The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?In a heavily-mechanized and oppressive place called Heartland, a princess named Ancien is the last magic-user among her people. The carefree royal brings inanimate things to life, but her magic is a beacon for dark forces that could destroy the world, so her father keeps her locked in a glass tower. Meanwhile, modern Japanese high schooler Kokone Morikawa wakes up—Ancien's life exists in her recurring dreams. Between connecting with her taciturn father, Momotarou, and figuring out how to afford moving to Tokyo after graduation, Kokone has a lot on her plate. However, there are hints that perhaps the world inside her head isn't just make believe after all, and when her father goes missing, Kokone could discover that magic is real.
Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me volume 1 (4/24/2018) is based on the animated feature film of the same name with the original story by Kenji Kamiyama and the manga adaptation's art by Hana Ichika. The paperback is available for $13.00 Yen Press and it's published digitally for $6.99 on comiXology, where it's also serialized and available by chapter. The film version is available for digital purchase and on Blu-ray and DVD from GKIDS.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
There are a number of unique elements in Napping Princess, but in this first volume, they come together rather clunkily and don't fully gel into a comprehensible story. True, it's the first volume, but it reeks of being the bare-bones setup to a much larger story—and it doesn't quite paint an intriguing enough picture to insist the audience keep reading more. Kokone is a likable character—optimistic and caring, even when her father doesn't make for the best company. Her “dream self,” Ancien, is childlike to the point of annoyance. She innocently pursues her magic even in a world that forbids it, knowing her father would keep her in a glass tower to stop her. Momotarou is too quiet to be a developed character this early on, though his extreme sullenness sort of is his personality. It clashes somewhat with Peach, his presumed Heartland (younger) self. If the manga is setting up an eventual romance between Peach and Ancien—that picture of Kokone's deceased mother seems to be foreshadowing—it'll be an odd pill to swallow, considering how wide-eyed and innocent Ancien seems alongside an older Peach. Of course, none of this is certain or clear just yet. Why Kokone keeps dreaming of a bizarre mechanical and magic land and what kind of journey she'll be going on throughout the course of this story is teased but never tantalizingly so.
Ichika illustrates both the modern real-world setting and the futuristic, mechanical Heartland in incredible detail, leaving only a few panels without some kind of background. This is especially important when bringing to life a fantasy world filled with magic. The character designs are sufficient, with Ancien and magically-alive stuffed animal Joy in particular standing out. The characters' faces might be a touch too simplistic, though, to effectively convey a range of emotions.
Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me volume 1 is clearly just the beginning of a bigger story, but it tosses the reader into strange circumstances and an odd world with barely any explanation as to what's going on. There are hints dropped throughout that eventually this will all tie together, but it's off to a jumbled, if fast-paced, start. There's promise in Napping Princess, but not every reader will be motivated to pick up the next volume. Perhaps fans of the movie will care to stick it out, but for people who've never seen the feature film, this may not be the best way to introduce yourself to the story.
Disclaimer: I have not seen Kenji Kamiyama's Napping Princess anime film, so this manga was my first introduction to this multi-world story. Hana Chika's adaptation left me intrigued, but not enough that I felt that I had to pick up the second volume to see how it ended. See, while its fantasy elements and how they tie-in to technology feel unique, I had most of the conclusion figured out after wrapping up this volume. Sure, there might be some side-quest style events on the horizon but I think I've got the gist of this down.
That's not what you want from a fantasy adventure. If the special effects are eye-catching and the acting is superb, the path to the resolution needs to be a little more captivating than “girl relives her fantasy origin in her dreams” and a conflict centering around the dream world antagonists hunting her and her “dad” down in the real world. It's a bit Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland with less nightmare fuel and a technology twist. Protagonist Kokone's alternate life as the Princess Ancien is interesting, as is the setting, a hyper-industralized world. I'm admittedly not sold on tying her magic ability to something considered as mundane as a tablet, though.
Napping Princess works in parts but doesn't quite come together as a whole and the path it lays out feels predictable. Throw in a Tokyo Olympics mention, which at this point feels incredibly rote, and you've got a very middling story that happens to star a likable protagonist. It never gets its “what's going to happen next??” moment although I can tell it was striving for that once Kokone's father was arrested. Perhaps the film works better in this regard, but based on ANN's review, the plot suffers from the opposite problem and is difficult to follow.
At only two volumes, it won't break the bank to find out for yourself whether Napping Princess is gripping or not but I'm not in a rush to find out the conclusion.
I strongly suspect that Napping Princess' best form is its original one: a film. That's not to say that the manga version isn't good, it doesn't quite convey the grandeur of the fantasy scenes or the run-down comparison between Ancien and Kokone's worlds as well as something in color and with movement and sound would. As a fan of still artistic mediums, that's not always an opinion I espouse, but in this case, the story feels too much like it's missing a certain something to fully work.
The base plot is an interesting one: Kokone dreams of a world where a princess named Ancien is imprisoned for the ability to use magic in a science-based society, a story which her father used to tell her at bedtime. It's clearly based on her family's past, something the book doesn't try hard to disguise with its character designs – young engineer Peach basically is Kokone's dad Momotarou without the facial scruff. Given that he's being harassed by his late wife's father's company for a tablet and that Ancien's magic worked through a similar device, it's obvious that Ancien and Peach are Kokone's parents before they had her. The idea of her father reframing his past into a fairy tale for his daughter to know her mother without the trauma of what was clearly not a relationship blessed by her family is a really nice one, and it has the feel of films like “The Princess Bride” in its effort to make a point without being too obvious about it.
Of course, unlike some of its predecessors in this mode of storytelling, Napping Princess is kind of obvious about what it's doing and where it plans to go. This first volume covers the story up to the point where Momotarou is arrested, letting us see that the real mastermind behind everything may be the man who in the fairy tale is the king's advisor. This nicely exonerates Kokone's grandfather (or at least opens the door for his exoneration) while implying that what's going on may not be precisely as Momotarou perceived it to be. That we can get all of that from the perhaps two panels the man appears in in both the real world and the dream world is either very good use of implication or terribly unsubtle character design.
That isn't to say that the art isn't attractive, because it's very appealing in a clean, easy-to-read way, and the backgrounds are very nicely thought-out. On the whole, this volume does a decent job of introducing the story and the concepts behind it without actually having the time to do more than that; it would have been better to throw in another full chapter instead of the extra that's just the fairy tale parts scattered throughout the book in one consecutive chapter. The volume whets the palate for the full story, but doesn't do it quite well enough to ensure that you'll stick around for the main course.
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