The Young Countess
HOSOKAWA Chieko, Fu-min
Shoujo – Drama, historical, romance
12 Volumes (complete)
Akita Shoten (Hitomi)
France, late 19th century. Orphan Corinne falls in love with Richard, a blind boy from a wealthy family. But Richard’s friend Alain is smitten with Corinne, and he tries to blackmail her into marrying him. After Corinne learns she is the granddaughter of a count, tragedies, lies, coincidences, and schemes all separate Corrine from her beloved Richard.
Hakushaku Reijou is a soap opera, only better.
Hakushaku Reijou is a familiar story centered around a love triangle. You know the routine:
- Girl falls in love with boy.
- Another boy loves girl.
- Girl goes off to meet her newfound family but her ship sinks causing her to lose her memory so other boy claims she’s his fiancee while the orphan she saved goes around claiming she’s the newfound heiress as first boy tries to track down his beloved.
Yep, Corinne gets to be happy for a shockingly short amounts of time. She starts out living happily at the orphanage and helping out the younger children. But now her home is about to be bulldozed. Don’t worry, she’s fallen in love with the seemingly cruel (but is actually lonely) blind boy. Except his best friend believes it’s sympathy and tries to pressure Corinne into being his wife. Good news, Corinne’s a count’s granddaughter! Eeeks, her ship is sinking, and she is pushed back into the water by a stowaway. Yay, she survives! Only to lose all her memories and, unknowingly, her newly-discovered family. Plus she’s found… by a man who lies and says she’s his fiancee.
And that’s only the first volume.
So the series drops bombshell after twist after surprise. Once the foundation is laid, readers spend the rest of the series wondering if Corinne will ever get a happily ever after. Corinne essentially holds everyone’s fates in her hands, including her own. Corinne struggles between being the outgoing free spirit that’s inside of her and the horrid realization that her entire identity is being kept secret by the man who loves her. But as Corinne grows to escape the darkness of despair, the other three main characters all fall further into it. Richard believes he’ll never be able to find his Corinne. Alain begins to regret his underhanded methods of obtaining Corinne. Anna, the orphan Corinne helped who steals her identity, still envies the one thing Corinne has: Alain’s love. As they all learn, finding something you want is easy; keeping it once you have it is much harder.
While Corinne is in the dark about everything, fate just continues to toy with her. Several times if “just this had happened” or if so-and-so had “just said this”, Corinne likely wouldn’t have had to suffer so. She really has awful luck and some terrible people around her. But while I may be describing Hakushaku Reijou as a tale of a young lady who is dealt horrible hand after horrible hand, the manga isn’t all about torturing the protagonist. Yes, to not know yourself must be a frightening experience, and Alain (obviously) reveals as little as possible. Plus those around them hardly approve of an unknown lady with no background to marry a noble like Alain. But Corinne retains her caring, often mischievous behavior even without her memories. She doesn’t prefer to just sit around and be a lady of leisure, much to Alain’s chagrin. She discovers something she really wants to do, and she learns to enjoy her blessings despite her amnesia. There’s even some light comedy as she faces off against Alain’s butler. These less dramatic parts are just as engaging since you know everything is all going to fall down like a house of cards someday.
Love triangles also tend to make readers hate the protagonist, even moreso for female leads. “Why can’t she chose xxx?!” “Why doesn’t she move on?!” “Why does she sway between them so much?!” Well, in this case, Corinne really doesn’t want to be in the middle of a love triangle at all. She wanted to be with Richard, but she was manipulated by Alain. Not her fault. But as often the case in such stories, Hakushaku Reijou will likely have both Corinne x Richard fans as well as Corinne x Alain supporters. However, unlike in most shoujo romances, the one Corinne ends up with isn’t obvious. Either outcome wouldn’t have been surprising. Both men change because of Corinne, and really they both needed to. Richard lashed out at commoners to hide his own unhappy upbringing. Alain schemed to get the girl. Not exactly the “normal” choices of either nice guy or a jerk who is secretly kinder than he first appears. Alain in particular has to be redeemed throughout the manga or practically no one would have supported him as a love interest. (Since, obviously, he’s a scoundrel who tries to hold orphan children’s home hostage to get his best friend’s girl to marry him.) There’s no doubt he treats Corinne well, but he is still a liar. Especially since series antagonist Anna falls in love with him at first sight (just as he did with Corinne), readers can’t help but wonder if he’s heading for a happy end with Corinne or his just desserts with Anna. Especially since Richard longs to be reunited with Corinne and she can’t help but have a nagging feeling something is off about her engagement to Alain.
But also Alain’s crimes still don’t compare to murder. Yes, no matter if you prefer Alain or Richard, everyone will be a part of the “I hate Anna” club. Anna steals from Corinne, but Corinne feels empathy toward the orphan thief. Corinne would have used her new position as a count’s granddaughter to help give Anna a better life, but after the ship explodes, her jealousy causes Anna to push Corinne into the water. Then, like Alain, she keeps lying to protect her current situation. Of course, it’s inevitable for two nobles (or nobles’ fiancées) to meet…
So that’s the story in a (long) nutshell. I won’t spend nearly as long on the art simply because there’s not much to say. This is no doubt a work from the 70s and 80s, a manga written and drawn by a woman who debuted in the late 50s. (And one of her series is still being serialized today?! Holy cow!) Note that while two names are listed as authors, Fu-min is Hosokawa’s younger sister, and she her name was not on the original printing. So Hosokawa is the primary mangaka, and Fu-min is essentially a former family assistant who has been promoted to secondary creator in a number of Hosokawa’s manga. (Most? All? Not quite sure.) The art can quite simply be described as stingly similar to The Rose of Versailles. It’s not too surprising since they both are set in France, although about 100 years apart. Corinne shares Marie Antoinette’s bright blonde curls and sparkly eyes, and poofy dresses are quite common. You will see a number of classic shoujo staples like the dead-eyed shock expression and abundance of sparkles. If you’ve never read an older manga before, you might be taken aback by the fast pace. The story tends to charge straight ahead, and the images aren’t always given a lot of time to shine. Fortunately, since there isn’t a lot of action, if you haven’t read much classic manga, this one is pretty easy to follow along with.
Chance of License:
It’s old, so that’s a huge strike against Hakushaku Reijou. It’s not too long, which is good. Twelve volumes may be a bit risky, but four or six omnibuses could cover the entire series. What also helps is the fact that the original publisher is Akita Shoten. Their manga has been licensed by several major U.S. publishers including Viz Media, Seven Seas, and Yen Press. So it’s not like Hakushaku Reijou would have to be picked up by a particular publisher. However, most Princess manga were released by now-defunct publishers like Go! Comi, Tokyopop, and CMX. So, yeah. Not holding my breath.
You spend volumes wondering if Corinne will get her memory back, but then you start to realize that that will hardly instantly fix everything. Even if Corinne shows up at the Ronsand’s front door, how can she prove she’s the real Corinne? Will Anna resort to attempted murder again? Will Alain find a conscience? How will Richard react when he learns his beloved has been living as another man’s — his almost-brother’s — fiancée? It’s this curiosity that gets readers hooked on Hakushaku Reijou.
Hakushaku Reijou inspired a Chinese drama. It’s known as Qian Jin Nu Zei or Lady and Liar. The famous Takarazuka trouple also did a play based on the manga.
Note that while the manga’s title is often translated as The Count’s Daughter, it’s Corinne’s grandfather who holds the position of a count. “Hakushaku” does mean “count” (or “earl”), and “reijou” is “daughter” or “young woman”. “Countess” by itself has a couple of different kanji combinations. Hence, The Young Countess.