Hello! Don’t worry, this is still Code-Zero’s blog. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, I promise. My handle is Alkenshel, and
hopefully from this point on, I shall be contributing a series of weekly articles, with Code-Zero’s approval, entitled “You Should Read/You Should Dread”, in which I will post my impressions on a light novel and recommend people to either read it, or prod at it with a stick from a safe distance.
Our goal in doing this sort of thing is two-fold. Our first goal is to promote light novel titles that you may not have heard of before; there are a lot of great light novel titles out there, though unfortunately one has to dig deep in the rabble to fetch them out. More support is always welcome for the lesser-known titles! The second goal is to motivate people, who may or may not have a passing interest in reading light novels, to go out there and start reading them. And if you get inspired enough to pick up learning Japanese just so you can read these titles, then all the better! We all have to start somewhere, and if these articles can get you started, then that’s satisfaction enough for me.
Enough rambling; have at thee!
Kenkoku no Jungfrau (referred to as Jungfrau hereafter) is an Ichijinsha Bunko series, written by Fuminori Teshima. Its first volume was released on October 20, 2012, with the last volume on released on February 20, 2014, with a total of seven volumes. It talks about the story of Heath, a common gate guard (think of the guards whom you meet standing outside the towns you go into in classic fantasy RPGs) and his meeting with Estelle, a roaming self-proclaimed clown, as well as their being thrust into the heart of a disaster that threatens the safety of the kingdom that Heath lives in.
Genre-wise, it’s a classic swords-and-magic fantasy RPG. There are two races involved: humans and 罪禍 (saika). Saika take the role of demons in that they’re generally stronger than humans but usually look grotesque, with the exception of human-looking saikas who are known as 皇禍 (ouka) who are much more powerful than the standard saika. Saikas generally attack humans on sight, but they are separated from the human kingdom of Estreliya by a huge canyon and are found residing in the area noth of said kingdom. Saikas also have the bizarre behavior of having their blood turn into crystals the moment they are exposed to air, which is also how they identify saika and ouka alike from humans. Magic in the kingdom of Estreliya, the country of Knights, is known as Omen, and those who use it are Omen Talkers; those who have the potential of being Omen Talkers are identified by their light purple irises.
The first volume begins with a prologue on Heath and Estelle’s first meeting, after which it then talks about the aforementioned disaster that took place three months ago, and which sets the stage for the entirety of Jungfrau’s events while introducing Lucille, the second main heroine (I know it probably sounds confusing, but bear with me). And while it may not have been executed as well as I’d hoped, I have to admit that I really love the idea of the supposed sacred weapons of lore, instead of saving the kingdom, being the ones to bring the kingdom to its unexpected downfall and gradual ruin. It reminds me of Suikoden’s True Runes and how the power they bear brings about burdens as well for the users, and I am such a sucker for that kind of stuff.
The main characters of the series are:
- Heath Bergrano, a low-ranking gate guard who gives all of his effort into saving enough money to send his younger sister, Mana, into the Estreliya Academy for Omen Talkers so she can hone her talent; it doesn’t hurt that Heath is passionate about his job as a gate guard and takes it very seriously, and he is also very skilled with a spear; he usually lacks self-confidence and flounders around, appearing very unreliable to others, and believes that he’s fine with being a lowly gate guard since he isn’t destined for greatness.
- Estelle Norn Stern, a roaming self-proclaimed clown who makes it her business to make everyone smile and be happy; she has an air of mystery to her, and believes that solving problems through sheer power isn’t everything; encountering her is much like getting swept up in the path of an oncoming tornado, much to the chagrin (and delight) of both Heath and Lucille.
- Lucille Afnor, the adopted daughter of the King of Estreliya who at a young age earned herself the title “Dragonslayer” after she slew a young dragon in single combat; she is capable of using the highest-ranked Omen, Knights of the Round, in which she summons 12 Ansara Swords bearing the spirits of the Twelve Knights of the Round and endow their skills to whoever wields them; she takes her responsibilities very seriously as she is one of the few remaining current Knights of Round, and tries to act as a bastion of support and stability in the midst of all the chaos in the kingdom of Estreliya.
There are several things that I love about this series (which also serves as a testament to how much I like Teshima’s writing). First, and particularly noteworthy, is how he handles character interactions, especially his heroines. Jungfrau is undeniably a harem series, much like other contemporary titles due to the boom of harem both as a genre and as a trend; what sets Jungfrau (and I suspect, other Teshima-written titles) apart from said harem titles is how he gives the heroines their own characterizations and scenes that aren’t heavily-dependent on the male lead.
