Dawn of the Arcana Vol 13 and Midnight Secretary Vol 7

These are both great series from the Shojo Beat line that are concluding! I always feel a bit wistful when reading final volumes, but fortunately I am quickly distracted by new manga series.

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 13 by Rei Toma

In this volume of Dawn of the Arcana, Nakaba and Caesar are reunited, while Loki makes an unexpected demand – to be given the kingdom of Senan so humans and Ajin can live separately. Nakaba is absolutely against this, seeing a way for her and Caesar to bring both people together, but Loki leaves, determined to secure a kingdom for the Ajin. Nakaba is heartbroken, starting to adjust to life in Belquat as Caesar’s queen yet again. She closes herself off from her magical powers, not wanting to suffer again if she sees Loki in a vision. One of the things that I’ve always liked about this series is that it is a bit more about the world the characters live in than the romantic issues that they need to work through. So Nakaba and Caesar set to rebuilding their world without Ajin, as the country of Senan becomes more closed off and mysterious. When an almost grown-up Rito shows up with a message from Senan, this sets off a series of surprising revelations that can change how readers interpreted the story from the very beginning. I have to admit, I was genuinely surprised by this concluding plot twist.

Dawn of the Arcana
was one of those series that grows on readers gradually. I remember enjoying but feeling slightly ambivalent about the first volume, but after reading a few more I knew I’d be reading the rest of the series. While there is plenty of romantic angst, the focus on world buliding, geopolitics, and human-Ajin race relations made the story seem more expansive than usual for a shoujo fantasy series.

Midnight Secretary Vol 7 by Tomu Ohmi

Seven volumes seems like just the right length for this manga about a dedicated secretary and her vampire boss. In this volume Kyohei is formally banished from the vampire clan because he refuses to part from Kaya. But as they start to figure out how to live on their own, they have to start working on ways to deal with complications like Kyohei’s regular blood supply and the loss of business that occurs when Kyohei’s new company starts running into trouble. There’s an additional issue as Kaya’s blood starts to turn toxic to Kyohei, further straining their relationship. There’s never any doubt that this manga is headed to a happily ever ending for this unconventional couple, and readers wanting to see Kaya and Kyohei set up as a strong couple facing their future together won’t be disappointed. There’s an extra bonus chapter that flips the gender dynamics of the whole book, as vampire Marika finds her “Midnight Butler.” This was a great bonus story, and it was interesting to see Marika in a different context, because she’d only showed up as a friend of Kyohei’s before. Overall, this was an extremely satisfying josei-disguised-as-shoujo-series, and I’m delighted that I can now switch over to Ohmi’s Spell of Desire for similar supernatural romance!

Review copies provided by the publisher

Dawn of the Arcana Vols 11 and 12

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 11 by Rei Toma

Dawn of the Arcana is a series that I think is best experienced in mini bursts of 2 or 3 volumes, simply due to the deliberate pace of the storytelling in the manga, as well as the fact that it sometimes takes a half volume or so for my brain to kick in with my memories about what happened in the previous volume due to all the relationships developing and the shifting nature of the geopolitical situations happening in Toma’s world. Usually I’m far too impatient to let the volumes pile up like this though!

After 10 volumes, the new status quo for red haired socially outcast with alarming powers of precognition Princess Nakaba and formerly arrogant but really a nice guy who has a social conscience inspired by the power of love Prince Caesar is to be separated. Nakaba has returned to Senan, determined to do some ruling in her own right, and Caesar is back in his home country of Belquat, dealing with his evil family. This volume shows the emotional impact of Nakaba’s power, the Arcana of Time, as she is determined to save the outcast child of a village that is in the direct path of an avalanche. This becomes a story that further explores the position of the humanoid animal hybrid race called ajin, as Lala the child with bunny ears is actually the product of a human/ajin encounter, leading to her abandonment. Lala has one human friend, and Nakaba’s ever present ajin protector Loki is there to save the day as always.

Loki always seems to have a new revelation every few volumes, either about his emotions or background, and a secret is revealed in this volume that shows that he and Nakaba have even more in common than I previously thought. While there’s the more conventional romantic storyline with Caesar and Nakaba, I actually find Nakaba’s relationship with Loki much more interesting, as they trade off protector duties in unexpected ways. Nakaba decides to take power in her home country, and her choices are largely driven by wanting to prevent Loki from going too far for her.

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 12 by Rei Toma

Everything keeps zipping along, as now that Nakaba and Caesar are in power in their respective countries, they have a chance to finally see each other again, when Caesar is ordered to invade Senan. Nakaba’s been looking in on Caesar and remarks that he’s going to start a revolution, so she’s “Here to lend a hand.” Nakaba’s power also provides Toma with a great way of providing more backstory about her characters. Nakaba looks back at Caesar’s father when he was young, even though Loki warns her that it might be difficult for her to see because she’s “too kind”. Nakaba sees King Guran’s first meeting with his unconventional first queen, the commoner Sara. The unhappy ending of this romance provides a reason for why King Guran might have ended up so twisted and bitter, but it doesn’t prevent a confrontation that is sure to cause even more fallout to happen in the volumes ahead.

One of the things that I really like about the art in this series is that it is so clear and easy to read. Toma might not have the most intricate backgrounds or innovative approach to paneling, but I’m never left puzzled about action scenes or finding that I have to go back and reread a page to make sure I understand the sequencing. The wordless exchanges between Nakaba and Caesar and the sidelong glances between Loki and Caesar do more to express the tensions between the characters than several pages of dialog. Overall, these were two very solid volumes in a fantasy series that is always surprising me with unexpected depths. I’m looking forward to the next few volumes to see what will become of Nakaba, Caesar, and Loki (well, really mostly Loki).

