The kingdom of brotherly love.
Art & Story: Asumiko Nakamura
Translator: Lisa Coffman
Letterer: Abigail Blackman
What They Say
Purple-eyed Adalte, blue-eyed Adolte. One enveloped in light—the graceful son—and one shrouded in darkness—the prisoner. Even as their souls are drawn together, destiny would tear them apart. Elsewhere in the kingdom, a heroic king is served by an enigmatic aide from a faraway land. His path has torn him from his dearest kin and placed him in the halls of power—to what end…?
The first of Asumiko Nakamura’s beautifully wrought tales set in a fantastic kingdom of intrigue and heartache…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Tales of the Kingdom is presented as an anthology series, telling a string of tales of various characters set in a fantasy realm resembling ancient Middle Eastern cultures. In that sense, it is definitely drawing inspiration from 1001 Nights, and for this volume any folklore, myth, or fairytale that pits brother against brother.
With that in mind, I expected the first story in this volume to be a retelling of the Prince and the Pauper. It certainly begins that way with one child locked in a cell while the other is royalty and the inevitable trading of places. I expected a story of revenge, yet the end result was unexpected. A sense of kinship that is dreamlike and strange, the brothers casting off their expected roles and fleeing the city that kept them.
Chapter two is an eerie epilogue to that tale which feels voyeuristic and strange. Did the brothers swap names, or swap them back? The switch from color to black & white doesn’t help with that confusion, did the purple-eyed son become the dark-eyed one? The two brothers share everything, their bed, their wife, their hopes and dreams, and eventually the sense of being trapped once again passes over at least one. It’s a strange story that left me feeling as if I was missing something that the author was trying to convey. Perhaps in a later story, the characters of this story will return, but as of now, it’s an oddity.
The next two characters the volume focuses on are a king and his retainer. A young man referred to as Han tells the reader straight away he is poisoning the king at the orders of the next in line for the throne. The king calls him out on this, and then we return to the past to see how we got to this point. The man we know as Han seems to be the last sort to betray the king, even though he is certainly serving against his will. The rest of the court sees him as a barbaric outsider, a curiosity. As for Han, his first exposure to the king is the king in mid-coitus with his harem. It’s a scene certainly set to shock not just Han but the reader with its frank lewdness. A teasing gesture from the concubines hints at potential events later, but it’s only in retrospect this becomes apparent.
The last set of chapters in this book feels like an echo of the first chapter, as twin brothers one has to be sacrificed. This time it isn’t a religious ceremony, but one of immutable tradition that rules that one son must carry on the family line. Once again, it’s unclear which son takes the fall.
Reading this book I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of Orientalism. This felt like it was delighting in the exotic, quasi-middle eastern setting. Sure, their horses are different, but the inspiration is obvious. It doesn’t end with the blond boys with blue eyes, (not that there aren’t blond Persians…) but extends to Shao and Dao whose people are called ‘Han’ but culture appears Mongolian inspired. It invites you to stare, especially the often shocking sex scenes which are brief but very effective. It all feels very theatrical, and I can only surmise that is what the Japanese author intended. However, that can also be a major turn-off for those who might have been expecting something more grounded. (Might I recommend A Bride’s Story for a just as romanticized but immaculately researched drama of the same setting.)
Yen Press presents the book as one of their prestige titles. It gets a hardcover physical release with color pages and a larger trim size. It’s a handsome-looking book with good solid blacks on both of the paper stocks and the bright, earthy colors pop. The only mar in the presentation is the description of the contents on the slipcover has a single typo in Adalte’s name.
Tales of the Kingdom volume one is a lusciously illustrated yet unsettling set of stories about young men and the hand that fate has dealt them. The tales this story tells are simple and illustrated delicately, but there’s a sense of foreboding at every turn of the page. It is often dreamlike, fixated on the relationships between brothers and kings, and the lurid relationships around them. Light on plot but penned with delicate strokes, it is a fantasy of myth where the characters are just players, emotionally distant from the viewer. Beautiful but cold, and certainly not for every reader.
Content Grade: B
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A +
Text/Translation Grade: A –
Age Rating: Mature
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: August 9, 2022
MSRP: $18.00 US / $22.50 CAN