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November 23, 2009

Bento Bako Weekly: Ludwig II

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Written by: Kristin
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ludwig2vol1Title: Ludwig II
Author: You Higuri
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing, as part of their Juné yaoi manga line
Volumes: Originally a three volume collection, the story has been re-released as a two volume collection, at $14.95 each.
Vintage: The original three volumes were released in Japan, one a year, from 1996-1998.  In 2007 they were released as two volumes, which Digital Manga licensed and published in the summer of 2009.

Warning: This manga is about male-on-male lovin’. If you have a problem with this, then you need to click the back button on your browser. If that doesn’t bother you, or if you don’t mind a little yaoi scattered throughout a lovely story, then read on!

Ludwig II is (loosely) based on the life of the real life king of Bavaria in the later half of the 1800s, following his reign from 1866 until his death in 1886. The story is highly romanticized, as these things tend to be, but does focus on certain aspects and events of Ludwig’s actual life. Higuri-san takes a lot of liberties, but to be fair, Ludwig’s life was quite mysterious. Because it’s a love story, she inserts the love interest into various situations that did happen (or at least, might have happened). There are characters who were real people, and instances that did occur in history, and it’s obvious that Higuri-san did a lot of research on his life. The problem is that Ludwig was purposefully mysterious, and that those around him looking to bring him down may have made up or exaggerated certain habits of his (including homosexual tendencies and his mental constitution). Based on a series of reports from those around him, Ludwig was declared mentally incapacitated and forced to step down from the throne permanently. The day after he was officially arrested and taken from his castle, he died mysteriously at a nearby lake. His most famous legacies are his great, fantasy-like castles, and his patronage of the composer Richard Wagner.

Ludwig II follows, obviously, King Ludwig II, and explores the eccentricities that made him so mysterious and fascinating.  Higuri-san did her homework, and there are a lot of historical events floating around in the story, including the Seven Weeks’ War and the Franco-Prussian War.  That’s the broad spectrum – a king of questionable mental countenance, building lavish castles, throwing money at the extravagant Wagner to support his operas (which he was obsessed with), hesitant to enter war and deal with political matters, refusing to marry and produce an heir, and supposedly throwing parties with young men as the primary entertainment.  In the background of all of that, and the true heart of the story, is Ludwig’s relationship with a handsome stable boy named Richard Hornig.


Ludwig tells Hornig about building Neuschwanstein Castle, a place where he can escape the harsh world of reality. Click to enlarge, and read from right to left.

In the midst of all Ludwig’s insanity, and his distaste for reality, Hornig is the only thing that keeps him tied down to Earth.  His deep love and affection for his king lead him to protect the innocent nature and precious life of Ludwig at all cost.  Higuri-san has woven Hornig into many of the major events of Ludwig’s life – Hornig becomes the reason the king does not marry his cousin Sophie, saves him from more than one assassination attempt, provides the king with a way to escape all manner of important duties, serves a role in his planned escape (which leads to his death), and serves Ludwig in every possible way.  And I do mean every possible way.  This is yaoi, so there are several sex scenes scattered throughout the story.  To be perfectly honest, if you took away the love story (specifically all the sex), what’s left behind is solid on its own.  Higuri-san’s depiction of the unfortunate king is beautiful and tragic.  Throwing Hornig into the mix adds another layer, and an extra helping of mystery and romanticism.  In the end, it’s a love story.

ludwig2vol2As far as yaoi goes, this one is excellently written and well drawn.  The character designs are a little dated (you can see the difference in her skill between the late ’90s inner art and the more recent redesigned cover art), but she displays excellent skill with clothing, background art, and architectural elements.  Ludwig has a look of child-like innocence about him, but during his bouts of insanity, he can look truly frightening.  Hornig, by nature of the genre (he’s what is known as the uke, or “receiver,” in the story), is drawn very effiminately, and almost looks like a girl in some panels.  He maintains an innocent, almost angelic look, throughout the story.  But I do want to warn you, that there is a lot of sex.  It’s not horribly graphic (she doesn’t really show anything; basically it’s full nudity, but the bits aren’t shown), but there is rape, some light S&M, and a couple of implied orgy scenes.  This isn’t hentai, and it’s not a doujin, so it’s actually presented rather tastefully and artfully.  So while I am warning you of sexual content, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea and think this is porn, because it isn’t.  It’s a rather well-told romantic historical drama.

If you’re curious about the yaoi genre, I recommend this title as a starting off point.  It isn’t a heavy-handed piece, and it’s one of the better representations of the genre.




  1. billy

    ??? Aaaagh, my eyes.

  2. Kristin

    Aww…. The pretty boys won’t hurt you!

  3. billy

    They are kinda cute…wait, nobody is going to see this right?

  4. Ok, the historical aspect of this makes it intriguing to me… but the sex scenes would probably make me lose interest fast. However, this yaoi sounds like it’s far superior when compared to others like Hot Steamy Glasses and Selfish Mister Mermaid.

    And I love how during this time it was ok to rail your cousin, but same sex relations? Call the Devil because you’ve just booked a ticket to eternal damnation! … makes no sense to me.

    Does Wagner actually make an appearance? If he does, how is he portrayed?

    “To be perfectly honest, if you took away the love story (specifically all the sex), what’s left behind is solid on its own.”

    Left behind? Solid? Oh boy! (sorry I couldn’t help myself)

  5. Kristin

    Yeah, Wagner is in there. He’s portrayed as a self-absorbed, manipulative, lavish artist. There’s a brief story line in there about Wagner’s affair with his apprentice’s wife (which leads to him having to leave the country), and it shows how Ludwig handles that. But that’s really the only time he’s in there. But his operas are referenced constantly.

    The cousin stuff is interesting…. Sophie (the one he gets engaged to) is the sister of Elizabeth, and Ludwig and Elizabeth have a very close relationship that causes a lot of bad gossip. The fact that people are uppity over that, but not about Sophie is a little strange, though it’s possible it had something to do with Elizabeth being married already. That was a weird part of the story that I over looked, I guess.

    Anyway, yeah, marrying cousins was totally fine then, particularly among the nobility. A lot of those people were related. In some points in history, there was sibling marriage, in a desperate attempt to keep bloodlines pure, or keep a particular family strong. And when you look back at those families, there was a history of genetic diseases and mental illness. There is when you’re marrying close cousins together, too, but to a lesser extent.

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