When the power of a line of female songstresses passes to a male child, tragedy results for him and his loved ones when he runs from his duty.
Translation: Sachiko Sato
Adaptation: Sachiko Sato
What They Say
When the unthinkable happens, it happens in a major way.
For centuries, a far-off kingdom has been protected by the nightly singing of the Utahime. This powerful voice is passed down from one female songstress to another within the Utahime's bloodline.
Then the impossible happens...a male songstress has been born. What follows then is a bitter-sweet and tragic tale revolving around this reluctant Utahime.
Including a bonus one-shot manga, this book lovingly captures the Utahime's captivating song in into a touching tale of loss and triumph. Grab a copy and be enthralled.
The cover illustration features our Utahime, Kain. Garbed in the tunic and mantle of Aki-sensei’s fantasy world and his own trademark feather earrings, he averts his eyes, looking disconsolate. The drawing appears to be painted in watercolor, predominately grays and reds. The gray title logo, which includes the kanji for Utahime in fancy script, takes up the right third of the cover, and author's credits in hiragana and Roman letters in red is placed at center bottom. The DMP logo is aligned vertically along the top right corner.
The back cover features the color version of the title page illustration of Maria in a European style gown. As on the front, red and gray hues dominate. The title logo is vertically aligned to the left while the story synopsis, offset by gold curlicues, is aligned to the right. At the bottom are ISBN, genre designation, and publishers and age rating icons.
The print quality and materials are satisfactory, but the cover binding feels a little weak, as if it might pull away from the pages. Extras include Darika, a violent philosophical one-shot story by Aki-sensei; two pages of character notes from the author; and ads for other DMP releases.
Utahime features typical shoujo artwork: characters with large expressive eyes and wispy, detailed hair. In Utahime’s fantasy world, characters predominately wear tunics and mantles though they are also drawn with more modern looking button up shirts and sundresses. While the three main characters are distinct, the faces of the supporting cast tend to be very similar and rather forgettable. At one point, I mistook Emma’s male bodyguard for the female sovereign! While character illustrations in the most dramatic moments are finely detailed, in general, Aki-sensei has a tendency to simplify drawings in addition to throwing in the occasional deformed character.
Aki-sensei’s backgrounds especially lack detail and are either the barest outlines of trees or buildings to indicate setting or nothing at all. Still, the story pacing is good with illustration effects that clearly relay emotion.
Sound effects are translated side-by-side the originals in font that matches the style of the original.
Words on paper and diagrams have been translated with overlays that match the original style. Any honorifics have been translated to English equivalents, and DMP does a decent job of matching the story’s fantasy feel using terms such as “milady.” Dialogue translation is satisfactory though when characters supposedly switch to formal speech that change doesn’t come across strongly in English.
When night falls, the air fills with song, the protective lullaby of the Utahime. The voices of these songstresses have power, and when positioned throughout the country and made to sing at once, their singing assures the peace of the land they serve. However, this ability is only passed down from one songstress to one child and only to a daughter. Given their reliance on this power, principalities establish villages to ensure each Utahime fulfills her duty and her bloodline does not run out. However, as time goes on, the Utahime become little more than prisoners of the villages they serve.
Then, one day, twins are born to a songstress. The village automatically assumes the daughter, Maria, will be the new songstress, but the gift has actually passed to her brother, Kain! The only one with the ear to perceive the truth is the songstress herself, and embittered by the oppression she's endured, she keeps the secret to herself that she might ultimately bring about the village's ruin. But her choice ultimately brings tragedy to her children and Thomas, their one friend in the village.
Utahime is a stand-alone manga and would be a good beginner’s title for that reason and also because there aren't Japanese cultural references to be confused by in its fantasy setting. At first glance, Utahime might seem like another gender-bender comedy about a boy blessed/cursed with a girl's talent -- but it isn't. While Kain is the Utahime of the story, the plot has as much to do with the thwarted romance between Maria and their friend Thomas as it does with Kain. In fact, I'd venture to say that the dynamic between Maria and Thomas is even more compelling than Kain fleeing his destiny.
It very much has the flavor of a tragic fairytale. Aki-sensei does a good job tugging on heartstrings with Maria's reasons for keeping up the charade as a false songstress and Thomas' reasons for keeping his love for Maria a secret. Both are desperate to protect the other, but in the end, they are powerless to prevent the final tragedy that occurs. For those who like their heroes guilt-stricken and their lovers filled with angst, this is a good story to check out.
Despite the extremely heavy main plot, Utahime isn't entirely angst and tears. Kain's personality is a prickly one, and Aki-sensei takes every opportunity to use that to bring some levity to the story with Kain’s interactions between Thomas and the sharp-tongued traveling songstress Emma.
This title is rated 16 +. While Utahime does contain a little swearing, attempted sexual assault, and violence, I didn't think it was enough to warrant a 16+ rating, and I personally would have put it into the 13+ category. However, 16+ rating is probably appropriate for the bonus story Darika, which is much more violent and contains more mature themes.