I'm going to take advantage of the fact we're heading into Valentine's Day territory and review a bunch of romance-themed yaoi and shojo manga over the next two weeks. Today I look at the terribly darling (and I don't use those words lightly) yaoi romance Our Kingdom: Arabian Nights.
Naduki Koujima's Our Kingdom: Arabian Nights is technically a spin off of her longer series, Our Kingdom, but having not read the original title I can attest that this charming romance completely stands on its own. While I'm always wary of *any* culture's tendency to exoticize another (in this case, Japan's attempt to re-enact some version of The Sheik in both straight and gay romances), this title neatly side-stepped most of my problems by making both characters princes of a sort.
Raoul, a spoiled, rich young man with a big attitude, and even bigger chip on his shoulder to match it, journeys to a high class resort in the Middle East in the hopes of getting over a nasty case of heartbreak. He catches the eye of a young princess who implores her brother, Ashif to "capture" the young "Western prince" straight out of a fairy tale. Ashif is a sheltered but forthright young man who takes an immediate liking to Raoul, much like his sister. At the beginning of their encounter Ashif attempts to treat the proud American like a pet are completely upended by Raoul's outrageous responses to his strange new "captivity," which include hostage taking and sneak attack kisses. Raoul's one of those crazy rich people who refuses to be cowed by anybody or anything, which becomes the perfect counter-balance to Ashif's royal ego.
It doesn't take long before Raoul starts to care for the brash young prince in spite of himself. Of course, even though the story takes place in the Middle East, somehow the main obstacles to their relationship are Ashif's status as a prince and Raoul's attempt to overcome a not so deeply buried inferiority complex. Part of the pleasure of this title are the characters' emotional openness with themselves and with each other. Ashif -- as a complete innocent in all matters sexual -- doesn't really understand why another man is offering himself as a potential romantic partner, although his confusion is without malice or shame. It is still a relief when the title completely avoids the homophobic tendencies in many yaoi titles by having Ashif not only accept Raoul's affectionate gestures, but also honestly acknowledge Raoul's escalating feelings.
Although this romance is pure fantasy -- as most yaoi titles are -- it is a genuinely warm and thoughtful one. The relationship between the two likable leads develops slowly, but surely. Thanks to Koujima's strong characterization work, even though they are so incredibly different they still fit together as if they were two puzzle pieces that could be perfectly snapped together. That kind of inevitability in romance titles usually annoys me, but here it was actually earned through their increasing intimacy over time. In other words, this title actually made you believe that two people with such different temperaments and backgrounds could actually fall in love.
Review copy provided by DMP.