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Alethea & Athena
The Prince in His Dark Days volume 1 
10th-Nov-2016 05:13 pm
I was thinking about writing something before getting right to the review, but I don't really have anything new to say. Apparently there have been some extreme reactions to the election on both sides, and it just...well it makes me want to say what I said yesterday. Let's be nice to each other!

Now, on to the review! As promised, today we have The Prince in His Dark Days volume one. Spoiler level: moderate.

This is the series that...okay, for those of you who don't know the story, one day, one of our editors from Kodansha came along and said, "I've been meaning to talk to you about new assignments. Is there anything in our new licenses that interests you?" And we were like, "Only about everything!" So we did a little more research on all of the new title announcements and managed to narrow it down to one that we really wanted, because we didn't realize that our editor meant we could have as many as we thought we could handle. Once this was cleared up, we did some math based on our current schedule and not wanting our future schedule to resemble the schedule of our then-recent past (which had been crushing us), we asked for two more titles...neither of which was this one.

Now, when we first chose the one title, we did also list a bunch that seemed interesting, and this series was included in that list, because the premise was interesting (even if not entirely new) and it's a shojo manga and we keep forgetting how much we like shojo manga but we do always remember that we like it. But we did a little more research and we came across the Japanese Amazon reviews for this series, in which one of the reviewers said she bought it because it was by a BL author that she really liked, but she was really disappointed because it had a girl in it. This really wouldn't have affected our opinion much on its own, but we translate another shojo series that's written by someone who usually does BL manga, and that one offends our sensibilities as manga translators and readers (not because of any BL undertones (which do exist), but because of the blatant disrespect for decent storytelling; for more details, see our "First Love Monster" reviews). It doesn't help that the artist (of the other series) admits to hating romance, but more than anything we just hate that other series. Of course that doesn't mean that this series would have the same problem, but we didn't want to risk finding out the hard way, so we left it off the list.

But then the editor on the series emailed us specifically and said she thought we would be a really good fit for it, and we were so touched that of course we had to accept the job offer. It certainly didn't hurt that she said it was light on text. I'm starting to think that lack of text density is one of my very favorite elements of storytelling. On the other hand, I hate movies with stunning visuals, so...I don't know.

Anyway, we started translating it and were rather annoyed to discover that it wasn't as light on text as we had been led to believe. The first chapter (out of four) gave us an eleven-page script, a script of forty pages is not only average, it's on the slightly long side. ...Or we like to think it is, anyway. We actually tend to get 45-page scripts these days, sigh. But from titles that are decidedly NOT light on text!

But then we translated the rest of the book, and later chapters turned out to be a lot less dense in the text department. What a relief. Not only that, but there aren't a lot of culture references to look up, which helps a lot in the editing process. We're kind of dreading doing the edits for two of the titles that we did deliberately choose ourselves. What were we thinking! I guess we just tend to like things that are deeply embedded in Japanese culture, which I think means we're doing something racist, but I couldn't say for sure.

As for how we like the series...we love it! It's really good! It seems to be exploring people's feelings and motivations and stuff, and we like that kind of thing. It's about a girl named Atsuko who grew up with her father in relatively extreme poverty, and just when things get so desperate that her father is about to sell her off to his yakuza buddy's "establishment" to pay off some debt, a rich guy shows up and says, "You look exactly like this guy who ran away. I want you to pretend to be him." And she agrees because she's in love with the guy whose life might be ruined if the disappearance is discovered by the public.

That was just the first chapter, and I was afraid the second chapter was going to be a boring montage of her getting used to life as the spoiled rich boy, but it's presented in an interesting way so it's not nearly as tedious as I'd feared. As the story goes on, people keep asking each other why they go to such extremes to accomplish their goals, and so everybody becomes relatable as we learn about their motives.

I think one of the main themes is that even rich people have their problems, which might be seen as a rich person persecution complex sort of thing in the current day and age, but I think the real reason stories point that out is to remind us all that money really does not buy happiness. What people really need (and that's what the story goes into) is someone who actually cares about them. Or at least, that's what we think the point is going to be, based on how everything is going.

I'm pretty much on Atsuko's side for everything (in a Shibusawa sort of way, like, you don't have to take up smoking, girl, come on), so after the first chapter, I was really interested in seeing how things went with Nobunari. But it's not long before you learn that...they're not going anywhere. But that's okay, because even though Ryo is a jerk, he's not really abusive, and I think they could be a cute couple, too. Of course I'm also hoping that Ryo learns to not be a jerk so much.

