Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Holy Grail of Eris
As a little girl, Constance Grail stumbled into St. Mark's Square during the execution of Lady Scarlet Castiel, the purported wickedest woman around who was found guilty of trying to poison the woman her fiancé – the crown prince. Ten years later, Connie is nothing like Scarlet, prepared to marry the man her father needs her to wed and resigned to an unremarkable existence. All of that changes when at a ball she speaks to a mysterious woman before being set up by Lady Pamela, her fiancé's lover. Before she quite knows what's going on, the mysterious woman from before has possessed her body and come to her aid – because she's none other than the ghost of Scarlet Castiel…and there will be a price for her help.
You may not have heard of original light novel author Kujira Tokiwa, but there's a good chance you've seen Hinase Momoyama's art before – Momoyama illustrated the Massacre Arc of Higurashi: When They Cry, The Dawn of the Golden Witch Arc of Umineko When They Cry, and the Lyu spinoff of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?'s manga. What's perhaps more impressive is that without looking it up, I couldn't necessarily tell; Momoyama has a gift for adapting art to fit the mood of a story that allows for such a diverse body of work. Now in The Holy Grail of Eris' manga adaptation, Momoyama uses a much more classic shoujo style, with finely detailed gowns and backgrounds, to bring us into the pseudo-European world of Kujira Tokiwa's story.
Taking place in what seems roughly analogous to the late eighteenth century, the story follows Constance Grail, a young noblewoman who has the misfortune of belonging to a family who takes their motto of sincerity just a little too seriously. Her father is unable to grasp that not everyone is likely to be as good-hearted as he is, and this has landed the family in financial hot water. Now the only way for them to recoup their losses (and pay off the debt he shouldered for a “friend”) is for Connie to marry Neil, the son of a wealthy merchant family. She's not thrilled, but she's also not horribly opposed to the idea, and figures that she may as well take her father as her role model in this and be her sincere best.
Sadly, like her father, she also naively assumes the same sincerity and fidelity on the part of other people, which quickly bites her. Neil has a lover, Lady Pamela, who finds Constance repulsive (possibly just because she can; she's little more than your typical society mean girl), and when all three of them are invited to a ball at the Grand Merillian, Pamela attempts to humiliate Connie out of society. If this sounds like the plot of your average Regency romance novel, you're not too far off – not only is the Grand Merillian similar to venues like Almack's Assembly Rooms in London, but the twittering society matrons are likewise very similar to the way that the Patronesses are described in contemporary (and not so contemporary) fiction. The whole thing could have been lifted wholesale out of a Georgette Heyer novel, right down to the way the art shows the women's dresses: the wealthier ladies are dressed up-to-the-minute with a lower waistline and longer, fuller skirt, as well as more elaborate accessories, while Connie's dress, although not drastically out of fashion, is still much plainer and more innocent-looking than almost everyone else's, making her status very apparent in her setting. (Men, it's worth noting, wear more elaborate 18th-century frock coats and knee-breeches.) Even the way the matrons use their fans is period-appropriate, and when one woman gives another the so-called Cut Direct (ignores her), it carries weight.
Of course, Georgette Heyer may not have written a scene like what happens when poor Constance is cornered very publicly by Pamela. Constance is suddenly possessed by a ghost – more specifically, the ghost of Scarlet Castiel, although Connie is unaware of it. In the prologue to the story, a six-year-old Connie accidentally wanders into the public execution of Scarlet, who was roundly condemned as being the wickedest woman in all society, something her dying curse may confirm. (Or it may not…that answer is beyond the purview of this manga volume, which only covers roughly a quarter of the first novel.) Scarlet appears to be haunting the Grand Merillian, unable to enter it until Constance, unaware that she's a ghost, notices her and tells her that she can go inside. At this point, all we know is that Scarlet comes to Connie's aid when no one else will; whether she did such a thing because Constance was kind to her or because she knows what it's like to be condemned for something you didn't do remains to be seen. But in either case, it's not the move you'd expect of someone who was beheaded for purportedly trying to murder the woman her fiancé left her for, although that does draw an interesting parallel between the situation Connie finds herself in and Scarlet's life.
As of this manga volume, it feels like things are going to tread very close to the source material. In fact, Momoyama says as much in the afterword – as faithful an adaptation as possible is the route they want to take. That's a bonus in that it really means that whether you read manga or light novel, you'll be getting the same story and details, which is something of a rarity. In any event, I'd definitely recommend picking one or the other up, because not only is there an interesting character dynamic building between Connie and Scarlet (not that Connie knows it yet), but the sense of the world and the details are wonderful, and there is a mystery element that's only just starting to rear its head. It's worth noting the reference to the Moirae (Fates) that's almost a blink and you'll miss it moment – because if the Fates are present, then the title takes on a slightly more sinister tone: Eris, or Discordia, after all, is the goddess of strife.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Close adaptation of the source material that works well, interesting world-building elements that paint a very clear picture. Excellent 18th/19th century European detail.
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