A Partial Review
(NOTE: manga scenes depicting war, including death and violence, ahead!)
By the same mangaka that brought you the short and sweet historical tale The Heiress and the Chauffeur and the supernatural comedy The Bride & the Exorcist Knight comes an action-adventure epic about a naive girl who is forced to assume a dead prince's identity to save her village, family, and country from impending war. Serialized in LaLa DX since 2017, Prince Freya (Itswuari no Freya) by Keiko Ishihara is over 10 volumes long and shows no signs of ending any time soon, which suits me just fine. Prince Freya is an easy recommendation to give to fans of action-adventure or fantasy adventure stories like Tail of the Moon by Rinko Ueda, Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi, and Rei Toma's works (Dawn of the Arcana and The King's Beast) with one major caveat, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
Viz licensed Prince Freya under its Shojo Beat imprint, and the company released the first volume in April 2020. As of this review, there are 8 volumes available now. Volume 9 will be released in August, and volume 10 will be released next year in February 2024. Note that we're riding Japan's coattails for this series so be prepared for longer wait times in between volumes.
Viz describes Prince Freya:
Freya thinks of herself as a simple village girl, but her idyllic life is shattered when she is caught up in the aftermath of a treacherous Sigurdian plot. She bears a striking resemblance to her country’s beloved Prince Edvard, who lays dying from poison. Without its ruler, all of Tyr will quickly be engulfed by Sigurdian violence. Now Freya must take Prince Edvard’s place and lead his valiant knights in defending the realm!
Some manga takes a few volumes (or several) to get into but not Prince Freya. If you aren't intrigued or excited by the end of Chapter 1, drop it, and read something else. I promise you there are manga licensed in English that share characters, themes, genres, and plot elements with Prince Freya that may be more to your liking. If you have read the ones I mentioned above, then you can try Basara by Yumi Tamura, Snow White with the Red Hair by Sorata Akiduki, and Nina the Starry Bride by Rikachi. If all else fails, Requiem of the Rose King by Aya Kanno. Seriously. It's been a while since I've read a manga that grabbed me from Chapter 1.
The story opens in a European ambient mountain town called Tena where Freya, a sheltered but earnest and hardworking girl, goes about her usual day. She's running errands and taking care of her sick mom Skadi, a strong-willed and stubborn but sickly woman. Just as Freya was getting food for the day, she runs into her two older childhood friends and adopted brothers Aaron and Aleksi (nicknamed "Alek"), a knight and a footsoldier on leave from the army for a "casual visit" since they are in the area. In reconnecting with them, Freya learns that her country Tyr (and by extension her mountain village Tena) is in dire straits. Sigurd is threatening war. The situation is made even worse when she learns that Prince Edvard is dying from poison. Turns out, Aaron and Alek's real mission was to retrieve her to take Prince Edvard's place, but they decided against that plan as they wanted to protect Freya. Aaron vows that he'll come up with another plan.
With the enemy Sigurdian army in hot pursuit and wanting to protect Aaron, especially, and Alek too, Freya rushes out of her village to the castle where she meets the prince on his deathbed. The prince half commands, half pleads with her to fulfill his will. In a quick change, Freya transforms into Edvard and...joins the fray. The Tyr army manages to push the enemy back but not without casualties. In addition to losing the real Prince Edvard, the kingdom loses its best knight Aaron the Black Knight of Tyr, aka Aaron the childhood friend and love interest. Aaron, the one Freya has feelings for and with whom she shared a moment in the woods. Yeah, the teased, would-be love interest dies in the first chapter. Like, imagine if Hak just dies in the first chapter after saving Yona from Su-Won in Yona of the Dawn. 💀
For emphasis, I only described the first chapter. This entire chapter could easily have filled the entire first volume, and since the first chapter went at warp speed, I wish it was the entire first volume. Nevertheless, you get everything you need to know before continuing on to Chapter 2 and the rest of the series. Make no mistake. Prince Freya is a war story first and foremost. There is no immediate love interest to distract you from the plot. The war is the plot. Freya living her life as a lie, as the dead Prince Edvard, is the plot. Freya's growth as a character is the plot, and everything else is in service to it. (Some of the manga I listed above are also not romance stories, but I'll save the romance-subplot-does-not-equal-main-plot rant for another day.)
