by Natsuna Kawase; adapted by Sheldon Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
A Tale of an Unknown Country is an earlier work by Natsuna Kawase, author of The Lapis Lazuli Crown, also released in the US by CMX.
Like that series, this is a romantic fantasy, although without the magical elements. Princess Rosemarie goes undercover as a maid in the castle of Reynol, prince of a neighboring country. Rosemarie’s brother has arranged their marriage, but she wants a sneak peek at the man she’s going to be paired with. If she marries the richer prince, their country will be better off and she can stop working for their tourist industries.
The prince gives Rosemarie plenty of menial tasks, and she winds up taking care of him, since he doesn’t eat right or get enough sleep. There’s also a rather obvious contrast between Rosemarie’s country’s emphasis on nature and the scientific, automated bent of the other country (although there’s somehow still a need for human maids, a contradiction acknowledged in the story).
The art style reminds me of a simpler, easier-to-read Arina Tanemura (Time Stranger Kyoko, The Gentlemen’s Alliance +). The heroine is large-eyed and happy. She’s got the typical shojo approach to life — once thrown into a situation where she’s supposed to fall in love, she lets that control her life. It’s all very traditional, with her skills being caring for others and plants while the guys make decisions around her. That the prince turns out to be a nice guy is the happy ending — her taking more of a leadership role or refusing to be used as a bargaining chip for her country isn’t ever considered. She excels at traditional feminine tasks, emphasized by her being a good maid, and she isn’t afraid of hard work.
In the second chapter, the prince visits her kingdom, and she’s suddenly become shy and blushing. What happened to the girl who worked hard in someone else’s castle and spoke up to help the prince? I know she’s new to love, but that seems to go a bit far. There’s also a new rival, an upscale princess from yet another country who finds Rosemarie’s ways quaint and rough. The author keeps trying to go back to the “maid masquerade” idea, and the use becomes increasingly labored. Another prince comes from a kingdom dedicated to the fine arts. It’s nations as school subjects!
Once past the stand-alone story of the first chapter, the author doesn’t seem to know exactly where she wants to go, since the point of the concept hook is gone. So she keeps throwing in underdeveloped characters to serve as random obstacles. Oddly, instead of the two lovers working to overcome the various rivals, most of them just give up after seeing how the two belong together. The outsiders are often more sure of their relationship than the two participants are. I also sometimes found it hard to keep up with who was speaking, since the voices weren’t particularly distinctive, so if I lost track of a speaker, figuring it out again required backtracking.
On the other hand, it’s nice to have a cute, light girls’ romance manga rated for all ages. Exploring the stirrings of first love is a topic many will enjoy reading. If the only thing objectionable in here is that the gender roles are traditional, well, there’s nothing unusual about that. Younger readers are unlikely to pick up on the lack of focus, finding the sprawling nature of the tale a plus instead of a flaw.
There’s also a short bonus story, “Voice Magic”, about a boy who falls in love with a girl after hearing her read school announcements on the radio. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)