Crimson Empire, Vol 1: Circumstances to Serve a Noble

Crimson Empire, Vol 1: Circumstances to Serve a Noble by QuinRose and Hazuki Futaba

I have a weakness for romance titles with ridiculously long titles in either manga or prose format. There’s something about the inherent ridiculousness of a title like “The Sicilian’s Ruthless Marriage Revenge” that makes me want to read it! If a romance title has five words or more, I’m usually entertained if I’m in the mood for some light reading. My decision to pick up Crimson Empire was largely due to the title, combined with the fact that it is another Quinrose title. I enjoyed the first Alice in the Country of Hearts manga adaptation well enough, so I was curious to see if I’d also like a different manga title from the brand without the literary connection.

Crimson Empire has a potentially amusing protagonist in Sheila the former assassin turned royal bodyguard and head maid, but the story in the first volume isn’t all that compelling as it mostly involves Sheila meeting an endless progression of handsome men. This is only what one could expect in a manga based on an otome game, but there were enough interesting elements that I would probably check out the second volume. This manga opens in a very dark way as one of the turning points of Sheila’s childhood is portrayed when her assassin trainers tell her to kill a random man. She does fulfill her duty, but not without a lot of trepidation. Years later Sheila is ready to accept her first official assignment, and she ends up as a bodyguard to the royal Prince, instead of joining the assassin league that has served as her foster family.

Prince Edvard is blond, charming, and the target of frequent assassination attempts which Sheila foils. He also might be a bit of a sociopath, as his outward personality masks an inner emptiness and pathological self-regard. Edvard’s older brother Justin is the tall, dark, handsome, and tsundere hero of many a female protagonist’s dreams. His outward hostility towards Sheila leads her to wonder if he’s behind all the attacks on his brother, but Justin always seems to be in the right place at the right time if Sheila needs a bit of help. There’s an almost too-large cast of supporting characters that Sheila meets as she goes about her duties. While the art is capably executed, it doesn’t have much of a distinct style. Fortunately the character designs are all very good, which helps the reader distinguish a little bit between the Brainy One, the Mischievous One, the Sorcerers One, the Demonic One, the Well-Dressed One, and the always essential Guy Wearing Glasses.I’m being a bit snarky, but overall I did like reading this manga, and I would follow the series if the next volume shows signs of a more interesting plot. If any more characters are introduced I might give up on the series because I can barely remember everybody! Fans of reverse harem manga would likely enjoy Crimson Empire, Vol 1: Circumstances to Serve a Noble, and at least Sheila’s bodyguarding duties give her a more interesting background than many of the heroines of the genre.

Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar’s Game Vol 1

I enjoyed the first series in this franchise, Alice in the Country of Hearts, but didn’t care for Alice in the Country of Clover at all. Fortunately this variation seems much closer to the original series in tone and execution. It is the unstable April season in the Country of Hearts and a circus headed by a new character named Joker has just arrived.

Alice seems to be having issues with both her memory and perception, aided by some mental meddling from Nightmare. Her occasional fugue states and general confusion serve to give this manga a hint of the sinister and mysterious atmosphere that I enjoyed so much in Alice in the Country of Hearts. Plotwise, there isn’t much going on as Alice goes around during April season saying hello to all the handsome male residents of Wonderland. We do get some world building bits when we see that Alice’s desires are creating a situation where there are more people with “roles” for her to interact with and there’s some nice back story filled in where we see glimpses of Alice’s life before Wonderland. There’s even a glimpse of the man from Alice’s past who is strikingly similar to the Mad Hatter but in some ways the flashback to Alice’s real life seems just as surreal as her dream world. Even though this volume is mostly exposition and getting reacquainted with most of the characters, I was curious to see how this version of the story would play out. After reading the first volume of Alice in the Country of Clover, I was wondering if any of the sequel series would appeal to me at all, but I am now wavering. Recommended for people who enjoyed the first series in this franchise.

Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz

Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz Volume 1 by QuinRose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru

I’m always a little hesitant to review manga from genres I don’t generally enjoy. After all, if I was reading a western and my reaction was “I don’t like books with horses and cowboys!” that’s not very helpful to potential readers. Part of the reason why I liked Alice in the Country of Hearts so much was that it seemed to transcend the whole manga adaptation of a dating game genre a little bit, just because it was occasionally surreal and weird. Alice in the Country of Hearts certainly succeeded in at least being a manga with an interesting atmosphere, even if the plot wasn’t the strongest point of the manga. I think that hard core fans of the first series will certainly enjoy Cheshire Cat Waltz, but I didn’t like it very much just because it exhibited a certain lack of subtly and less intriguing storyline.

One of the interesting things about Alice in the Country of Hearts was the worldbuilding as Alice discovers the strange new world (populated by handsome men) that she’s been transported to. Alice in the Country of Clover starts midway in a different reality where Alice’s home base was the amusement park instead of the clock tower. The world suddenly gets transported from Hearts to the Country of Clover, and Alice has to adjust to a new reality while fighting her attraction to Boris, the Cheshire Cat. Starting midstream can be both good and bad. Readers already familiar with the setting of this magna aren’t bogged down by exposition. On the other hand, any references to the pasts of the characters feels a bit unearned, because the reader hasn’t seen the history that’s being referred to. Alice keeps mentioning how much she misses her old life at the amusement park after she’s whisked away to the Country of Clover, but since her time at the amusement park was never fully portrayed, her dilema doesn’t have much emotional depth.

Fujimaru ably executes all the varied character designs established in the earlier series, but I tend to prefer the delicate illustrations that were a bit more sparse on screen tone in Hearts. There isn’t really anything to complain about with Clover’s art, but it just seems less visually distinct than the look that Soumei Hoshino established in Hearts. Clover’s art was more typical and the actions of the characters were also much less subtle. Blood skulks around trying out bad innuendo on Alice in all of his dialogue, and Alice gets randomly groped on a number of occasions. This stands in contract to the surreal violence and suggestions of psychological trauma that were hinted at in the earlier series. So overall, my reaction to Alice in the Country of Clover was that it was too much like a dating sim manga for me to really enjoy, and I’m going to have to assume that Alice in the Country of Hearts was the notable exception in this series in terms of being more rewarding to read. That being said, I’m probably not completely done with this franchise – I would certainly pick up another volume if Hoshino is on art duties again, and I’d also be curious to read a manga in the series that features Ace, the directionally impaired and homicidal Knight.