Earlier in the month I was browsing some of the submissions to the Natsume Yuujinchou group on deviantArt and came across a piece of fanart with some characters I didn't recognize. The artists comments explained that they had drawn the main characters from three of Yuki Midorikawa's works, Natsume Yuujinchou, Hotarubi no Mori e (both of which I had recognized), and then a third character from another work of her's Hiro no Isu. I hadn't really done any searching to see if Midorikawa had done any other works besides Natsume and Hotarubi, turns out she's been published since 1998 and has done seven series of various lengths and this one was her longest one before Natsume at 10 chapters over three volumes. It's never been released in the US and the scans were rather easy to find so I decided to give the story a shot and ended up immedately falling in love with it.
Hiro no Isu (The Scarlet Chair/Throne) by Yuki Midorikawa
Summary: Setsu is a girl from a small town in the countryside and has traveled to the capital to see an old friend. She was one of the few who knew that her childhood friend Luca was actually the illegitimate child of the king and years ago he was summoned by one of the retainers to become the new king and take the scarlet throne since he was the only living descendant left. But when Setsu comes to the city she's in for a surprise, there's an impostor in his place and he seems to have been expecting Setsu to come someday.
The Good: This series is clearly a shojo manga, it has a female protagonist and was published in Hana to Yume based on the cover, but it doesn't feel like a typical shojo series at all. There's a bit of romance but not much, it's more implied than anything else*, the main character isn't that girly but this is never a reason for teasing or angst, she just doesn't seem to care, and she's proficient with a sword which never seems to raise any eyebrows. Actually, there are several female characters who are skilled fighters and no one ever questions this, I'm so used to seeing series where female characters have to fight their way to the top to be accepted that it's always odd when there isn't sexism, I certainly prefer it this way though. And I also prefer the lack of romance, there is a big focus on friendship instead and I really liked seeing those grow and develop between all the characters. The series ended a bit differently than I expected and was a bit bittersweet as well but I felt satisfied with it once I was done so I'm happy.
The Bad: The series is an odd length and I wonder if this was originally going to be a one-shot story that was approved for a full series or a full series that was cut short. Perhaps it was only intended to be a short story from the start but occasionally the pacing felt a little odd and made me wonder. While I don't think the story could have worked if it was any shorter I do think it could've also worked as a longer series which would have been nice, some of the reveals towards the end came too quickly and felt too messy. Overall though the plotting is strong enough, it just feels like it could've been even better.
The Art: I know this has surprised some people before but I'm actually not super-fond of Midorikawa's art style, it's a bit too sketchy and inconsistent for my taste. It does work surprisingly well for action scenes, of which HnI has many, but it can become difficult to distinguish the characters from each other. I found it interesting to compare her art here to her work in Natsume, she's certainly improved but there is still some charm to the art here.
If this was ever to be licensed in the US, highly unlikely but hypothetically, I'd buy it for sure and squee over it all over again. It's shojo, which I love, but different from other shojo titles which I love even more. Wonder if I can find out more about any of Midorikawa's other works now....
*something interesting however, apparently the reason there has been so little romance in Natsume, this is all at least third-hand information, is because Midorikawa's editors made her put in more romance than she wanted in her previous work so she's really trying to avoid it this time. Chronologically this would have been the work right before Natsume so I wonder if the editors made her put in the hints in the end, no way to know however.