“ Genre: Graphic Novels / Comics / Author: Fusanosuke Inariya / Paperback / 200 Pages / Book is published 2010-03-24 by Digital Manga Publishing „
A small, delicate oriental flower of a man in a military uniform stands at a train station, tears running down his face. He is called by an older man , also in the same uniform, as it is nearly time to depart. Lord Taki turns and pauses however, his tears stilled for a moment as the large figure of a foreign man approaches, and brings Taki's hand to his lips. "Take me with you..."
With the very next scene a battlefield filled with artillery fire and the roar of tanks, you know this is not going to be a simple story of two lovers finding each other and figuring each other out at the movies and while peacefully drinking coffee at neighbourhood cafés. Indeed, it is not that kind of story. Taking place in 1929 and set during a period of intense conflict between a small country that is not really Japan and its larger neighbour that is not really in Europe, we have a youthful prince who has gone to school in this not European country for a brief period during peacetime. He has made close ties to a young Saxon there, Claus von Wolfstadt, and their bond is seemingly not a new one. For Claus remembers a long ago visit to that far away nation, the sight of flowers, and a young princeling, where upon laying his eyes upon Taki's countenance as a young adult, the smell of those flowers is evoked and emotions stirred. Knowing he is to be expelled as war is on the horizon, Lord Taki gives in to Claus' advances and they become lovers. It is the next day that we see in the beginning, as Taki leaves to return to his homeland and take up command of the Maiden Rose division, commanding a small and antiquated tank.
He cries knowing he is leaving his heart behind, but Claus has come, and forsaking his own country, pledges himself as the knight of Lord Taki. What a knight he is, riding his motorcycle through mortar fire, supporting Taki's tank advances and veering off on forays where no one else dares. Seen by Taki's subordinate officers and superiors as a dog, his name and seemingly arrogant attitude and penchant for seemingly taking off to do his own thing during battle earns him the nickname of "Mad Dog". Mad he might be, but in ways they never dream. For after battle, he takes their Maiden Rose, Lord Taki, again and again, forcefully, as Taki yields to Claus'desires but never his own heart. Or so Claus thinks, unaware of the significance of the Maiden Rose and Taki as its emblem. Torn between his own heart and his duty, Taki struggles to balance the two, all too aware that he is betraying not only Claus and his devotion, as well as his own feelings, but the role his countrymen demand of him symbolically.
This takes its toll not only on Taki emotionally, but upon Claus, driven to his limits as he tries to elicit the loving response he got back in his own country. He craves this with a hungry need, having given up all he held dear to follow his love, and his own fears and insecurities make him cruel. This leads to the nature of their relationship being discovered when Taki faces what he has done to Claus and reacts in a desperate attempt to gain forgiveness for his "sins" in an act that sends Claus into a panic. Further complicated by the discovery of maps containing troop movements and numbers for both sides in Claus' belongings and him being seized and tortured as a traitor, it looks like it may be all over for the pair. What will become of Taki, and will Claus ever see him return to reclaim him as his one and only knight, above all reproach?
Inariya Fusanosuke sensei weaves a tale of love and war that is multilayered and poignant. Her characters are memorable; from the young cadets idol worshipping the officers to the single appearance of the battle wounded swordsmith, to the main characters of Taki and Claus, each one is fully realised. The emotions fairly leap from the page; the cold, calculating single minded fury during battle, the gut wrenching fear of loss, the desperation of a lonely love, and the confused resolution of a man trying to retain his desires and perform his duties are all wonderfully presented. This is no mean feat, as Taki in particular is a complicated character. During the intimate scenes with Claus, we see his desperate anger, seemingly refusing to yield given what his words are, but contradicted by his own actions. It is no wonder Claus is conflicted and driven nearly mad as it is like being offered a banquet and discovering the food is half cooked and stone cold.
Not that Claus is a simple person to understand either. Just why was he and his sister taken to Taki's land as children and told they are bound to the noble house there? And why does no one else, Taki included, seem to know about it? Is Claus truly a traitor to his homeland, or is he playing both sides? These are tantalising questions that are posed as events unfold, holding key parts of the plotlines yet to unfurl. Answers that possibly no one should know, least of all the Maiden Rose. Or would knowing these answers present the key to happiness?
The art is unabashedly and refreshingly original. Claus and the older officers are manly men, showing their ancestry clearly. Claus is a square jawed strapping blonde man, while Taki and his countrymen clearly show their Oriental heritage with their narrow jaws, almond shaped eyes, and high cheekbones. It makes a strong departure from most other titles in the genre who typically have features that could be from almost anywhere. It adds a dimension of realism and immediacy to the scenes that unfold, and clearly drawing the battle lines as they appear, with the Us VS Them visually punctuated. It also serves to underscore Claus' alienation as the foreign knight struggling to maintain his personal identity while being gazed upon with suspicion due to his origins despite his obvious undying personal sense of devotion.
Nor is just the character art praiseworthy in design. The battle scenes are well executed, with a sense of violence and immediacy. The scenes within Taki's tank are particularly well done, showcasing the vintage equipment in wonderful detail. The fluid lines show the rapid movements of Taki as he turns his head to utter his commands and those who rush to obey his utterances, as well as the violence of Claus' movements as he assaults his lover. The pictures seem to move in themselves, drawing the eye naturally along as the story unfolds frame by frame.
The first volume plunges us headlong into the melee, assaulting the senses with a barrage of action and emotion. Thankfully the translation from the original Japanese is very smooth, maintaining the delicate nuances without which the central plot point of the pathos of the relationship with the seemingly un co-operative Taki actually being in conflicted complicity, and Klaus' attempt to have Taki face himself and acknowledge the truth of their relationship in private at least, would be completely lost. Likewise the lack of annoying censoring in a title aimed at adults is quite welcome.
I have to admit I have never completely understood just why a title clearly labelled 18+ for explicit content and possibly even sold shrank wrapped would contain black bars over intimate body parts, or even more amusingly, have invisible body parts. It jars the reader, taking them aback and interrupting the flow of the story. No such issue here, so if you blush or offend easily, be warned: the sex scenes are shown in full detail, with anatomy and bodily fluids on full display. With the well thought out plot, fully fleshed out characters, beautifully rendered art, and faithful presentation to the English speaking market, Maiden Rose promises to be a series that will keep the reader returning to see how the war, between two countries, as well as two men's hearts and their sense of dutiful obligations, fares.
***I would like to thank Digital Manga Publishing for my review copy. ***