Dawn of the Arcana is a fairly successful Shojo series in its native territory, and it is actually the first series by author and illustrator, Rei Toma, to be picked up for an English localization. Running from 2009 to 2013, this series has garnered praise for being a fairly solid Shojo that’s situated within a pretty heavy political fantasy premise, along with all the relationship triangles and romantic shenanigans that you’ve come to expect from the genre. At a glance, Dawn of Arcana is like Game of Thrones with a strong feminine touch, which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you are. All 13 volumes of the series have been localized courtesy of Viz Media, and Madman has picked the series up for distribution in Australia and New Zealand. The first volume came out just recently, so let’s see if it leaves a lasting impression.
Dawn of the Arcana tells a typical tale of two warring nations stuck within the confines of an island, with decades of bloodshed and animosity that seem to never end, and any peace efforts being a temporary solution. However, in nearly every generation an effort is made to establish peace via a political and diplomatically charged marriage between unwilling royals from each side. The first volume of Dawn of Arcana basically sets the scene and briefly introduces the various races and elements that make up the fantasy world, although it does this without really digging into the finer details, so it almost feels like a cliff notes summary. So you’re essentially thrown into a fantasy setting that feels rather bland and unoriginal, and you’re not given much insight into it.
The first volume focuses more on the forced/fake marriage between Princess Nakaba and Prince Caesar, and the first few pages immediately portray spite and hatred between the two, but almost just as quickly teasing romantic and sexual tensions. Things get more hairy as we’re introduced to other members of Prince Caesar’s royal family, and not to mention the loyal servant of Princess Nakaba, a human/dog creature of sorts that resembles an elf more than anything. Given that Princess Nakaba is forced into this apparent loveless marriage and stuck in the enemy nation, her servant is her only real friend, and yes you guessed it, there’s romantic/sexual tension there too.
That’s pretty much what the first volume of Dawn of Arcana does, it introduces the main characters and their romantic triangular tensions, but sadly we don’t really get a good gist of who these characters really are. It tries to shake things up in a later chapter where a jousting tournament takes place, done in almost the same fashion as the one shown in the movie First Knight (1995) starring Richard Gere. Even for its intended audience, the characters are presented almost too vaguely for the relationship dynamics to really mean anything, and it all feels very contrived and tacked-on in the end.
The art style is pretty much infused with Bishonen-charged aesthetics where the male characters look prettier than any of the females. That being said, even by those standards Dawn of Arcana feels barren in its backgrounds and character designs, with everything appearing far too simplistic and characters lacking any real attention to detail or uniqueness to really stay in your mind.
Obviously Dawn of the Arcana has potential to blossom into something interesting, by allowing the setting and its characters to flesh out more before forcing intense relationships and romance. As it is right now, Dawn of Arcana Volume 1 starts things off in unmemorable fashion and doesn’t leave a very good first impression. The first volume of a manga series should at least compel readers to stay, even if later volumes are of better quality. Dawn of the Arcana Volume 1 doesn’t really encourage you to look forward to what’s next.
Dawn of Arcana Volume 1 is available on the Madman online store.