Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Misaki is in for a rude awakening. An incoming first year, she chose Amanotsuka All-Girls Academy because of its oddly reasonable fees – as in, they're pretty much nonexistent. It's a gift horse whose mouth she absolutely should have pried open, because it turns out that the school is divided into two departments, one for wealthy young socialites and the other for regular girls who aspire to serve them as maids. Misaki just wanted a chance to get ahead in life and has no interest in becoming a maid, ladies' or otherwise, something that oddly seems to appeal to Himeko Amanotsuka, the acting chairman of the school. She and Misaki make a deal that Misaki will be her “Seraph,” or ladies' maid in training, for a year in order to prevent Misaki from expulsion. But what does Himeko get out of the deal? And has Misaki just made a major misstep in her plan for life?
Girls-love novels have not seen much release in English, although there's a fairly healthy amount of lesbian romances being published in other sectors of the book world. Girls Kingdom marks the first official release since Strawberry Panic! was translated by Seven Seas during their first foray into light novel translation, and as of this writing it is a digital-only exclusive. That's still exciting if yuri is your flavor of romance, and even better if the “wealthy girls' school fantasy” is your subgenre within it; Girls Kingdom, like Strawberry Panic! before it, takes place in a school attended by the daughters of the ludicrously rich and the “normal” young ladies who are vying to land plum positions as their ladies' maids after graduation.
If this sounds like someone's poorly researched Victorian daydream, that's about par for the course for this particular subgenre. Girls Kingdom definitely takes it farther than some other similar series, and it does so with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Heroine Misaki has no idea that her new boarding high school is designed to pair off wealthy young ladies (known humorously as “socialites”) with aspiring maids. She simply saw that the school came with minimal fees, and coming from an impoverished background, she decided that it would be totally worth whatever catches there might be to land a good education. What she was not expecting was that gen ed courses of the kind she was angling for would be few and far between, with afternoons and evenings taken up by “home economics” classes that are basically code for “serving the wealthy.” The school also has a system whereby Socialites form contracts with home econ students known as Seraphim. Each Seraph works as a Socialite's lady's maid with the contract resulting in her being hired for the position permanently upon graduation. Needless to say, this is not what Misaki was planning on when she enrolled.
So that means that she immediately ends up as a Seraph, contracted to Himeko, the most desired Socialite of them all. Himeko is clearly attracted to Misaki from the start – not just physically, although that becomes increasingly apparent, but more to her personality. Misaki flat-out tells Himeko that she's not into this whole maid thing and wants to work at a company when she graduates, something that Himeko clearly finds very appealing. Himeko, it turns out, has been avoiding a Seraph contract for reasons she'd rather not say, but she almost instantly offers Misaki the position. Circumstances force Misaki to agree, however it becomes clear that this was more a ploy on Himeko's part in order to better get to know the other girl. She does have Misaki fulfill some basic lady's maid duties, but she's much more keen on using Misaki's position as a Seraph as an excuse to spend time with her and woo her. She wants Misaki to undress her, she buys them matching fancy underwear, and she uses just about any thinly veiled reason to have Misaki spend the night in her dorm room. Misaki herself is fairly oblivious to the whole thing, but we readers can see that Himeko has more in mind for her Seraph than a lifetime as a maid.
That said, the romance is fairly understated here. There's one kiss on the hand and one scene where Himeko “measures” Misaki's breasts, but for the most part this is a very tame story. That's presumably in keeping with the notions of purity that often accompany fantasies of all-girls' schools, but author Nayo actually seems more interested in conveying the frilly details of the girls' school life and the magnificent surroundings they live in than in writing a “pure” love story. This comes to the fore in the second of the two novels included in the ebook omnibus, where a polite-off is held over the ownership of a particularly sought-after salon on school grounds. Even if you've grown up using a fork and knife, the battle of polite eating comes off as fully ridiculous (in a good way) as Misaki struggles to cut millefeuille properly without making a mess or to eat a fried chicken drumstick with a fork and knife. (I don't know about you, but that's finger food in my world.) It reads like a parody of a 19th century etiquette manual, and it feels as if Nayo is doing that on purpose.
Of course, that feeling could come from the fact that this is not a particularly good translation. While it is very readable, as in you can read it and understand what's going on with no real problems, it also feels like the work of someone who is conversationally fluent rather than actually and grammatically fluent in English. There are a fair amount of homophones confused (peek vs peak vs pique, for example), and r/l mix-ups with at one point Himeko “crapping” her hands, which means something entirely different than “clapping” to most native English speakers. The translation does feel like it goes downhill as the book goes on and it could have benefited from some editing. The good news is that if you have Kindle Unlimited, as of this writing the book is free; I'd be more hesitant to recommend paying full price ($7.99) for it.
Girls Kingdom may have translation issues and won't necessarily appeal to those not fond of the wealthy girls' school subgenre, but it is a fun story. Misaki's patent disbelief at the situation she finds herself in works, as does Himeko's pursuit of her, and there are enough amusing details like the twins with the same name (but written with different kanji) that make this work. If nothing else, it's a rare treat for yuri fans, and hopefully subsequent releases with more attention to editing will follow.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Lovely illustrations, Misaki makes for a good heroine, nice romance being established
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