Friday, September 4, 2009

A Tale of an Unknown Country, vol. 1

The story: Rosemarie is a rather independent princess from a working-class royal family in the imaginary country of Ardela. Thanks to her brother, Mache, she's being forced into a marriage with the prince of the adjacent kingdom in order to bring prosperity to her country, which relies heavily on the tourism industry. Unfortunately, Yurinela's Prince Reynol is a cold, selfish weirdo who never goes outside -- or so Rosemarie thinks. To learn more about Reynol, Rosemarie goes undercover as a maid in his palace. While there, she serves his every whim and gets to know him better. So, is this a fairy tale recipe for disaster or true love?

Reaction: This is a sweet story and once I finished the volume, I wondered just what there could be left. Sure, Princess Rosemarie and Prince Reynol will certainly experience difficulties in getting others to recognize their feelings for one another, but there isn't much to their eventual success as a couple. On the other hand, much of what they experienced was a chaste and innocent interest in one another, which I certainly found endearing in its own way. Of course, I appreciated that Rosemarie is also the opposite of a typical princess—she works regularly and, early on, is pegged as peculiar, if not particularly thoughtful.

Deep thoughts: I thought the contrast between the kindgoms of Ardela and Yurinela was particularly culturally relevant to Japan—Yurinela is a sterile, technologically advanced country, while Ardela is a mostly idyllic, rural country popular with vacationers. While Japan is undoubtedly a leader in technology development (have you seen their cellphones?), they also revere nature in a way that reflects their Shinto roots. Curiously, Natsuna Kawase makes it seem like Ardela is superior to Yurinela because, while Yurinela can have calm machine-produced weather, Ardela has rainbows and other fabulous "spontaneously occurring natural phenomena."

Artwork: Honestly, I found the art to be almost too simple and, at times, awkward. Kawase draws faces awkwardly at certain angles, with thin lips that dip too low towards their pointy chins. Otherwise, the art is particularly unremarkable with sparse backgrounds, even for a shojo manga. And I can't say much about character design, either, as there are few distinguishing characteristics outside of hairstyle. However, Kawase does a great job illustrating Rosemarie's emotions, whether it's a carefree smile or a look of frustration. In contrast to other shojo manga, she doesn't abuse the tools of the trade, either. The artwork may be sparse, but it's certainly not annoyingly busy, either.

The verdict: Meh/Highly recommended. This wasn't a bad title, but it wasn't particularly entertaining to me, either. However, it's important to note that I'm not the target demographic. This is too tame a love story for me, but I could see it's entertainment value for younger girls, particularly those taken with princesses. For that audience, this book would be highly recommended; it's a well-balanced, well-told romance featuring likeable characters. A Tale of an Unknown Country is available in the U.S. from CMX.

Review copy provided by CMX.

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