Dawn of the Arcana
黎明のアルカナ (Reimei no Arcana)
Shoujo – Adventure, drama, fantasy, romance, tragedy
13 Volumes (complete)
Princess Nakaba of Senan marries Prince Caesar of Belquat. But this isn’t time for a celebration: the two countries are enemies, and Nakaba knows that either land would love to see her killed. With only her half-human, half-beast attendant Loki at her side, how long can Nakaba survive? Perhaps the strange dreams she’s having can help…
Dawn of the Arcana is, essentially, Yona of the Dawn plus Snow White with the Red Hair.
While all three of these series have similar elements (shoujo manga starring red-haired protagonists who are threatened by others), Dawn of the Arcana differs in two major aspects: it’s currently the only one finished, and it never received an anime adaptation.
I can understand why Dawn of the Arcana never made the jump to television. It’s not necessarily because the story is worse than Yona of the Dawn or Snow White with the Red Hair. This manga is much more drama-filled, and there’s not a lot of action or optimism to balance it out. Despite being a princess, Nakaba has essentially spent her life in isolation due to her red hair, and her new husband, Caesar, isn’t too welcoming. Amidst the “joyous” occasion, Nakaba keeps passing out and having strange dreams. Her only attendant is an Ajin, an oppressed race. He makes it plain he’s not thrilled about Nakaba’s marriage, even more so when the married couple quickly grows close.
Despite my description, the drama really isn’t centered around a love triangle. Nakaba loves Loki, but she never really wavers from the fact she is in love with Caesar. Of course, she doesn’t admit this at first, but she never leads Loki on. Nakaba is torn between the two not because she can’t decide whom she loves but because one is the enemy prince and the other has been her only friend, family, and guardian for years. It’s just as angst-filled as many love triangle manga, especially as Nakaba learns more about Loki’s devotion to her. Plus Nakaba has to deal with her unstable power to see the future and the past as the war threatens to flare up again.
Great, now I made this manga sound depressing. Yes, it includes tragic elements, but each chapter isn’t packed solid of tears and whining. A few characters will die, and the survivors tend to lament their powerlessness and their complicated feelings. Dawn of the Arcana is a generally serious story; the humorous scenes (like Caesar trying to pamper Nakaba) are rather short and just not as interesting. If anything, instead of an anime, Dawn of the Arcana could have lead to an otome game. The manga provides plenty of room for “what ifs” in the story. What if Nakaba had kept her heart steeled like Loki wanted? What if Nakaba had spoken more to fellow non-black-haired-royalty Cain, Caesar’s brother? What if Nakaba had leaped immediately at the chance to go to a foreign country? Like many common routes in visual novels, the story provides plenty of “jump-off” points, and the route we follow along with does not lead to happily-ever-afters for everyone. In between, there is plenty of romance fodder and intrigue to explore other routes.
Unfortunately, though, there aren’t any other paths besides the one presented here. And one character desperately needed one: Loki. He is, by far, the most interesting person (well, Ajin since he’s only half-human) in the manga. I could feel Loki’s pain as he witnesses the girl he’s protected for so long slowly pulls away from him as well as his devotion to her. He makes it clear to Nakaba that his fealty is only to her, not Caesar or Belquat. Mysteries surround the so-called loyal dog, and it takes quite a few volumes before the pieces start fitting together. A couple of twists are revealed, and at least one will catch you off-guard. It makes rereading and spotting the little hints so enjoyable. Toma writes she had the ending planned from the beginning, and while there are some parts of the manga that seem glossed over (Nakaba and Caesar’s falling in love, events of the time skip), the overall story is so intriguing that these flaws don’t really stand out as much as they might normally would. Really, though, Loki steals the show here.
Nakaba is a well-rounded character. She starts out seemingly a kick-butt heroine, but she admits she grows weaker. On the other hand, Nakaba appeared strong because she only had a handful of people she cared about. Either way, she kind of waffles between moments of strength and weakness, just like a real person. She has to make some tough decisions, and these do weigh upon her conscience. Caesar, on the other hand, isn’t too cruel to a wife he doesn’t care about when you compare him to some other jerk heroes. Quite frankly, considering Belquat and Senan are at war and he finds himself married to a red-haired princess, I thought he’d be physically abusive and forcefully consummate their marriage. So points for that and points for being devoted to Nakaba, but he really doesn’t have as much of a personality other than being a jealous-prone former playboy who will now do anything for his wife.
Supporting characters tend to appear and disappear. Part of the manga has a group going on a journey, and several times it felt like a few party members just disappeared. One Ajin in particular practically drops out of the story despite some random information showing he’s around and hard at work. We do get to see the antagonists’ motivations thanks to Nakaba’s power, and it is interesting to see how she reacts to the information instead of only readers knowing the reason for the war. Otherwise, though, even if you like Nakaba’s companions, the story doesn’t do much to make them stand out for the long term. It’s a disappointment. Again, a longer series or an otome game would have let them shine for more than a moment.
I really love the art. Dawn of the Arcana‘s characters have a bit of an otome game feel to them, soft and bright-eyed. Caesar and Loki are both handsome men, and the Ajin have different types (and levels) of animal traits. I also like Nakaba’s standard outfit, a nice turquoise two-piece with Middle Eastern influences. It’s a nice contrast with Belquat’s Western style without making the countries’ fashions look completely different. (Belquat and Senan do border each other after all.) The art is crisp and clear, even more so given Toma’s propensity for large images. While many comedic manga tend to avoid shading to make the art bright, Dawn of the Arcana, as a serious story, does the opposite. But the author still Toma also tends to draw rather large panels and include minimal dialogue, so I found myself blazing through each volume of the manga faster than normal. (At least Dawn of the Arcana retails for $9.99, the cheapest price for a volume in English.) I also like the imagery when Nakaba uses the Arcana of Time: the past and the future are presented as a series of doors that she must open. I do wish Dawn of the Arcana had included color inserts. I think these would have really made the series pop off the shelves.
As you would expect, honorifics are not used. The half-human species are still called “Ajin”. The team working on Dawn of the Arcana switches as of the eighth volume, and I did notice a slight shift in the adaptation. The second translation team do a lot more work on Shojo Beat titles, so the second half does seem a little more natural to me because I am more familiar with their work. I’m not saying the first seven volumes are badly adapted or anything; it’s just a different tone.
Shoujo fans will find little reason to dislike Dawn of the Arcana. The story may skip ahead at points, but the fact that the heroine is torn between two guys in a non-romantic way as well as Loki’s characterization make this an enjoyable read. Loki >>>>> everyone else. But if you’re looking for something light, revolutionary, or with a full group of well-rounded characters, then Dawn of the Arcana is not what you’re looking for.
Viz Media will be releasing Toma’s The Water Dragon’s Bride.