The King's Beast Vol. 1: Intriguing Start to a Romantic Fantasy Saga
Popular mangaka Rei Toma's new series The King's Beast Vol. 1 hits the ground running with a tale of palace intrigue, assassination, class warfare, secret identities, romance, and revenge. Set in the same fantasy world as her previous bestselling manga Dawn of the Arcana, The King's Beast is a darker, more intense tale.
Set in a feudal kingdom where humans reign and the ajin are treated as slaves, ajin boys with abilities are pressed into service at the imperial palace as status symbols and bodyguards for the royal family. Rangetsu is an ajin intent on avenging her twin brother Sogetsu's death. She disguises herself as a man to attend Prince Tenyou as his new bodyguard. Her plan is to kill the prince, but she discovers he's not her brother's killer. The prince is different. She's shocked to find that he mourns Sogetsu's death, and he is as intent on finding the murderer as she is. Rangetsu makes a pact with Prince Tenyou to let him use her as bait and a weapon in their quest to catch her brother's killer, and they unknowingly set on a path where romance will blossom between them. But betrayals and intrigue abound when the other princes they suspect also have beast-servants, one of whom was probably ordered to kill Sogetsu.
It's easy to see why this series is being brought out with a certain amount of fanfare. Out of the many fantasy romance manga out there, The King's Beast has an intensity and directness that makes it stand out. Rangetsu is not the usual submissive shoujo heroine who finds herself in the arms of a dashing prince. She's proactive, a fighter, a previous victim of abuse, slavery, and assault who's chosen a path of violent revenge and plans to die on this mission. She has nothing else to live for.
The arc of the romance genre is for the hero and heroine to redeem each other in their common quest. Prince Tenyou is her superior but depends on her to fight and protect them both, and she's the one who has the virtuoso action scenes. Rei Toma, probably with oversight from her director, creates a story that's meticulous and precise in the way she lays out her characters' motivations and paces the story like an onion revealing its layers. Slavery, reform, intrigue, betrayal, and revenge are the big themes in fantasy romances, and Toma is one of the major creators in this genre.