Manga Review: Prince Freya

4 out of 5 stars for Prince Freya by Keiko Ishihara. I think this is an excellently drawn and well-plotted manga for someone who is not me. I like identity shenanigans. Really, I do. Secret identities, double lives, ordinary people who are in-game heroes, “office lady by day, assassin by night” – I’m there. So I was predisposed to like this one just from seeing it on the shelf and reading the back blurb. A supposedly regular girl taking the place of a prince to lead his knights in a desperate gambit; what’s not to like?

Well. The fact that the blurb is a bait-and-switch. So far Freya hasn’t gotten to lead anyone. Pulled off one or two daring bits of bluff as “Prince Edvard”, yes, but no leading.

On top of that, the closest officials who know the prince is actually dead are… gah. If you have a fragile, frightened person you need to play a role to keep your kingdom safe, who’s already lost one of the few people she loved, the way to get her best performance is not, “Do this or we’ll burn your village down.”

…No, really.

Freya-as-Edvard needs to act bold, carefree, and a proud leader of “his” people, and they think the right thing to do is terrify her.

On top of that if Edvard is so admired and respected, why is the cabinet talking over (her) every attempt to speak? Even if the most powerful man in the kingdom of Tyr has most of the ministers under his sway, for the prince to have the reputation he does Edvard should have more than just one general and his personal guard on his side.

The chief aide of said personal guard, Julius, is what really puts all my neck hairs on edge. Bullying and power-plays, fine – Julius is pure out-and-out psychological manipulation. Love bombing, gaslighting, isolating Freya from the one person who knows who she is that she trusts, constantly belittling her best efforts to play the prince – the mangaka can call him gorgeous, because yes, physically, he’s attractive. But all I can think is that old warning about predatory abusers. “Charm is a verb. It’s something someone does to you.”

It’s sad, because I really would like to know what happens next. Freya seems like a relatable character, and her friend Aleksi is tough, determined, and very much aware of how much further he has to go to be taken seriously as a royal guard.

But the psychological manipulation is just too much. This one’s going to have to go.

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24 thoughts on “Manga Review: Prince Freya

  1. You’re right, that one does sound like it “could have been” great, but is really horrible. Why do so many great ideas like that get ruined in the execution? It’s not like “all the ideas” need to be put in one story. The other set of ideas could have been their own story, that might have been at least ok, if they weren’t busy ruining the first story.

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    1. I’d point out that ideas eventually get to be a fairly easy process. Execution has a level of challenge that increases with your skill level, as you try to do things just a little more difficult.

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      1. What I was meaning was the execution of going “I have multiple IDEAS, I’ll just throw them all together in the same story, along with the kitchen sink”, even when the ideas don’t actually work together. Before Vathara, I’d only found one crossover fic that really did well at throwing multiple ideas together, and that was a case where the author had worked out a way to do a fusion-crossover of three settings, where each combination of any two of the settings would _really_ not work, but by putting all three together it made an odd kind of sense (because for each pair, the third setting neutralized the parts “really really don’t fit” parts).

        Normally, the more “ideas” that get added to a story past the grand conceit of the story, the more lower the quality of the story. Even if each of the “ideas” is individually good, or even good with a couple of the other ideas. But often you get cases where A works with B, and A works with C, but C prevents B, so you can choose either A+B or A+C, but trying to get A+B+C=ruined mess. And yet, authors all too frequently try to cram every bright idea they have into _one_ story, instead of making multiple stories each with a smaller number of bright ideas.

        It’s actually kinda related to the stereotypical problem of college students with access to a thesaurus: most words have at least some range of meaning, so while two other words may both be synonyms for the starting word, they may actually be synonyms for _different meanings_ of the first word, and a student who doesn’t double-check with dictionary may end up including a word that’s technically a synonym for the starting word, but which has a completely unrelated meaning to that which the first word was being used for in the first place. It seems to me that I see both the story ideas and the thesaurus problems more commonly matched together, so I wonder if they’re both caused by the same thought-processes (or at least related ones).

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  2. I’m always annoyed by the “forced boss” scenario.

    What exactly is going through their heads when they put someone in a position of authority, then make them resentful and unhappy?
    Most stories sort of skip over the “having authority” aspect, but even a figurehead can have influence if they use it in the right way.
    Instead they generally focus on personal power, because being able to punch down a wall is more fun than actually getting out from the bad situation.

