Prince Freya Volume 1 (偽りのフレイヤ) by Keiko Ishihara is a shōjo, historical, drama manga series about a small town girl named Freya residing in the country of Tyr. When the neighbouring nation of Sigurd threatens the country with a ferocious scheme of overthrowing the current king, Freya gets swept up in a dangerous political plot to protect the people of Tyr from the vicious plunder of Sigurdian forces, where she must masquerade as the ruling Prince Edvard upon his untimely demise.
The best part of this manga is the political intrigue. It’s wonderfully suspenseful yet enigmatic with incredibly graceful, detailed illustrations and fascinating characters. When I picked this up, I wasn’t sure what to expect based on the synopsis, and I was uncertain as to whether I would enjoy it. However, not only did I love every bit of this introductory volume, I also became marvellously invested in the narrative and Freya’s new journey almost immediately after completing the first chapter; a stupendously rare occasion for me.
Historical stories with tight-knit political chaos is my favourite thing in the whole world, whether it be in films/television or books and graphic novels. Right off the bat, we meet Freya and her childhood friends who are knights that work for the royal family. Within the first two chapters we learn why Freya is special and why her friends are trying so desperately to protect her. This creates a special sort of intrigue, a mystery that makes the reader want to learn all they can about a tiny little girl that is kind of cry-baby. Initially, I thought that maybe she was a royal by blood and was stolen away for the stateship reasons. The true motive of her importance is revealed a bit later, a revelation which only raises even more questions about her and the connection that leads Freya towards her fate.
The other side of the political tension comes from the greedy and ambitious nation of Sigurd. They are going around and conquering all neighbouring nations to become the ultimate powerhouse for their respective continent. They are aggressive and conniving and have strategic advantages that allow them to infiltrate rival communities, almost like an undetectable poison. This aspect gives the whole story a foundation of tension and unease. While we watch Freya get situated in the palace and struggle to form meaningful bonds to help her with her new duties, the threat of Sigurd’s influence always looms over everything. Is her friendship with Person A, B, or C going to lead to devastating consequences? Does this act of kindness have an ulterior motive? It’s difficult at times to predict just what will go wrong and where, which is another element that contributes to the wonderful engagement of the storytelling that Prince Freya provides.
Freya herself is, at first, really unlikable to me. She gets extremely emotional over every little thing and when she starts crying, it’s almost impossible to get her to stop within a reasonable amount of time. She’s weak and mentally frail, things that are incensed by a terrible tragedy mid-volume. In many ways, she reminds me of Yona from Yona of the Dawn, except where Yona was spoiled rotten, Freya has been overtly sheltered from the political pandemonium surrounding Tyr. Even so, all of these vexing characteristics provide ample space for her to develop as a character while she learns how to successfully navigate the complicated new life that she now leads. Her journey and the many ways that she shall change and acquire a multitude of strengths is something I look forward to quite eagerly.
All the spectacular things about Prince Freya Volume 1 are further unified by the gorgeous artwork. The perpendicular panels and the lush details of the backgrounds and the environments really bring the story to life, almost cinematically in some instances. The use of shading and different tones of grey and blacks give the art a sharp and distinct appearance, particularly during scenes of violence and action. It also doesn’t shy away from bloodshed, which the action and fantasy addict in me appreciated very much. The softer scenes, such as intimate exchanges between characters, is drawn with a lighter hand and we are presented with more white panels and finer line work. Having this versatility to the artistry helps to build and share a wide range of emotions and reactions to the story that’s unfolding, which makes it supremely interactive and beautifully compelling.
All in all, Prince Freya is an excellent new manga series to add to your repertoire of things to read, especially if you like historical dramas with a bit of romance and amazing artwork. It wasn’t on my radar before, but now, not only is on the radar, it’s completely blown it out of the water. Definitely check it out if you can. You can read a free preview for Prince Freya Volume 1 over on Viz.
Please note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of VIZ Media.