Title: Crimson Empire: Circumstances to Serve a Noble
Author: Quin Rose (story), Hazuki Futaba (art)
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Volume: Volume 1 (ongoing), $13.99|
Vintage: 2009 by Ichijinsha, April 2013 by Seven Seas
Genre: Romance, drama
Sheila is a slave living in a tributary nation for the kingdom of Luxonne (or maybe it’s a country…though they’re kind of the same thing, I guess). Sold by her poor parents into slavery, she is bought by a group of skilled assassins. As soon as she arrives, she is ordered to kill an apparently innocent man, or risk both her and the man dying. She makes her decision, and thus begins her training under head assassin Curtis Nile. The training is brutal, but she and two other girls do their best to complete it. If they fail, they’ll likely die in the process. Curtis, and several of the other assassins, based on long held traditions, doesn’t think women can be proper assassins, but they do have a place. Aristocrats like to employ them as personal bodyguards. So when Sheila pushes Curtis’s buttons just right, he makes the decision to sell her off, and Sheila becomes the head maid and personal bodyguard for Prince Edvard Winfree, heir to the throne. As the heir, Edvard’s life is constantly in danger, even from inside the palace. His older half-brother Prince Justin Roberuttey, for example, makes no secret about his hostility toward his brother from another, more high ranking, mother. Sheila has to be constantly on the alert for threats toward her master. For his part, Edvard is wholly trusting of Sheila. In fact, she may be the one person on the planet he trusts, or even tolerates. Her willingness to die for him (despite it being her job) makes him trust her, and Sheila is certainly unflinchingly loyal toward Edvard. Perhaps she sees something that others do not. Hopefully something aside from his prim and proper facade, or his entirely merciless true self. Everything in between, including his true motivations, is unclear at this point in the story. The bulk of this volume is just introducing characters and setting things up for later. Sheila stops a plot to kill Edvard right in the palace, and then is warned by none other than Justin about an attack planned during an upcoming visitation. No one but he is allowed to kill Edvard, after all, so he even gets proactive and helps Sheila protect her master. Some of the assailants, however, are an unpleasant surprise. Sheila kicks some ass, sasses some nobles, and gets hit on by just about every male in the book. And, to add a final twist, she appears to have made some sort of deal with a demon.
First things first. This book is an adaptation of an otome game, a romance video game geared toward females (a visual novel or dating sim, similar to other games like Clannad and Tokimeki Memorial). That’s just a PSA for you. And also note that this is the same team behind Alice in the Country of Hearts, another otome series, and also a multiple series manga series, published here in America by Yen Press (well, Quin Rose at least, as the studio behind the games; the illustrator is different). Again, just a PSA. This isn’t me saying “Oh, it’s based on an otome game it’s going to suck.” Far from it. I wish we had access to more of those types of games here. In fact, after reading this manga I now really want to play the game it’s based on. Please vie for my affection, gorgeous, fictional, animated men. Especially you two, over there, in the glasses. Ah, anyway. Crimson Empire was a surprisingly fun read. It’s cute, despite how dark it can be. The characters are interesting, though with so many of them introduced in just one volume it’s hard to keep track of everyone, or even form a decent opinion. Sheila, at least, stands out, she should. In the game, Sheila would be “controlled” by the player, so moving her through the story without that input is the task at hand here, and it’s working out well so far. Her maid costume, with its too short skirt and front slit, is a tad annoying. Then again, maybe it lets her move around easier to protect Edvard? Though if that were the case, it could do with a lot less lace and frills. Otherwise, the costume designs are nice. Nothing spectacular, but they’re designed and drawn well, relatively match the period the setting is portraying, and definitely match social standing. The characters are all fairy distinct, despite being archetypes (the broody but sweet guy, the cheery but merciless guy, the bumbling nerd, the cheerful little sister, etc.). They don’t feel like stock characters at all. Edvard is fairly fascinating really, and there should be a wealth of depth to explore with him alone. There are also several pre-established relationships here that hopefully will be given a bit of back story at some point, because it seems that Sheila has been working at the palace for some time now. The story moves quite fast early on. Sheila is bought, trained, then sold within a single chapter, and once we see her at the palace, she seems to have been working there…several months at least (maybe years, it’s not clear). Long enough to have developed several friendships and some sassy rapport with others in the palace. It’s fun, it’s cute, it was an entertaining read, and I’m looking forward to more, so that’s a fair success where I’m concerned.