    I keep on hoping for the protagonist to lay out an ultimatum:
    “I don’t want to be the leader of your organization. Either make me ‘not the leader’ or I’ll make it ‘not an organization.'”

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    1. Double Star by Heinlein draws on exactly this — the actor does have to become a leader. I don’t remember much about the book and movie I Was Monty’s Double, but I remember that the actor has to be very smart.

      Kagemusha might be the Japanese source for this one, but I don’t remember that one very well, either.

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    2. Writing good leadership is possible to do without being a good leader, but incorrect theories of leadership are all over the place, and sorting the wheat from the chaff gets difficult when you aren’t able* to carefully observe your own leadership to see what works and what doesn’t.

      Plus, the “Oh, he’s a PRINCE” reaction tends to be a different sort of mind from the ones that study historical military figures to understand how they thought, and hence what sorts of planning might be effective.

      Compare the Disney model princess with some of the historical noblewomen of religious significance that suburbanbanshee nerds out over at times. (Which has implications for unmet needs in Kingdom Hearts fics.)

      *My leadership skills are bad, and I’ve never really wanted to put in the effort to improve.

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  3. Huh, sounds *maybe* salvageable if this is setting up the prince and his former minions to be secretly evil, but i’m getting the impression that the gaslight is a love interest? I’m coming off an overnight shift but my ‘mainstream romance normalizing abuse and why that’s not okay’ rant is around here somewhere, give me a second….

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    1. *looks at Hollywood, which is where a lot of these guys are getting their idea of romance, and notes it looks like the Predator Cheap Shot Hunting Preserve*

      Yeah, hard core no.

      There’s a lot of stuff that is fine in its place that is weaponized by predators (duh!) but your rant sound highly accurate.

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      1. I think we mentioned this before, but a “properly reserved” Japanese young man traditionally didn’t reveal his feelings to the girl he wanted to marry, until he was actually materially able to marry her, and had gotten permission from her family and yours. Because anything else would be forward. And if you were really proper, you didn’t do anything very forward about talking to other girls or women outside your own family.

        In real life, a lot of this was usually not the case. Especially given legal brothels for men to visit.

        Similar things were true of the perfect Confucian gentleman, but again, this was usually only done in real life by men who were gentry, strictly raised, and young.

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  4. In theory I could see a metaplot for ‘coming to realize the true horror of the situation’.

    I think that there are many fiction genres that have some or more badly inbred cliches due to many creator generations of being made by and for people with no connection to or observation of the reality. My charitable side argues that, my competitive side argues that I should find a way to do better, and my paranoid side…

    Anyway, the stuff I’ve been exposed to lately, the muselets currently like the idea of investigating how to deliver what the thing seemed to promise. Doubt that I would actually successfully write it. I’m here right now, as a health break from trying to write an email with a very simple question.

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      1. I sometimes get well over that in nonfiction simply by writing from impulse.

        Fiction? I’ve convinced myself that I can’t work without a plot; I’ve never really figured out how to write a plot.

        Without a plot, I hit a point where I can’t figure out what comes next.

        When I had more available time and energy in my life, I was somewhat successful at the vignette exercises at ATH. Those fit my ability. I could imagine a plot at the fifty to two hundred word scale, and execute it.

        Then I started doing something that challenged me, in a non fiction sort of way. Which I am still driven to pursue, despite awareness of the quixotic, futile, and pointless aspects. My over all drive to creative writing may be as strong, or even stronger, but no single fiction project can match. The RL thing, history, and creative writing are perhaps the activities I’m most strongly drawn to in life.

        I’m improving in my time management and organization, but far from what the RL ambition really demands. I’m trying to plot a course to that objective, navigating around several health challenges. I’ve lost badly sleep twice this week, and get stupid fast with short sleep. I’ve lost a whole work day this week, because of a health issue flaring up. I had another day lost to optional tasks due to a routine medical thing. Plus missing a chunk of a third day working to solve the earlier health issue, now that I know that I really need to get it fixed.

        When I am on top of my mandatory and optional work, I am often too tired to work on any of the creative writing projects. Sometimes even just falling behind on the mandatory leaves me wanting to lie on the floor twitching.

        I am perhaps making some very poor life choices.

        I also have trouble flexibly switching between tasks. I get fixed on things, and will try to handle a wall by bashing it down with my head, even knowing that I probably ought to turn around and work on something else. (And I write tend to write non-fiction stuff like comments by intuition, so I can wind up fixed on saying stuff I don’t need to say, in a very badly structured way.)

