The Prince in His Dark Days
王子様と灰色の日々 (Ouji-sama to Haiiro no Hibi)
Shoujo – Drama, gender bender, romance
4 Volumes (complete)
Kodansha Comics USA
Atsuko knows all too well the meaning of poverty, unlike the rich boy and his friends she happens to encounter one day. The young heir, Itaru, notices that he and Atsuko look just alike. When he later disappears. Atsuko is drafted as his stand-in. But living the prince-like life is not as easy as she thought, as Itaru and his companions have their own burdens to bear…
The Prince in His Dark Days will be a series I’ll mourn for for years to come.
Not because anyone died or anything; the manga just ended too soon.
On one hand, I can kind of understand why this series wasn’t a big hit in Aria magazine. Aria definitely has a wide range of series (anything from the smutty Ani-Imo to pure comedy like Manga Dogs), but The Prince in His Dark Days has a down-to-earth maturity that doesn’t really prove to be an escape from reality. (Once you disregard the odds of meeting your opposite gender doppelgänger of course.) I wish the manga had been moved to a josei magazine where the subjects it tackles might have been appreciated more. The Prince in His Dark Days isn’t about heart-pounding romance or Ultimate True Love. Instead, the manga deals with a group of young people who are struggling.
“Struggling? But Itaru is rich, isn’t he?”
Yes, he is. But he and his friends/retainers Nobuhiko and Ryô each have their own issues to make their days gray and dreary. They are all dealing with attractions and preferences they wish they could hide — or outright abandon. Being so short, the manga doesn’t dive deeply into LGBT issues, but it does confront them directly. One character, for instance, monologues about getting aroused by the thought of men being attracted to him. Yet, despite the fact he knows what he likes, he still wants to keep this aspect of himself hidden. It’s an internal conflict I’m sure many readers can relate to, and again, it’s nice to see his type of discussion as something other than fujoshi fodder.
On the other hand, Atsuko is too busy worrying about physically surviving to deal with anything like attraction. Her poor upbringing means she doesn’t have the money for “luxuries” like showers. This, of course, affects her ability to make friends. Her father spends his days drinking, lashing out at his “damn juvenile delinquent of a daughter”. She blames her father’s rage on the fact her parents fell in love and had her, and now he’s left alone to raise her. So Atsuko makes money the only way she can: scamming skeevy perverts. No wonder she’s already become jaded to love at her age.
Of course, her heartstrings are tugged when Itaru orders Ryô and Nobunari to drag Atsuko with them, and Nobunari objects to the rough treatment the other two are giving her. He gives her his shoe in a sort of a reverse-Cinderella situation, and Ryô later manipulates Atsuko into playing Itaru by saying Nobunari will be blamed for the Nogi heir’s disappearance. Atsuko agrees to fill in as Itaru for six months* or until he returns.
While most gender bender situations are played for a laugh, The Prince in His Dark Days absolutely does not. There is a little bit of humor because Atsuko is a poor girl now having to learn high class etiquette. However, much to Ryo’s surprise, Atsuko is completely dedicated to her “job”, perhaps too much. She actually starts working out just to bulk up and look more masculine and starts smoking to lower voice.
Wow… just wow.
But while she claims it’s just because she’s being paid, Atsuko admits it’s because she is moved by everyone’s dedication to Itaru… and because she received a “thank you”. She’s so devoid of positive human relationships that a simple word of appreciation makes her want to work hard, acting in ways she really doesn’t want to. Yet she isn’t portrayed as some kind of savior for the Nogi household. So many swapping-lives stories end with the two characters each realizing how good their original lives were, Here, however, Atsuko and Itaru realize they have to make their lives better. Itaru may have been the one to physically run away, but he and Atsuko — as well as Ryô and Nobunari — have all been running away from something.
Now for the *.
While Ryô mentions that he was hiring Atsuko until Itaru’s birthday, the manga ends at his coming-of-age ceremony three months later. While the manga has a fabulous story with characters you can’t help but empathize with, the series desperately needed another volume or two at least. Yamanaka must have known her magazine rankings were low, as fortunately a resolution isn’t crammed into two chapters or anything. However, a lot of plot points are left unresolved, and The Prince in His Dark Days does waste time on a couple of new characters. One rich boy discovers Atsuko’s identity, so I imagine he was meant to have a larger role in the story. The drama surrounding Itaru’s mother is all but abandoned, and Nobunari hardly appears in the final volume. Very disappointing. At least both Atsuko and Itaru remain interesting characters up to the very end, and you aren’t left with an open-ended ending.
The manga also has a habit of not fully explaining everything. Atsuko mentions she only saved up 13,000 yen for the school trip, but who knows how close or far away she is. I’ll be giving another example below.
This is Yamanaka’s first shoujo work, but not her first manga. If you look at the art, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn she is primarily a BL artist. Her characters have those angular faces and eye styles that shounen-ai and yaoi manga tend to have. What is more unusual is her approach to Itaru and Atsuko. While many characters remark on their similar appearance (well, more like believe Atsuko is Itaru), the two in the manga are show to have different hair colors. Itaru’s hair is light, and the second volume shows him with blonde hair. What, no one could say, “Hey, you dyed your hair!” or something? I imagine people would think black hair is more appropriate for a businessman, and Itaru wasn’t close to a lot of people, but still…
Also, the manga leaves plenty of holes, especially in the first chapter. For instance, we already know she’s going on dates to get money. She leaves school after getting a lecture, and this happens:
We learn later why she avoids touch, but it just seems like a huge jump from an invitation to a mad chase. Then it took me a few times to figure it out, but I guess she kicked him, and then she lost her shoe. But, uh… where did the door come from? I guess despite the darkness — which makes it look like a night scene — she’s in a mall-like place? Then she goes back outside? And I guess her commenting about messing up comes from her overreacting? It just feels like something is skipped, and even the fact she lost her shoe is easily missed.
One thing I always love about the twins’ work is they usually have dedicated translator’s notes. This series is no exception, explaining a lot of the references and any dialogue changes they made to make the adaptation run smoothly (like about Japanese pronouns). Accent marks are included in names.
I did not like the use of Times New Roman (or whatever font it was) for the inner monologues and foreign comments. Times New Roman just doesn’t look good in a comic or manga in my opinion.
I don’t think the rushed ending is enough to dissuade me from recommending The Prince in His Dark Days to interested readers, but I do think readers should be prepared to be let down. The plot was excellent, and it’s a shame that the series was wrapped up after only four volumes when so many junk manga go well beyond that mark.
JManga had released Yamanaka’s 70% of First Love is…, and Renta licensed His Romance of 500 Years.