The Lapis Lazuli Crown's first volume is less a fantasy manga than a typical romantic comedy which happens to include some spell-casting and likeable characters.
Writer/Artist: Natsuna Kawase
Translation: Sheldon Drzka
Adaptation: Sheldon Drzka
What They Say
Everyone in young Miel's family has magical powers, but she's not really interested in developing hers. Miel wants to live a more normal life, much to her older sister's disapproval. But when she encounters a boy who needs some help - and who happens to resemble the handsome and beloved young prince of the realm - Miel may just have found the motivation she needs to develop her own special gifts.
The print quality in The Lapis Lazuli Crown is below average, even by the standards of $10 mass-market paperbacks. The book uses a thin paper that reminds me of newsprint, and it doesn't hold the artwork well: blacks come out as a murky gray, and some pages are printed too light. On the bright side, there are a couple of substantial extras included here. There's a one-shot story called "Daisy Romance" that takes place outside of the main story's continuity, plus a five-page "Story Records" section that gives commentary from the author with some bonus artwork.
Kawase's artwork is technically fine if unremarkable. The character designs are generic but are drawn consistently from frame to frame. Likewise, the backdrops aren't all that interesting, as they're usually empty or feature vaguely European streets with nondescript buildings. The "Daisy Romance" one-shot comes off a little better artistically. While the character designs are still derivative (to the point that "Daisy"'s lead is a dead ringer for Lapis's), the traditional Japanese style clothing and buildings add an atmospheric touch that's lacking from the main story.
The lettering needs a bit more proofreading: I caught a couple of sloppy typesetting errors where ellipses have been replaced with the letter "É", one spot where secondary dialogue is cut off by the edge of the page (though this may be deliberate), and a panel where I'm pretty sure the English script uses the wrong name when talking about another character. More consistently problematic is the small, hard-to-read typeface used for asides; despite my 20/20 vision, I found myself squinting at some blocks of text to try to figure out what they said. Nevertheless, when it's legible, the English adaptation flows reasonably well.
Curiously, the three Lapis chapters don't use honorifics in their English adaptation, whereas the "Daisy Romance" one-shot does. This may reflect the fact that Lapis has a European-inspired fantasy setting while "Daisy Romance" takes place in contemporary Japan. In both cases, signs and SFX are replaced with English equivalents.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The three chapters of The Lapis Lazuli Crown included in this first volume make up the start of a fairly basic shoujo romantic comedy, only with the standard urban Japanese high school replaced with a magician's academy in the fantasy kingdom of Savarin. And as is common in these kinds of series, the protagonist Miel Violette is a high-school-aged girl with a supernatural knack for something that she's reluctant to hone -- literally supernatural in this case, since she's part of the 20% of the Savarin population that can cast magic. The Violette family has a long history of serving the Savarin royal family with their magical powers, though they've fallen on hard times recently and are essentially nobility only in name. For her part, Miel's come up with a disturbingly direct way of climbing back up the social ladder -- rather than develop her magical skills so that she can serve the royal family like her older sister, Miel just plans to work at the local cafeteria until she can marry her way into another noble family.
As unlikely as her plan sounds, remember that we're talking about a shoujo manga ... which means that Miel is well along her way to this goal by the middle of the first chapter. This starts when Miel runs into a boy named Radi who offers to hire her as a guide after supposedly losing track of his original guide. Even though Miel doesn't normally let people know that she has magical powers which double as super-strength, she shows off the little bits that she's practiced to Radi anyway as they head around the city. By the time the chapter ends, Radi explains that he's really the kingdom's Prince Radian in magical disguise, and that he escaped from his handler Sieg so that he could go slumming around town with Miel. Miel is hurt that Radi lied to her, but she's also intrigued when he says that he would've gone out with her if he weren't royalty, and that she should practice her magical skills until she can earn admittance to his palace.
So by the time the second chapter starts, Miel has made up her mind about going to magic school so that she can eventually bag Radi as her boyfriend. Not much happens in the remaining two chapters to advance that part of the plot: chapters two and three have Miel and Radi coincidentally running into each other while running around downtown and at school, respectively. These stories mainly seem to be there to reveal that Miel's magical powers are much stronger than she realizes, and that her failures as a sorceress happen just because she hasn't learned to control those powers yet.
The place where Kawase's series outdoes many of its peers is with her characterizations: there's not an unlikeable character out of the entire cast so far, and the chemistry between the Miel and Radi is surprisingly convincing (especially since Miel's reason for pursuing the relationship isn't exactly endearing to the reader). It certainly doesn't hurt that Kawase has managed to sidestep two of my pet shoujo manga peeves: first, putting the leads in different social classes gives her a plausible excuse to postpone the inevitable relationship without making either of them look like indecisive twits; second, she's avoided the gratuitous love triangle that infests almost every other series in the romantic comedy genre. (Too bad, then, that the advertisement for Volume 2 at the back of the book implies that the second point is going to change later in the series.)
While not being annoying is a good start to making a series more fun to read, it doesn't necessarily mean that the series is doing anything that makes it a must-read. Judging by The Lapis Lazuli Crown's opening volume, the story isn't much more than a retread of every other shoujo manga romance where the high-school-aged female lead needs to hone her special skill before she can rope in the object of affection/obsession. Sure, Kawase's stated goal may be to make each chapter a memorable stand-alone story about some aspect of the Savarin mythos; but the series's creativity just isn't at that level, at least not so far.
Unless and until the series manages to reach that goal, it's stuck being a
well-executed take on familiar shoujo formulas -- not the worst thing to be when so many other books are substandard versions of the same formula, but also not something I'd recommend to someone who's looking for, say, a series with interesting fantasy elements. People who happen to like bog-standard shoujo romantic comedies should give this release a look; other readers might want to hold off on investing in the series until Kawase shows us exactly where she's going with it.