        I may still need to try working on hundred word chunks. Maybe a WIP vignettes file or two is what I need clarify my thoughts. Theoretically, it is messier than coming up with an outline first, but I don’t know how to get to that outline. Will have to sort out the schedule for what I can commit to that.

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      2. Obviously your health comes first. But if you are doing okay most of the time and having fun, you are doing better than 90% of the human race. So keep trying to do better, but don’t beat yourself up about it.

        My problem is that I tend to do “closed plotting,” sort of like some people have trouble with conversations because they ask nothing but “closed” yes-no questions. I like to create a solution, or a stopping place, and then suddenly there’s nowhere to go. You seem to create settings that are so “open” that you’re not sure what to do with them.

        But in real life, things keep happening. You can always do time skips if you’re not sure what to do next. Or as many pulp authors advised, just have a shot ring out, or have someone steal the Important Thing, or have the main character or a friend hit over the head and held captive or abducted. That way, something is bound to happen next. There’s something for the characters to figure out.

        Obviously, it doesn’t always have to be a sudden situation of bodily harm. Having something from Chapter One come back to haunt the characters is always good. I mean, if you left suddenly on a tornado, what happens with the next big storm? What’s going on at home? Or when will that wicked witch’s family show up to get revenge for her murder?

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    1. What if you come at writing from the other side of the equation? Like instead of writing from the hero’s point of view- write from the villain’s. Who has this headache that comes in and derails all of their plots.

      Because in a sense, you’re no longer thinking of, ‘How can this work?’ But instead, ‘How can this fail?’. It might be enough to sneak around the difficulties you’re having?

      Maybe you can, in the end, have two parallel stories, even if you only use one of them.

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  5. And now, another fic I’m reading makes me think of a variant of what this blog post is about. In the HP fic I’m reading, Harry gets rescued just before canon start, and actually gets warned about some of what he’s got to expect, and he’s now worrying about it all. As he notes in his thoughts, just a week ago he hadn’t known about magic or any of the rest of it, and now he finds out he’s magical (and powerful), rich, and a celebrity, and he’s a bit overwhelmed by all that. And that, combined with this blog post, made me think of a story where the twist is that some random nobody was taken and put in a similar position, convinced they’re someone special, when they’re really not what they think they are.

    In this case, from the PoV of the “rescuers” in the hypothetical story, the MC would be a “fake” acting out a part, but from the MC’s PoV the MC is the real thing and has to live up to it (not because of coercion or threats, but because the MC doesn’t know the MC is a fake). It can obviously go many ways, but it’d be interesting seeing the MC succeed _because_ of not knowing they’re a fake and thus just assuming “well, since this is apparently normal, I guess I can do this”, especially if the “rescuers” were expecting the MC to fail.

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  6. Ashley’s musing reminds me of some stories I’ve read where characters try to ‘fix ‘ a prophecy. They fake up someone to fit the criteria and the fake either succeeds (usually succeeds) or fails, or discovers he was faked into it and then decides to try anyway…

    . My kid has read some Elder Scrolls fic that does this, and as a child I read it in at least one real book: Giftwish by G.D. Martin. In that one the boy occasionally asks the (very NOT GANDALF) wizard once or twice if he might be the right person. The wizard replies WTTE ‘why worry about it. Just do what you can. You’re bright, clever..and successful so far.’

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    1. In this case, my idea was for the people running the scam to be keeping the fake in the dark about being a fake (as far as the fake is concerned, it’s all real), because the people running the scam are intending to act like the idiots in the story that Vathara’s complaining about here. Their intent is for the fake to be a dupe or figurehead while they either act as the power behind the throne, or set him up to fail (either path works for this, tho obviously they change the details of how the scammers act). But the fake, not knowing he’s a fake, plays the part seriously.

      I’ve seen, as you mention, plenty of stories where the fake knows he’s a fake, or where the scammers are doing the scam out of desperation because they have no better option. I’ve even seen a couple where the scam is that the scammers convince the “fake” that he’s a “fake”, when he’s actually the real deal, and the scammers are hoping that if he believes he’s a fake he’ll go along with being their figurehead because it’s better than what they “rescued” him from. But I’ve never seen it where the fake really is a fake, but doesn’t know it and so is successful because of playing the part seriously, while the scammers are hoping to take advantage of having a fake (for either option, to be the power behind the throne, or to set up a loss that they can take advantage of).

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