I’ve belatedly realized that I like comics for ‘tweens and teens for the same reasons I like some actual ‘tweens and teens. A good nature, a sense of humor, a reasonable amount ambition, intelligence – these qualities go a long way towards making me enjoy a comic or a kid. (I like the surly ones a lot if they’re sarcastic and perceptive enough to leaven their moodiness.)
Natsuna Kawase’s The Lapis Lazuli Crown, which debuts Wednesday from CMX, has enough of the good qualities to make it pleasant company. It’s pretty and outgoing but just insecure enough to spare it cheerleader blandness. And it’s only two volumes long, so how wrong can it go?
It’s about Miel Violette, middle daughter of a family of aristocratic sorcerers who’ve seen better days. Miel’s parents have lost their high-profile positions, but they’re getting by. Miel’s older sister, Sara, is already an accomplished magician, and little sister Renee has started magic school. Miel has inherited the family magic, but she’s awkward in its use, and she’s abnormally physically strong. Her middling magic and brute strength leave her wanting to fly under the radar and be average.
While out shopping one day, she meets a cute, goofy boy who finds her interesting, which is pretty much the last thing Miel wants. Radi encourages her to work on her magic and to not be so self-conscious about her strength. Miel is shocked when she discovers that Radi is actually the prince of the kingdom; he’s modified his appearance to let himself mingle among the people. After some initial irritation at Radi’s deception, Miel starts crushing on the prince and decides to hone her magical powers so that she can work in the palace and be closer to him.
It’s always at least a little gross when a character decides to do something they should be doing anyways to win the approval of a character they like. Kawase doesn’t entirely get around that problem, nor does she really seem to want to, but she comes close by making Radi wonderfully likable. Prince types don’t vary a whole lot, so Radi is a breath of fresh air. In his commoner guise, he’s enthusiastic about everything and genuinely interested in his subjects and their welfare. His in-disguise walkabouts are about having fun, but they’re also about connecting with the people he serves. I wish Miel was more self-motivated, but there are good reasons to crush on Radi, so I won’t carp too much.
The Lapis Lazuli Crown has the added advantage of being really, really pretty. I’m sort of crazy about faux-European, quasi-period settings, and Kawase does a very nice job of conceiving and executing designs for her setting and the looks of her characters. There’s a nice sense of motion to her illustrations, and the magical sequences have an understated quality that’s a nice change from some of the super-sparkly examples in the genre. (She doesn’t demonstrate a tremendous range in terms of character design. The back-up story is an appealing thief caper, but it looks like Miel and Radi are part of a summer stock company playing a one-act on the nights the main production is dark.)
But really, the biggest selling point for the book is Radi, the dream boy who’s actually dreamy and at least as interesting as the girl who loves him. That’s rare enough to make The Lapis Lazuli Crown worth a look.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)