In most harem stories, scenes involving heroines also involve the male lead for the most part; Jungfrau changes it up by having the heroines mingle with each other, having them be supportive of each other despite the friendly rivalries they have with each other over Heath (which later turns into them agreeing to share Heath), and generally bonding with each other because of, and beyond, the male lead. It’s a very cute and very welcome change as it adds depth and character to the ladies and make them more memorable, appealing, and relatable as distinct characters; think about it, when was the last time you read about the heroines of a harem series having “girl’s talk” moments between them just as much as they have scenes with the male lead? It’s a very hard thing to find in a harem series, and Jungfrau not only has it, but uses it to effective lengths in making you like its heroines.
The second thing that I applaud Teshima for, not so much Jungfrau but his writing in general, is how he is able to smoothly transition from one mood to the next without coming off as jarring or disjointed. Jungfrau has a very grim and gritty setting; the kingdom is in the middle of a civil war, saika are able to attack the capital which they previously believed was unassailable, people are killing each other over the very things that were supposed to save the country, the sword seals are actually capable of unleashing monstrosities that can destroy a single country effortlessly, and it seems like there is no hope. Yet even with this gloomy atmosphere looming in the background, the character interactions are just so entertainingly delightful that you can’t help but enjoy Estelle’s antics or Heath’s attempts at saving face – until shit hits the fan, and you’re forcefully dragged back to the reality of how things are all around, much like the characters, and you remember that this is the world that they’re living in. Teshima is able to deftly transition from that somber mood to a festive one, and the way he’s able to smoothly take the reader along with it is something I applaud in his writing (and can be found in his other works as well, like Butterfly and Whale and in his new title Ignis).
Jungfrau does have its shortcomings, though. The first two volumes have printings errors here and there which can be found easily enough – this is quite embarassing, admittedly, but nothing too major to ruin the experience. Though I heaped praise after praise on Teshima for the way he handled Jungfrau’s main heroines Estelle and Lucille, the same can’t be said for the subheroines Sylvia and Elina – while they do get a bit fleshed out, their levels of character development are nowhere in comparison to Lucille and Estelle’s, which is somewhat disappointing as I expected him to give the former duo a similar treatment that the latter duo received. That’s just the difference between main and sub heroines, I suppose.
The fight scenes are pretty shounen in feel and execution, generally speaking, which is regrettable but unavoidable. That does not mean, however, that they are boring – several scenes come to mind such as Lucille’s aerial combat, Heath and Sylvia fighting back-to-back, Elina’s complete trashing of Clown in Elliot’s body, and Tomas Purgatorio’s one-man rage with all twelve sword seals, sending chills down my spine as I read them unfold.
Regarding the grim premise and setting, while I did mention earlier that Teshima is able to deftly switch between moods without a jarring transition, he also doesn’t do much with the dark premise. Halfway through the series (in volume 5 to be specific), the civil unrest and disorder is handwaved away with the explanation that Lucille and company’s efforts in gathering the sword seals, as well as the knights enforcing order, is what lead to things developing for the better. While it’s a welcome development as a sort of rewards for all the protagonists’s efforts, it also feels half-hearted and somewhat contrived (which is why I suspect that Teshima was laying the foundations with Jungfrau for Ignis, his new Dark Fantasy title, which is much grimmer than Jungfrau and doesn’t pull any punches with character deaths). However, it doesn’t take away from the gritty feel the series has going for it, as volume 5 will make you aware (especially the scenes with Mana’s teacher).
From my first impressions of Jungfrau after having finished the first volume, I found myself entertained and enamored with Estelle’s gleeful pranks and Lucille’s hidden adorable side. Six volumes onwards (a confession: I have yet to read the last volume!), and while Estelle’s pranks have been reduced to just being mentions in a sentence or two, the character developments (especially of the heroines) that followed was what really kept me reading more and more of it. It’s really hard to find heroines who are just as developed and treated as characters in their own rights as much as Estelle and Lucille, and this is where Jungfrau’s strength really lies. Heath also gets his moments to shine, and he develops from a cowardly but determined character (who believes that being a gate guard is his one true calling in life) who just flounds around with the flow to someone who resolves to put an end to the troubles
afflicting his precious wives that come his way (while still believing that being a gate guard is his one true calling in life!), instead of just being swept up in the flow. He also grows from the typical clueless, dense harem hero, to one who assertively takes pride in and holds his heroines in high affection. So it would be needless to say that, if you find yourself not liking either heroine or the lead after the first few volumes, then you might not find yourself enjoying this series for long.
As a parting remark, it’s also notable how the author exercises restraint despite this being a harem series, with Heath ending up with two main heroines and two subheroines – nothing more, nothing less. And really, once you finish reading the series, you’d really be hard-pressed to find heroines who are just as entertaining and just as notable as Jungfrau’s, much less want more than what Jungfrau has to offer. So read it now, and join us in our Jungfrau withdrawal!