Dawn of the Arcana, Vol 8

Dawn of the Arcana continues to be an entertaining fantasy series in a subtle and well-executed way. This volume has our adventurers in the desert kingdom of Lithuanel. Nakaba is caught up with a struggle between the princes Akhil and Azhal. They encounter a new type of ajin in the form of a group of terroristically inclined snake-people. Caesar has to prepare to return to his own country, and he attempts to push Nakaba away in an attempt to protect her from getting hurt. Nakaba has grown into a much more confident woman, and she’s not afraid to invoke her power when she needs to in order to help her friends.

One of the things I’m always wanting from this series is more Loki. Nakaba’s devoted dog-like ajin protector has always seemed to have hidden depths and motivations and Nakaba’s power shows her a series of visions that demonstrate just how far Loki is willing to go to to protect her. Nakaba gains a new appreciation for how much information he shielded her from when she was younger and more innocent. Eight volumes in, and I’m still appreciating the clarity of Toma’s art. The paneling had really developed well to showcase both action sequences and the inner feelings of the characters. Seeing a younger Nakaba in flashbacks makes the reader appreciate the bond between her and Loki, and appreciate how far she’s come since she became Caesar’s princess.

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 5 by Rei Toma

Every volume of Dawn of the Arcana usually has a few quirky moments that keep me hooked on the series. In volume 5 we see the continuation of the trip that Nakaba and her group of friends embarked on in order to warn the Ajin of the upcoming attack from Prince Caesar’s unscrupulous relatives. Before the Ajin that we’ve seen have looked mostly human with some slight animal characteristics, but the ones who live in the Ajin village are much more like beasts walking upright. The feline Leo and Gadi great the humans with suspicion, but the group of adventurers gets taken to the cute and fluffy village leader to deliver their warning. Seeing the different forms of the Ajin was intriguing, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their culture revealed in future volumes. The other aspect of this volume that I was amused by was that so far Nakaba has been dealing with having an Arcana, or magical power, all on her own, but suddenly we see more people with Arcana popping out of the woodwork. Lemiria reveals that she has a power that might explain why her older brother Bellinus has managed to survive so well in a hostile court environment. Although Nakaba and her companions came to warn the Ajin about the destructive power of new weapons of war, the suspicious Leo thinks he can defend the village all on his own with the Arcana of Fire.

The other thing I enjoy about Dawn of the Arcana is that it is so character-driven. With so many people having magical powers, it would be easy to fall into the trap of featuring a bunch of magic-centered action, without much character development. Nakaba’s journey to meet the Ajin causes her and Loki to reaffirm their friendship. Caesar’s support furthers his relationship with Nakaba as well. Knowing that Lemiria has a magical power as well makes her almost the perfect girlfriend for Nakaba, someone who hasn’t had many friends in her life before. Much of the volume focuses on Nakaba’s attempt to save the Ajin, and when she is thrown into the company of Caesar’s older brother Cain, at first she sees an opportunity to bond with him because they’ve both been judged harshly for their appearance in the past. Nakaba’s growing powers of observation combined with Lemiria’s advice cause her to navigate the situation with greater insight. I just wish that the artwork had slightly more detailed backgrounds that would contribute more to giving the world the characters navigate through more depth. Five volumes in, and there are still too many panels of characters talking to each other with just white or minimal backgrounds, and fewer illustrations that really serve to show how the Ajin village is all that different from the other places that Nakaba has visited. Overall, this volume was another solid entry for this fun fantasy series and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as Nakaba becomes a more self-assured princess.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 4 by Rei Toma

One of the things I was happy to see in this volume of Dawn of the Arcana is the heroine Nakaba acting a bit more like an action hero. In the first volume she was introduced as not being hesitant about getting physical sometimes, and while in the subsequent volumes she hasn’t really been passive she has been busy dealing with her love/hate relationship with her new husband and the perils of living in a hostile country. She’s been busy!

Nakaba turns down Prince Akhil’s invitation to run away with him to his country, but not before she begins to get a sense of how valued her power of supernatural sight is. Akhil says “Your power is a gift. Believe in it. Unleash it. Let it be your strength.” Nakaba has a vision showing her a young girl being killed, and discovers that the girl is Bellinus’ younger sister Lemiria. After discovering a cache of weapons, Nakaba, Caesar, Bellinus and Loki decide to use the pretext of a honeymoon to travel towards the north, where the army might be targeting an Ajin village to test the weapons. Lemiria stows away, which isn’t good as the terrain begins to match up with Nakaba’s vision. Still she befriends Lemiria while being determined to protect her. Nakaba and Lemiria get menaced when they take a much needed shopping break and Nakaba shows herself to be quite tricky with a dagger. While she might have fended off one danger, she reflects that being able to strike a hit isn’t enough if she needs to protect someone and concludes “I have to get stronger.”

Caesar and Nakaba’s adorably awkward relationship continues to evolve on their honeymoon. Loki and Lemiria have an interesting encounter when she confronts him about his feelings for Nakaba, saying that he’s lonely, wounded, lovestruck, spiteful, but most of all, “a little frighting.” Loki just smiles a little bit and says “You don’t say…” Nakaba shows just how much she’s grown when she decides to spill her own blood to produce additional visions when Lemiria is in danger. By the end of the volume we see Nakaba evolving as she accepts her new power as well as her new country, and Bellinus has turned into a new ally. Slowly there’s a group of people forming around Nakaba that seem to be willing to protect her. This volume definitely seemed like the end of the first story arc in the series, and Toma’s writing and art has gotten more assured with each volume. Dawn of the Arcana is the type of series that rewards the reader the longer you keep reading it.

Review copy provided by the publisher.