First Chapter Reviews: New Fantasy Series in Hana to Yume

Toward the end of last year, Hana to Yume debuted two new fantasy series “Azfareo no Sobayounin” (The Chamberlain of Azfareo) by Shiki Chitose and “Niehime to Kemono no Ou” (The Sacrificial Princess and the King of the Beasts) by Yu Tomofuji. (Yes, I localized the titles. The ones given by the Hana to Yume editors aren’t proper English.) Both of these series started as oneshots and were soon picked up as ongoing series.

Let’s get on to the reviews!

Title: Azfareo no Sobayounin
Mangaka: Shiki Chitose
Audience: Shoujo
Genre: Fantasy
Story Archetype: Beauty and the Beast
Publication: Hana to Yume (2015)

Synopsis: A dragon provides divine protection for the Kingdom of Azfareo, but lately drought and famine have plagued the land. Failed priestess Rukuru is changed with caring for the temperamental Blue Dragon Yulius. As Rukuru gains the dragon’s trust, rain begins to fall on the land. The King, who gained the throne through nefarious means begins to worry that the dragon is gaining strength. It turns out, there is a royal secret! The dragon Yulius is actually the rightful King of Azfareo, and was imprisoned in dragon form by the evil King Gara. Rukuru’s kiss frees Yulius, who takes his place as the rightful king of Azfareo.

Art: The artwork follows the current popular style of loose curvy sketchy lines and wispy fluffy hair. The dragon is dragony. There’s nothing cute or “shoujo” about him, which is nice. The use of screentone is tame and the illustrations aren’t overwhelmed with flashy sound effects. Though the drawing style is simple, the character’s facial expressions are easy to read and there is a lot of nice “motion” during the action scenes. Unfortunately, the mangaka suffers from same-face syndrome. The women in the story have the same face and King Gara and Rukuru’s father have the same face. If I were just flipping through, it would be confusing.

Presentation: The mangaka handwriting is stylized but legible.It’s large enough to be parsed in the magazine form, but  I don’t know if that will be case when the chapters are compiled into much smaller book form.  The paneling is easy to follow and the lettering and sound effects don’t overwhelm the illustrations. I wish the title page of this first chapter was color, but the possibilities can be imagined from the details of the line drawing.

Story: I’m a sucker for anything with dragons in it, so I admit to being biased from the start. Rukuru is an excellent heroine. She continually makes the best of what could be bad situations and had amazing compassion without being a push over. Yulius the dragon is a loveable pain-in-the-ass. I like how the story allows him to be a deadly dragon. The story pacing is smooth and fast paced with a nice barebones flashback to Rukuru’s past. The only problem is the introduction of King Gara. At first I was confused as to who he was because he was so abruptly introduced. Otherwise, the exchanges between Rukuru and Yulius are really sweet and there are plenty of private moments between to the two. I’m definitely curious about how the story expands since it seemed that the first chapter was a fully self-contained story.

Readability — Medium: As with any fantasy story, there are words that are associated with world building. It’s not too bad here, and the world building is limited to a few pages scattered here and there.  For the most part, the vocabulary was standard shoujo once the world introduction concluded. The word density is moderate and I didn’t encounter any “word salad” in this first chapter.

Overall: This is a strong start to a dragon-led fantasy story. I’m eager to see how the story expands. This series will entertain young and older shoujo readers alike.

Title: Niehime to Kemono no Ou
Mangaka: Yu Tomofuji
Audience: Shoujo
Genre: Fantasy
Story Archetype: Beauty and the Beast
Publication: Hana to Yume (2015)

Synopsis: To maintain a ceasefire between the human kingdom and the beast kingdom, the humans send a tribute to be sacrificed to the Beast King. This year’s sacrifice, Seliphy, proves to be braver than all other past sacrifices, so the Beast King keeps her at his side seemingly for his own amusement. On the day of sacrifice, Seliphy learns the Beast King’s secret and the true fate of the previous sacrifices.

Art: As typical of Yu Tomofuji, the human characters and beast creature are drawn cutely. I think this hurt the Beast King, because rather than looking formidable, he just looks like a cuddly dog creature. Also the main villain looks too cute. For the humans, the result is a baby-faced heroine. This is disturbing  because it is unclear whether towards the end of the first chapter, an adult situation happens. I think the general look of the artwork is too cute to match the serious nature of the story.  But I don’t think it can be helped, because this is the mangaka’s drawing style. The backgrounds are either very sparse or filled with crumbled architecture. There isn’t much in between, so the contrast between the pages is noticeable and may take some readers out of the story.

Presentation: The color page is gorgeous and lured me into reading the oneshot that became the series’ first chapter. The paneling is easy to follow and the sound effects aren’t overwhelming.  I have a feeling that many of the blank looking backgrounds will be filled in at that time, therefore I would like to reserve complete judgement until the book compilation comes out. The mangaka’s handwriting is legible and fortunately only used for sound effects.

Story: There is more story here than the artwork would have you believe. Seliphy’s character sucked me in immediately. Her backstory is dark, but what she took from it made her strong and kind. I love this sort of heroine! The Beast King is one of those characters who must act strong and vicious in order to hide his secret. This makes for some nice quiet moment between he and Seliphy as they reveal more about themselves to one another during private moments. The first chapter is an excellent setup for the rest of the series, which looks like it will be a royal court intrigue series set within the beast kingdom.

Readability — Medium: There is a lot of text, but there are furigana and the grammar isn’t too daunting, so intermediate readers should get the gist of the story.

Overall: Quite honestly, this is one of the best shoujo fantasy oneshots I’ve read in about a year. As a first chapter, I think it’s an excellent start to a potentially wonderful series. Like the other new fantasy series running in Hana to Yume, this series can also appeal to young and experienced shoujo reader alike. I look forward to reading the expanded series.

Another note: Yu Tomofuji specializes in one and two-volume shoujo fantasy series. In my opinion, all of her past series would be safe licensing bets.


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