Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dawn of the Arcana
After discovering the King of Belquat's plans to foment unrest using superior weapons, Caesar, Nakaba, and Loki are determined to stop it. This will necessitate them taking a trip north without the king's knowledge, as well as deciding if Caesar's attendant Bellinus can be trusted. Meanwhile Nakaba has made up her mind to master the Arcana of Time. Will she be able to? And once she has seen the future, can she stop it?
Four volumes is a long time to wait for the heroine of a story to begin to develop her powers, especially when those powers are right there in the series title. After a strong first volume and a few slightly lackluster books following, Dawn of the Arcana seems to have finally gotten on track with its fourth volume, bringing us a hero we can like, a heroine who grows stronger every time we meet her, and an intriguing world for them to work in. While it still has its issues, Rei Touma's fantasy epic seems to at last be building on the potential it evinced at its beginning.
In volume three we were introduced to Prince Akhil of Lithanuel, a distinctly Arabian country with vast natural resources. Akhil helped Caesar, Nakaba, and Loki discover the king's plot, but also told Nakaba more about her magical abilities, the Arcana of Time. Now he prepares to head back home, but not before shedding some more sinister light on the subject, as well as assuring Nakaba that she can master this. And master it she does, or at least tries to. With renewed determination, Nakaba tackles her problem head-on, striving to see the future so that she might change it. Unfortunately this is a power that is centered in Nakaba's brain and eyes, so Touma doesn't have any room for big, showy training sequences. Instead what we get are shots of Nakaba staring intently, which doesn't quite cut it, no matter how big the payout. It also lends itself to bug-eyed profiles as Touma attempts to show how hard Nakaba is concentrating, which combined with the haircut she gave herself last volume makes for some very unattractive scenes of our heroine. While she certainly doesn't need to be pretty, this is a visual medium. It would be helpful if the lack of action when Nakaba activates her power at least looked decent.
The art in this volume overall is a bit lesser in quality than it has been previously. Partly this is due to the aforementioned issue, but it also stems from Touma's sudden urge to include chibis and humor in the story. Only one character can really pull it off, newcomer Lemiria, who also serves as Nakaba's first female friend. Lemiria is an outwardly goofy character with perhaps a slight brother complex, making her both the most familiar player in our tale and the best candidate for visual gags. The rest of the cast is too serious for it, and given the somber tone of the story up to this point, the sudden inclusion of silly humor feels out of place. Lemiria, on the other hand, fits in quite well, although at her entrance upon the scene it feels doubtful that she will. Lemiria allows Bellinus and Nakaba to unwind a bit, relaxing them with her lightheartedness as she actually acts her age. After Nakaba's stoicism, this is a pleasant shock, and Nakaba herself notes that she enjoys having a girl friend her age. However, Lemiria is more than a one-note character, and she shows some depths that are unexpected.
Loki's behind-the-scenes motivations are still murky, helping him to maintain his position as one of the most interesting characters. While some of his actions are easily understandable, others are less so, and in this volume it becomes clear that he has more going on than the rest of the court is aware of, possibly even Nakaba. He and Caesar seem to have an uneasy truce, but Loki's reticence makes one wonder how long that will last and who he will ultimately side with. He plays his cards very close to the chest, which continues to work for him, as Touma reveals a little more each volume.
Dawn of the Arcana shares some similarities with The Story of Saiunkoku in that both star determined young women in politically charged courts. Shurei may be more instantly loveable, but the more we see Nakaba and watch her develop both herself and her powers, the more admirable she becomes. In this volume we see her grow even stronger, and if it isn't always in an exciting way, the results at least are. Now that Touma has got the story really moving, it seems likely that both it and Nakaba will continue to develop in interesting ways. It may have taken awhile, but it seems that Dawn of the Arcana is about to show us why it is so popular.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Nakaba's power comes to the fore, Lemiria is a nice addition to the cast. The plot appears to be really moving forward. Vague hints of other types of arcana.
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