Dawn of the Arcana Volume 3

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 3 by Rei Toma

I feel like with the third volume things really started to come together nicely in this manga series. The first two volumes were promising, but the third one really has a nice mix of romance, politics, magic, and danger. Nakaba and Caesar start to warm up to each other, but things are even more strained between the red-headed princess and her faithful servant Loki. Things get even worse when Nakaba is instructed to dye her hair before some visiting dignitaries arrive. She chops off her hair instead in a gesture of defiance and Ceasar promptly does the same. The newlyweds now have identical ragamuffin hairstyles. Nakaba is ordered to be confined to her quarters, but she runs into the vising Prince Akhil, the fifth prince of Lithuanel. Akhil recognizes that Nakaba has the power of Arcana and drops some hints about the long-lost tribe that may feature in her origins. He wants her to come back to his country, but Caesar steps in to prevent it. Unfortunately when Caesar steps away later on he’s not able to prevent Nakaba and Loki from being locked up in a dungeon. Nakaba flashes back to Loki’s feelings and experiences when he was all alone trying to protect her when she was an infant and she realizes the depth of his lover for her.

One of the things that intrigued me the most about Dawn of the Arcana when I first picked it up was the situation of a reluctant princess facing down a hostile court. Nakaba had plenty of run-ins in this volume, and the secret passage leading out of her dungeon leads her to discover that her new country has weaponry that will upset the balance of power between nations. Loki immediately sees the weapons as a source of danger for his people, because when humans have better arms and armor, they will no longer need to rely on the strength of the Ajin. Nakaba and Caesar realize that their marriage was a ploy to ensure plenty of time for weapons construction, and Nakaba is determined to do what she can to save the Ajin like Loki. Her power doesn’t seem suited to such a task though, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Nakaba continues to be an engaging heroine, and seeing glimpses of her past with Loki helps the reader understand the deep connection between the two. From being a jerk, Caesar has grown to be a credible match for Nakaba. Part of what makes him more endearing than jerk-like after three volumes is that he doesn’t have the cunning to hide his character flaws. He’s impatient and possessive, but he lights up whenever Nakaba shows him a tiny amount of affection. Even though he isn’t the most well-mannered prince around, it is clear that he actually cares for the bride that he’s so eager to please. The displays of cruelty by the other nobles and the dangerous situations Nakaba finds herself in whenever she leaves her room continue to deliver plenty of dramatic tension. This series keeps getting better.

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 2 by Rei Toma

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 2 by Rei Toma

I enjoyed the first volume of Dawn of the Arcana, so I was happy to see that the second volume continues to be an entertaining fantasy story with the added bonus of the development of a tortured love triangle that was hinted at in the earlier volume. Caesar and Nakaba continue to have a rough time as newlyweds in a political marriage. Toma is pretty good at portraying Caesar as a poor little rich boy who is deserving of sympathy. He makes some clumsy attempts to give Nakaba expensive presents, when really all she cares about is being able to rescue an injured bird. While Caesar is quick to get angry when he sees Nakaba rejecting his advances, the puppy dog look on his face when he accidentally does something to cause Nakaba to be happy is pretty endearing.

Nakaba finds herself falling for her enemy prince husband despite her best intentions, and as I was expecting her servant Loki isn’t all that happy to see Nakaba and her new husband getting along. Nakaba also gets a welcome dose of levity when a little boy from her home named Rito shows up to be another one of her attendants. Rito is an Ajin like Loki, but he exhibits tiny ram horns in contrast to Loki’s canine characteristics. But things aren’t going to go smoothly for Nakaba, as a series of poisonous attacks on Caesar results in her being placed under suspicion by the court. Loki explains the source of Nakaba’s visions and says that her power may be growing. Loki’s quiet patience finally wears out and he confesses his feelings to Nakaba. She’s left feeling torn between her loyalty to Loki and the guilt that she feels when she enjoys spending time with Caesar.

One of my quibbles with this volume is that Nakaba didn’t have any clear ass-kicking moments that were so nicely exhibited in the first volume. While being caught in the throes of young love may throw her for a loop momentarily, I’m hoping that she has a few more take charge moments in later volumes. As she begins to be more comfortable with her visions, it will be interesting to see if she’s able to untangle the complicated web of plots that surround her in a new and unfamiliar kingdom. While the plot elements in Dawn of the Arcana still aren’t all that original, I’m very interested to see what happens next with Nakaba, Loki, and Caesar. I just hope Nakaba has a chance to punch someone in the next volume.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dawn of the Arcana Volume 1

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.