Twelve Hour Ruler would be a clear winning manga for me if I felt like as a reader I had a bit more room to breathe. As it is, after reading two volumes I am still invested in seeing what will become of Twelve and Eleven even though I hope that the next couple volumes slow down a bit with introducing new characters.