The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts
What's It About?The world is divided between the nation of the beasts and that of the humans, and very little interaction is permitted between them. Every year, the beast nation demands a sacrifice, a young woman raised for that purpose, and this year that girl is Sariphi.
Sari doesn't really mind, because she has no place to go back to, and her story strikes a chord with the King of Beasts, who suffers from his own feelings of displacement. As the two find solace in each other, Sari's role begins to change from that of “sacrifice” to something much more special.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
Beauty and the Beast is alive and well in Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts – it's almost a by-the-book retelling of the classic fairy tale. That's definitely part of the appeal of this initial volume, because the Beauty of folklore isn't always as spunky as she could be, often winning over the Beast with her gentle ways and calm demeanor. Sari, on the other hand, most definitely has her own opinions and zest for life. Ever since she discovered at a young age that she wasn't her parents' natural daughter but an orphan taken in to be the 99th Sacrifice to the King of Beasts so that their biological child wouldn't have to go, she's felt out of place and like she doesn't deserve much out of life. She goes into the beasts' palace with nothing left to lose, so instead of cowering before the King and his chancellor, she simply speaks her mind. Unused to sacrifices who act like people rather than watering pots, the King becomes interested in Sari, because of course he's hiding his own scars, both literal and figurative.
This isn't so much a story where Beauty helps the Beast find his humanity as one where she just lets him know that it's okay to be a person as well as a monarch. That's a nice variation on the usual theme of Beauty and the Beast retellings, and it also puts Sari very much at odds with the rest of the beasts in the palace. Humans, to them, are the ultimate enemy (although we see that there are racial tensions between different beasts as well), and like many people, they disguise their fear as hatred. This is shown very well when Sari convinces the King to go on a date in town with her and her disguise slips – he interprets the other beasts' reactions as anger, but Sari tells him that it's actually just fear; she's seen the same looks on humans' faces because she's the sacrifice. Sari's the King's window into the minds of his subjects, something he hasn't allowed himself to have or really had the opportunity to have, and she also stands to become the real liaison between the human and beast worlds. Not that anyone knows they want such a thing, but as the song says, you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need.
The highlight of the art here is definitely the beast designs. The King is an interesting amalgamation of lion, saber-tooth tiger, and canine, but most of the other beasts are more or less vaguely humanoid versions of a single animal – Chancellor Anubis a jackal, there are lizard people, bat people, and unicorn people. That the King is the only one who appears to be many different beasts in one makes an interesting statement about the racial tensions that pop up from time to time, because he makes it clear that the different beasts can intermarry – they just don't. That may be at least partially behind or related to the fear of the humans as Other (and the humans' similar fear of the beasts), and that will be an interesting thread to follow as the story goes on, because as both a fantasy and a romance, this is a series worth keeping an eye on.
Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts blends together elements of Beauty and the Beast and One Thousand and One Nights and adds a dash of The Ancient Magus' Bride and other fantastical manga with a human innocent thrown into a world of demonic beasts and magic. While the elements are largely recognizable, they come together nicely into this fairytale fantasy, even if you can't help but wish there was more to Sariphi's character than oblivious wonder and contented devotion to her role as pawn. Leonhart is a perfect foil for her, only as cruel as he needs to be to keep his kingdom from descending into chaos—and always considerate to the wide-eyed ingénue who so quickly won his heart. However, if Sariphi were thrown up against any other manner of beastly, tyrannical king, she wouldn't have stood a chance. It's interesting, actually, to dial back both the beast king's rage and the willfulness of the would-be prisoner whom he's up against when you compare it to the typical story in this genre. The combination works well, even if the conflict then has to derive almost entirely from external forces rather than volatility within the core relationship. There are, however, moments of miscommunication and even anger between them, but it never feels contrived or hurtful—another positive change to this usually-tropey dynamic.
Secondary characters largely fall away in the presence of these two who are so sweet together. However, uptight, mistrusting Anubis does always make an impression and Cy and Clops, Sariphi's first beast friends, are cute in a weird way. The few humans besides Sariphi are less developed. However, the lesson that there is no clear good and evil side to the conflict—not even the expected “the humans are the real evil” revelation—that there are just frightened people trapped in their own prejudices, is another way this manga slightly shifts expectations.
Tomofuji's artwork suits the evanescent fairytale atmosphere of the piece. The character designs are memorable, particularly the beasts, and Tomofuji manages to invoke plenty of humanity even to inhuman creatures through expression and mannerisms. However, the one drawback is the backgrounds are often limited and not as impressive as the rest of the art.
Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts volume 1 has an ephemeral ambiance, a dash of humor, and a lot of heart. There's a sweet romance at its core, but that's not the only reason to read this manga. Lovers of fairy tales and magic who prefer their main characters to be kindhearted will want to pick up this first volume.
If Mermaid Boys is a genderbent The Little Mermaid, then Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts is Beauty and the Beast, that is if you stripped Belle of her agency and unique interests. Suffice to say, I was not sold on this fantastical romance between a gruff beast king and his sacrifice-turned-princess. Sariphi is little more than a reader stand-in for slave fetishism and monster kink. If that's what it takes to get some blood flowing, then have at it but I'm incredibly bored by the “I have nothing to live for otherwise, so keep me as long as you will” narrative played for romance.
If we compare this set-up to The Ancient Magus' Bride, which bares some similarities at its core, you can see where the two diverge and that's primarily in the treatment of their corresponding heroines. Chise starts out with much of the same outlook at Sariphi and is initially accepting of Elias' demands regarding her whereabouts and friends because she's deeply traumatized and lacks any self-worth. Sariphi is the same way. She's also betrayed by her parents and left to die at the hands of a monster. She even has an illness that requires her to wear a magic ring to prevent her body from breaking down. That however is where the similarities end. The Ancient Magus' Bride immediately sets out to focus on Chise's growth to love and respect herself where Sariphi's story is always framed with what she can do for the King, how she can support the King, and as long as she is useful to him she has value. Which is, uh, incredibly unhealthy.
The story tries to reframe this somewhat by depicting King Leo as also vulnerable and softer in nature than his original reputation. These reveals don't lessen the giant power imbalance central to the story's romance. Regardless of how much Leo claims to care for her, Sariphi is a kept woman with no personal interests, goals, or aspirations outside of how she relates back to Leo. I understand that there's a particular kind of fantasy centered on this scenario of having to worry for nothing and having immense wealth at your disposal. Maybe that's all Sacrificial Princess is hoping to tap into here, in which case it could amp up the sexual content a bit for a more enjoyable payoff, but as is its central heroine does little to endear readers to her and her love life raises so many red flags that I could not find it enjoyable.
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