The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth
千年迷宮の七王子 (Sennen Meikyuu no Nana Ouji)
ATORI Haruno (story); AIKAWA Yu (art)
Josei – Historical, mystery
4 Volumes (complete)
Country boy Ewan suddenly finds himself in an ancient, collapsing castle with several famous and talented individuals. They then realize one of them must be selected to serve as the emperor and the others as his advisors. But when one of the eight is found murdered, will any of them even survive to become emperor? And why was Ewan selected anyway?
Some titles are about as useful and descriptive as naming a book “My Book”. Others seem to be as nonsensical as using a random word generator. And other times, we get something like The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth which, as you can assume, are about seven royal male heirs in a maze that has been around for a century at least. They aren’t technically princes though, so HA! The title wasn’t so straightforward after all! Gotcha! But they are handsome, talented young men, so… they’re princely?
First, it’s kind of sad to have seven titular characters, put one prince on the front cover of each volume, and still come up three short. It’s just something that upon first glance, you’d expect to have at least seven or eight volumes of.
Basically, a bunch of famous strangers and one seemingly random guy have to play an escape game. Well, in the spirit of such titles as 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, one of the contestants is killed right away, and the building is sinking fast. The Thousand-Years Labyrinth is filled with ancient writings and traps, but the candidates start to wonder if it’s just the castle they have to be wary of or if someone — perhaps one of them — wants them dead.
In many ways, The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth is a harem series, just with an all-male cast. Ewan is kind, charming, and optimistic, and the first man he meets, fighting expert Laurence, quickly swears his allegiance to him. In true harem fashion, everyone else gets a key moment with him, and it’s very obvious that he is viewed as the best choice to rule. The manga also has some boys’ love undertones: Laurence’s dedication to Ewan is almost like a marriage proposal, and thief Titus crushes on Katherine, who is really a boy named August and is close friend of Laurence’s. Blind singer Zan also has a feminine appearance and is often seen talking with public speaker Gideon. There is even a yandere-like relationship revealed later in the story. This is the kind of fodder doujin artists and fanfic writers often grasp on to. Even though Ewan-Laurence connection is the strongest, you could ostensibly pair up just about anyone with Ewan — and make up some other pairings as well. The thief and the detective who sent him to jail perhaps?
As I mentioned, four volumes is pretty short, especially for a mystery. Because it’s short, readers don’t get a puzzle-like experience. The escape room aspect starts off with the group trying to figure out some tricks, but the characters never have to ponder for very long. Later, moving on is more about pressing stones looking for hidden switches than anything else.
That brings us to the other mystery: the castle and the murder of one of the candidates. The Thousand-Year Labyrinth is all that remains of a previous era, where the king and his lords all died. This is the more engaging issue, but because of the series’ setup, you won’t be hanging on the edge of your seat every chapter or volume. If you don’t like things being dragged out, then The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth will definitely please. But the 400-year history of an entire kingdom just can’t be covered in 4 volumes.
By the end, the group has formed a strong bond, and you can feel that the kingdom will be in good hands. Unfortunately, the manga also ends with an information dump and a rushed new crisis. One of the characters reveals the villain’s plot, but no reader could ever figure it out because we never even had a full list of suspects or a grasp on possible motives. Plus, they never even really answered what they are going to do considering there are supposed to be seven lords and one of them is dead…
Instead, the manga is very character-driven. As they were selected by the current emperor, it’s not like anyone volunteered for this moment. Thanks to Ewan’s belief in people and the fact everyone else has at least heard of the others, this isn’t quite the “ragtag group of strangers come together to triumph”-type tale. Plus they know that even if they lose the selection, they’ll still end up as lords, a proposition that unnerves Ewan. But he was selected for a reason, and even those who are reluctant end up seeing why the kingdom needs him. I said before that the story feels like a harem, and he’s definitely one of those sweet, charming types in the vein of Tenchi (Tenchi Muyo!) or Haruka (Uta no Prince-sama).
My favorite character, though, was the thief Titus, a rogue that reminded me of Tatsuki from Fushigi Yugi crossed with Ryuusei from Sweet Fuse: At Your Side. He was just sent to jail by Detective Messiah, so of course they have a cat-and-dog relationship. Not too many main characters in manga tend to have a disability, so Zan I’m sure will have a lot of fans. But with seven main heroes, fans will have their choice of favorite. There are some twists, but the story isn’t full of backstabbing and betrayal.
Visually, the manga is a joy to look at. All the candidates are handsome young men, and they tend to have fluffy hair instead of short, straight styles. The architecture of the castle is beautiful, and it couldn’t have been easy to come up with all the icons and script. The characters all have their own fashion style, and they don’t all fit the normal bishounen style. Zan’s appearance could be mistaken for a female at first glance, and Messiah has prominent eyelashes. I didn’t come up with any other work done by the artist, so I don’t know if they have only worked on the The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth series or if they draw under a different pseudonym (BL manga perhaps?). There is some violence in the story, so do expect some blood and dead bodies.
Oddly enough, while each volume comes with a color insert. In the original Japanese version, the table of contents is on the color insert, surrounded by chibi versions of the characters and a fancy border. The border changes in each volume along with the pose of one character. Like this:No volume in the English version has a table of contents in fact. Only the second volume has the chibi characters. The others replace the chibi images with a duplicate of the cover. It’s a rather bizarre change considering all they’d really have to do is replace the Japanese text with “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, etc.
No honorifics are used. This isn’t a surprise since Latin appears to be their official language. Two first two characters we meet are introduced as “Ewan Juno” and “Laurence Ackroyd”. In the third volume, their names are written in cursive as thus:
Everyone writes differently, but looking at the other names, I’m leaning toward it’s “Lawrence” instead of “Laurence”. Most of the main parts of the letters are written in thick, bold script while the serif parts are lighter, and the third letter looks all dark to me. What do you all think?
Otherwise, the rest of the manga appears to be fine, if somewhat wordy.
The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth is a bit too short and drenched in its own history to be a great mystery, but it’s refreshing to see a nice guy main lead and without a lot of backstabbing. At the same time, it has a harem atmosphere about it, so it’s a solid option for those who like to ship characters.
The series has a couple of one-volume follow-ups that have not been licensed in English.
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