And this is where it's going to get even more spoilery, so if you haven't read the book yet, you might want to save this paragraph for later. Our theory is that Ryo and Itaru staged the whole disappearance, so that Itaru could have his freedom and Ryo could take over the inheritance. Clue number one: the only person who really noticed that Atsuko looks like Itaru was Itaru. Ryo talks as if somebody told him, and that someone would have to have been Itaru. Of course, it's possible that Itaru told him in an unrelated context, but the fact that Nobunari didn't know who she was when he discovered the truth indicates that it at least happened at some time when Nobunari wasn't around...maybe when Itaru and Ryo were plotting his disappearance? We also know that Ryo planned something--he said everything was going according to plan. Maybe he just meant that the plans for Itaru's coming of age ceremony haven't been completely derailed yet, but he just seems so suspicious. Or maybe we just want to read too much into everything. Still, it just makes sense for Itaru to be hanging out at one of the family villas, dressed as a woman as a welcome disguise.

I think that about covers it. Overall, I'd say it's a fun read with interesting characters and interesting themes. In the afterword, Yamanaka-sensei asks if the series is shojo enough for everyone, and we were like, "Are you kidding? It's like the epitome of shojo manga." So if you like shojo manga, you'll probably like this! And we liked it, too! I'm really glad our editor asked us to translate it.

Today I'm thankful for finishing our Nekogahara edit, finally managing to herd all the extra cats outside, having a Yume Twins box to open very soon, getting offered The Prince in His Dark Days to work on, and Nekogahara being a good excuse to listen to our Wagakki Disney CD.
11th-Nov-2016 12:02 am (UTC)
Yay :) I liked the first volume, but I think reading this has made my (already somewhat foggy) memories even more favourable. The point about people coming to relate to and understand each other (and the readers to the characters) is a good one. (and relevant...)
11th-Nov-2016 02:41 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's nice. We read a review where the reviewer just couldn't enjoy it because of how bleak Atsuko's life was, and we were like, "It wasn't that bleak...was it?" I mean, it was pretty bad when you think about it, but the whole point of these things is to see them overcome the challenges and find happiness. (It also seemed like every reviewer (out of two, I think?) missed the point about where she agreed to do it because she was in love with Nobunari. Did we somehow not get that across in the translation?)

And yes, trying to understand each other is definitely a lesson people can learn these days.
11th-Nov-2016 11:07 am (UTC)
(no, I remember being able to tell she was in love with Nobunari pretty quickly so I think you did fine.)
11th-Nov-2016 02:13 pm (UTC)
(Oh, good. Thanks for letting us know!)
24th-Nov-2016 02:01 am (UTC)
Ryo actually commented that Atsuko had a thing for Nobunari more than once (in case the fact that Atsuko practically broke down in tears thinking "Why is falling in love...why is it so...?" after a pivotal discussion with Nobunari toward the end of the volume was too subtle). So possibly the critics in question read the book too hastily or inattentively to pick up on the other evidence and dismissed Ryo's comments as inaccurately reductive snark analogous to his accusation that Atsuko got red in the face over being grabbed by the butler because "any guy does it for you."

Your theory that Ryo and Itaru planned Itaru's disappearance seems pretty plausible in the light of the fact that Ryo doesn't appear to be particularly worried that the missing Itaru might be lying dead in a ditch somewhere--even though Ryo somewhat unexpectedly seems to genuinely care about Itaru enough to want to protect him (if only to preserve his own illusion that his father actually cared about him, even though the father didn't mention him in his will and apparently never bothered to do anything more for him than foist him off on his branch family foster parents). Or possibly Itaru just took off after leaving Ryo a note indicating that he had some sort of non-life-threatening plan of escape in mind. Maybe Itaru even promised, or at least half-promised, to return in time for the coming of age ceremony so he could get access to his fortune without having to spend another tedious six months under the family's thumb trying not to get in any trouble bad enough to blow his chances of a successful succession.

Of course, if either variation of this scenario is true, Itaru is probably still a lot less safe wherever he is than Ryo may be assuming. Even if Itaru is merely hanging out at one of the family's more obscure villas indulging his passion for crossdressing, given his natural penchant for causing trouble, even if wearing dresses/living as a woman calms him down enough that he stops actively getting in everyone else's face, he'll probably blow it by counterproductively drawing attention to himself some other way.
24th-Nov-2016 05:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought they stated explicitly that Atsuko liked Nobunari. I'm glad to know we weren't imagining it. I guess it just goes to show the dangers of speed reading.

That's a good point about Ryo not being worried about Itaru's safety. I didn't notice that.

Only the rest of the series will tell if spoiled rich kid Itaru has the wherewithal to stay undercover...
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