Alone in My King ™s Harem Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Saturday, May 13, 2006
Release Date: Saturday, October 01, 2005
Translated by:Duane Johnson
What They Say
The adoring eyes of a gorgeous concubine life to meet the approving gage of a king. A dreamland oasis promises that no love is forbidden for a single night. And the student body president gets an overhaul in the breakroom. Along in my King's Harem says it's time to play master and servant. Will you obey?
Mesh and lace, schoolboy blazers and treacherous secrets come together in the whisper-filled realm of Alone in my King's Harem. Desire that knows no other path but servitude (and the kind peep-show pleasures than can only unfold when you're young) are never taboo in this special pleasure zone. Become a slave to the temptation!
DMP continues to show that they are among the best in regards to manga production. First, this series was printed in a large A5 sized book. This kept the alignment inside looking good. The rest of the printing is very good with sharp inking while being void of tone issues. The retouch for chapter headers is great, maintaining the original fonts and designs. Very nice.
Then there is the cover itself. Like the vast majority of DMP titles this book comes with a dust jacket. On the dust jacket there is an image of the two main characters of the first short story - Alone in My King's Harem. Looking at the cover and readers should get a good understanding of the type of art in this manga. This might be from DMP's Yaoi Manga line, but the only way to find out for sure is cracking open the shrink wrap. The image is a perfect representation for the contents inside " great costumes, beautiful characters and not much passion. The opposite cover is very simple. On a red static background is a long volume description beneath the title. DMP also placed a small framed image of two characters about to kiss (guy and gal?? The art is too ambiguous.)
While some people might balk at the $12.95 price, in my opinion it is worth the excellent packaging, especially when considering some studios charge the same for sub par presentations.
Hoshino's designs are very beautiful. But then again they are also misleading. If I had not known this was a BL title, I possibly would have thought most of the lead males were women. They wear women's clothing and make-up. They have very feminine features to their face and build. Actually, there are scenes where when clothed these guys have cleavage. Long hair, detailed eyes and strong expressions while wearing beautifully drawn costumes is the norm for the fantasy stories in this collection. While the more butch characters had very stoic strong features that lacked detail and imagination. These characters could have been the same throughout most of the manga but Hoshino's sense of style (specifically for outfits) gave them character. Proportion is very good and in general characters look great.
The background and layout is just as impressive. The layout is masterful. From the start it sets a tempo and mood that perfectly reflects the style of storytelling. The dreamy surreal imagery from Hoshino's background and scenery gave a feel that was not of this world. The sense of fantasy is thick and the symbolism is just as thick. That made the pacing very slow which helped this collection of short stories. Therefore readers were easily able to take their time to check out the castles and the circuses that Hoshino features in her stories.
The translation for Alone sounds really good. First, they have kept honorifics which really helped define the relationships between the characters. They have done a solid job with how personalities come through in the translation. With a large cast and so many different stories told, sometimes dialogue can be pretty flat but as DMP kept honorifics and did not abuse slang original context came through well. Moreover, DMP was really able to keep a lyrical mood to the aside text that helped with the mood for this title.
SFX might get some attention as DMP handled these in a unique way. They are all subbed using a small font as not to compromise Hoshino's great art. What makes this interesting is how readers can go for pages without seeing an SFX. Then again there is a ton of aside text and DMP really shows their skill for this is all overlaid very cleanly as well.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A collection of dreamy short stories from mangaka Hoshino Lily.
Drawn entirely in yon-koma strips (vertical 4-panel comic strips); this is the story of a re-occurring nightmare. Circus performer Hibana can only confide in her animal friends and when can she speaks with them - at night! Reality is twisted as lead character Hibana's feelings overcome her. Her only escape is making those who are not human around her human. The doves, the monkey and the insects that come out at night are ready to talk to her, but they do not always have nice things to say. Hibana finds solace from her the warmth of her only friend - the tiger in her circus a beast that cannot talk back and is part of her performance that never gets to fly. Kika will always be there as long as she is.
Adventure of a Canary
Since he was very young, Canary was always different from everyone else. His appearance has lead to him being sold like livestock to the highest bidder. Now he has been sold to a nightclub owner with a taste for the unusual. The mistress has raised Canary to be the epitome of beauty with his unique looks and lovely voice. Locked up in the nightclub's tower the only time Canary ever gets to come down from his cage is to come down and sing. But after meeting someone who wanted to give him freedom, Canary tries with all of his strength to finally take back something that everyone should be born with - freedom and love.
Student Body President Okabe is fed up with the rumors around one particular student, Hidaka-kun. All the girls in school are spreading the word that Hidaka will sleep with any girl that would ask him.
There possibly isn't anything more difficult than reviewing a collection of shorts. Generally, each short is so unique from the other I find it very difficult to describe them all very well. Well after reading Hoshino's Alone I think I lucked out, for about 80% of this collection had one theme to it - a sense of loneliness and longing for someone to be there only for you. At the same time that 80% did not have an ounce of romance to it. I often felt only pity for the depressed lead as the man they wanted was rarely there and often placed their own lives before love (until the happy ending of course).
I guess I say dreamy because when reading the title story Alone in My King's Harem I got this trippy fairy tale feel from it. Complete with prince and maidens wishing to someday live within the castle this story set the stage for most of this book. The pacing was directed by the layout and aside text. Told from a third person's perspective, this tale moves very slowly as to get the reader to take their time absorbing all of the luscious art. The art with its strange range of costume and architectural design (mixing Japanese and European Mod) made me wonder what kind of place this was set in adding to the surreal mood of the manga as a whole. Ultimately, it felt like something missing from this story. There was a sense of longing and despair but I never really saw the passion that I felt should have been there. Instead there was a naivety from the lead character and a focus on style from the mangaka that kept the characters very much removed from the reader.
By far my favorite of the fairy tales was the Night Circus. Easily the shortest one in the bunch, but I felt Hoshino was really able to get her message out through the symbolism and unique presentation of this chapter. This story is so quick and so fleeting it moves just like a disjointed nightmare filled with monsters and threatening beasts. Filled with fear and frustration this short really presents how confusing dreams can be. Hoshino completely captures the fleeting feeling by drawing this extremely short in a collection of 4-panel manga. You almost feel confined and a little lost while going through the eight pages of this short, but in the end like every good fairy tale there appears to be a "happy" ending.
The best story overall was the one with the least to offer Mature Flesh. What I found interesting about this short was how without the fantasy, without the symbolism and imagery this story that was completely void of detailed scenery and costumes was just passion. Maybe the passion was a little twisted - angst and sexual tension; however, I found the play on roles and power intriguing. The two leads Okabe and Hidaka came with their own roles, student body president and class player respectively. They were both considered in high regard by their classmates and in particular with women. But what would that mean when they are together? Who is on top in this situation? Well that role switches and that was never seen in the fantasy stories. Readers can figure out what the result will be rather quick, but Hoshino takes some time to go back and show their history together where she presents how these roles were not as simple as we were lead to believe.
For most of this collection there is very little dialogue from the characters. Instead the stories are often told from an omnipresent voice. But what made Alone as a whole so weird was the character designs. This is a BL title, and there is boy/boy love, however their male concubines, male maidens and a cross dressing singer are so feminine they sport female hairdos and dress in women's clothing (they even have bust lines when they are clothed). Essentially, this collection is a little trippy and little dreamy but very sweet in the end, but then add some drama and a little angst and you have a completely different dynamic.
As far as collections go this is one of the more intriguing ones I have read in a while. I was not too keen on the fantasy titles, mainly because of their distant and void of warmth.
Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Orientation: Right to Left