Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Twin Knights
Some years after the events of Princess Knight, Sapphire and Franz rule over Silverland. They have twin children, Prince Daisy and Princess Violetta, and there are two camps among their subjects as to which twin should inherit the crown. When Franz prays to God, instead he gets Tink, the angel who made a mess in the past, and Tink arbitrarily names Daisy heir. This does not go well with the Violetta faction, and they arrange for Daisy to be kidnapped and left in the forest. Desperate to hide the prince's disappearance, Sapphire reluctantly agrees to have Violetta be the prince one day and the princess the next. Fifteen years pass, and suddenly the ruse is perilously close to being found out. Violetta embarks on a quest to find her brother, one that will encompass Rose Princes, a gypsy queen, and many other whimsical elements in order to prove her right to be who she really is.
Osamu Tezuka's The Twin Knights, sequel to his ground-breaking shoujo series Princess Knight (published in English in two volumes by Vertical), is a combination of literary fairy tale, Disney movie, and adventure story. The twins in question are the children of Princess Sapphire, the heroine of the previous series, and Prince Franz, who at the time of this sequel are the king and queen of Silverland. When they have twins, there is some question as to who should be the heir to the throne – the male Daisy or the female Violetta? The parents can't find it in themselves to favor either child over the other, and so they decide to leave it up to God. Franz goes out to pray, but since God's busy, trouble-making angel Tink comes back to set some more gender-bending antics in motion. He arbitrarily chooses Daisy to be the Crown Prince, a decision that upsets the faction that was rooting for Violetta. (Perhaps tellingly, this group is lead by a woman, Duchess Dahlia.) The Duchess arranges for Daisy to be kidnapped and abandoned in the Slobb's Forest, where she assumes the Slobb (a fanged cat monster) will eat him. Unfortunately for her, he is instead found by a young doe named Papi. Papi prays to the Goddess of the Forest to become human in order to raise the baby, a wish the goddess is happy to grant. Meanwhile Sapphire reluctantly agrees to Franz's plan of treating Violetta as both son and daughter, dressing and raising her as Violetta one day and Daisy the next in order to hide the prince's disappearance.
These opening chapters have plenty of what made Princess Knight so interesting, along with some more sophisticated storytelling techniques that prevent it from being just a rehash of the earlier story. Sapphire's extreme discomfort with Franz's decision is particularly of note, as she clearly wants to protect her daughter from what she herself was forced to endure. When circumstances demand it later in the story, however, Sapphire teaches Violetta to survive as a man, how to fight and disguise herself in order to make it in the outside world. This contrasts nicely with the later character of Emerald, the gypsy queen. Emerald, significant for having a gemstone name rather than a flower one like most of the other characters in the book, is by far the strongest player in the story. Puckish and fierce, Emerald sticks by Violetta when she is both herself and disguised as a boy, never letting any perceived slights or deceptions deter her. She complains heartily of the restrictions palace folk must abide by, and her primary wish in life seems to be freedom to live as she likes. This, in fact, is the essence of the gypsy song that her band sings, and as the volume ends, readers can't help wondering at her further adventures and wishing that she had been the heroine rather than the conflicted Violetta.
This is not to say that Violetta is not an interesting or worthy protagonist. She very clearly takes center stage, even when Daisy comes into the story, and she really just yearns to be Violetta and not a combination of herself and her lost brother. Where Daisy is easily influenced and fixated on hunting (in his defense, he has no idea that his “sister” Papi is really a deer), Violetta is easily switching between two lives and is willing to strike out on her own to save her parents and her brother. Violetta puts aside her wishes in order to do the right thing, and in the end is rewarded by having all of her heart's desires fulfilled. Daisy comes along for the ride as the other half of the titular twins, in some ways drawing distinct parallels between The Twin Knights and Hans Christian Andersen's “The Snow Queen,” with Violetta as Gerda, Daisy as Kai, and Emerald as The Robber Maiden. This fairy tale quest format is very much present throughout Violetta's storyline, and naturally Tezuka's Disney-style illustrations of animals help to draw that connection in our minds. Small references to Shakespeare can also be gleaned from the text, with Duchess Dahlia having a very Lady Macbeth feel to her and a song sounding suspiciously like the lullaby in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
A more concise and compact story than its predecessor, The Twin Knights gives us another window into the evolution and past of shoujo manga. With Emerald marking the emergence of a wholly female adventurer – she is neither reluctant nor does she have a boy's heart – we can see Tezuka creating a new type of girl character, one drawn from his previous tale of Sapphire. While the cutesy qualities of the animals can distract from the story and sometimes eyes look distinctly buggish, for the most part this is an enjoyable book in both text and illustration. Tezuka fans will undoubtedly already be reading this if they haven't already, but shoujo manga lovers should also give it a try, or those interested in manga's past. The Twin Knights is an engaging, entertaining story out of the past, and it is just as much worth reading today as it was when it first was written years ago.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Emerald is an independent, strong character such as we haven't seen before, details of Papi's fawn-to-girl transformation are neat. No contrived “heart” stuff, as in the previous series.
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