Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Manga Review: Paros no Ken volume 2

Couldn't find a picture of this volume's cover online and my scanner's being funky, so I'm just posting a photo of my copy of it.

Volume 1 left us with a masked Yurias breaking into Erminia's room and covering her mouth before she could scream. He only snuck in because he wants to play fairy godmother and give Erminia the chance to go to Paros's capital city Paro's annual carnival with Fiona. Yurias made sure Fiona had the night off so she could go. Erminia gives Fiona a beautiful gown, dons a dapper outfit herself, and promises Yurias that she will return before midnight. If she doesn't fulfill her promise, Yurias will be found out and executed for helping her leave.

This series' artwork is always lush, but the carnival pages are especially vibrant and eye-popping.

The revelers admire how good Fiona and Erminia look together. (Granted, because Erminia is wearing a mask, they don't recognize her as their princess. They think she's some random guy.)

When Fiona and Erminia step away from the crowd, Fiona shares her fear that that night will be as good as it gets for them and she'll never see Erminia again. Not knowing how little Fiona has to look forward to in her day-to-day life (or how little hope Fiona had of seeing Erminia again after being demoted to an even more menial position than laundry maid because her co-workers are all assholes), Erminia has a more optimistic view of things. Erminia asks Fiona if there aren't any dreams she wants to fulfill, and shares her dream of traveling the world. Erminia is thrilled Fiona takes her dream seriously, because the only other person who has is Yurias. She is surprised when Fiona tells her that her only dream has been to meet the prince from her childhood, and that prince is her.

They kiss, but their moment is cut short when a tipsy masked man with a villain smirk shows up and hits on Fiona. He persists, so Erminia challenges him to a sword duel and kicks his ass. His reaction to losing makes Erminia think he might not be so bad after all. He reveals that he has been living the dream, traveling the world as a sailor. Erminia tells him that Fiona is an aristocrat who has seven days to choose a groom to marry, and Erminia cannot marry her because her status is too low. The stranger proposes a solution, which Erminia puts into effect when her time to choose a groom is up.

Erminia's suitors must compete in a sword-fighting tournament, and the last man standing must win a sword fight against her before he can marry her. Erminia, of course, expects to win- and then (although she doesn't mention it as a condition to her father), expects to be free to publicly make Fiona her bride as a result. Awww/nothing can possibly go wrong, right? ^^;

The part in which we see people in the various classes of Paros preparing for the tournament is cute- especially the cameo by Candy Candy's leads.

Erminia's uncle Alphonse, whose interests would be served by Paros being absorbed by Kauros, reminds Erminia of the very real possibility that she will lose and gives her a way to cheat. Erminia dismisses him, but can't bring herself to dismiss his plan completely. When she thinks that she would be willing to dirty her hands for Fiona's sake, you know the story isn't going to let that go.

Additionally, Erminia worries about an old legend saying that Paros will have its glory restored if it is ruled by one who is both a man and a woman, and will be destroyed if ruled by one who is neither a man nor a woman. The people of Paros are anxious to see if Erminia will turn out to be the former or the latter. Yurias freaks out about the legend after Erminia rejects him. You're more of an ally than an ass, Yurias, but please stfu about how if Erminia could just "regain a woman's heart" and like guys/you, you would be happy.

Btw, despite the context for this series, the effect I know its setting would have on how its characters conceptualize and discuss sexual orientation and gender (i.e. not how we do) and its awesome progressiveness and skewering of sexist and heterosexist social conventions, I'm annoyed by the weirdly conservative correlation drawn at points by the story between Erminia's lack of interest in men and her gender being possibly male/not-female. Claudine...!, which I compared to this series in my review of Paros no Ken volume 1 for having a protagonist who could be read as a butchy cis lesbian or a straight trans man, actually succeeded at pulling off that ambiguity without drawing that correlation. I remember a similar correlation coming up briefly at one point in Rose of Versailles also, and it annoyed me there, as much as I love RoV. (Like, to the point of having a PVC figurine of Oscar in uniform, brandishing her sword.) Ribon no Kishi plays with a similar idea (its protagonist Sapphire being cool and competent and actiony when she has her boy heart, but weak and damsel-in-distressy when she only has her girl heart), but takes it to the point that I dislike Ribon no Kishi.

Erminia cannot see Fiona until after the tournament. Unbeknownst to her, something horrible happens. Some knights from Kauros find Fiona and rape her, thinking she will be ashamed enough of it to never approach Erminia again.

On the last day of the tournament, Kauros's army crosses the border into Paros.

While volume 1 focused on setting up character relationships, this volume sets up the plot denouement that will take place in volume 3. What will become of Erminia and Fiona!? Tune in next time and see.

Story: B+
Art: A
Overall: B+

Speaking of portrayals of lgbtq folks in Medieval Europe-inspired fantasy stories, this two part blog post series, "Heteronormativity, fantasy, and Bitterblue", is really worth reading for its discussion of writing sexual minority characters in such settings.

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