Speaking of character growth, I guess now would be a good time to tell you that Freya is a crybaby but not helpless or "useless." She fights and does brave things but just cries while doing so. She cries easily out of frustration, fear, anger, happiness, etc. All of the emotions. It's something she acknowledged that she needs to improve prior to living as Prince Edvard, but now, it's something she really has to work on. Tough going as she'll justifiably have a lot to cry about in the chapters and volumes to come. Thank goodness she has people on her side that she can rely upon for help and support.
Chapter 2 opens a few days after Prince Edvard and Aaron's death. Freya passed out soon after the skirmish and is coming to terms with Aaron's death when she meets General Baldr and the White Knight of Tyr Julius. Together with Alek, the four are the only ones who know of Prince Edvard's death and must keep the secret. Freya is forced to stay disguised as Edvard or risk getting Alek killed and her village getting burned to the ground. There is no going back to her old life. The General and Julius mean business. General Baldr is a background character right now. He's basically a generic lion-faced, grizzled stern man and experienced warrior, but Julius is a real character.
Julius is the second strongest knight in Tyr after Aaron, but he was the closest to Prince Edvard. Julius' feelings for Prince Edvard extend beyond that of a devoted knight. (Was his relationship the same way too? Keep reading the manga to find out. 😉) In addition to being Freya's righthand man, err knight, Julius is the one to teach her how to be more like Edvard. More than a pretty face, Julius is a strong fighter and fierce protector. He is firm but fair and a good counselor. Freya equates him to being a mom. 🤣 (Folks, our protagonist.) Besides Freya, I love Julius. (Who doesn't, honestly?)
Besides dealing with grief and introducing Julius, this chapter also introduces two more elite knights Mikal and Yngvi, who are not privy to knowing Freya's true identity, and this chapter establishes Alek as a knight in training. Alek wins the right to be Julius' squire. By extension, he wins the right to be by Freya's side and starts to fill in the hole left behind by Aaron. Just like Aaron, Alek has romantic feelings for Freya. The younger of the two, Alek admired Aaron and envied him. The two were biological brothers and had a close relationship. So, Aaron's death affected Alek too. Aaron was "bright, strong, and had a magnetic personality." He was the one you can count on. By contrast, Aaron is a bit dour and full of self-doubt. However, He is honest, loyal, and a hard worker. After introducing us to more characters in Chapter 2, we get to the first arc of the story in Chapter 3.
Chapter 3 to Volume 7
Chapter 3 kickstarts the political wheeling and dealing and serves as Freya's real test as Edvard. Freya deals with a mole and double-crosser plot within the Tyr Kingdom that leads to a big battle with Sigurd at a nearby fort. The first volume ends on a cliffhanger. (Fair warning.) For lack of a better word, this "prologue arc" ends in volume 4.
In volume 4, Freya learns of a way to stop Sigurd's advances once and for all. She must travel and unite the fallen four kingdoms against Sigurd. This also involves collecting shikon jewel shar—I mean, The Five Royal Jewels! Volumes 5-7 cover the first arc where Freya befriends the Nacht Kingdom and recovers one jewel. Volume 7 ends with a nice "breather" chapter where a little girl named Jasmine foretells a prophecy about how Freya will bring balance to the force. Freya is a "shining star" befitting the nickname "The Prince of Light." That's a lot of story, and I haven't even gotten to the best part—the threesome.
I mean, the villain. The villain!
Whispered about in the first three volumes and teased in the final pages of volume 4, we finally get a good look at our villain in volume 5. Dimitri is that villain and the newly ascended King of Sigurd. He's capable, cocky, and horny. (I'm NOT joking.) Dimitri is also ruthless. He strikes fear inside and out of Sigurd. In Chapter 13, Dimitri meets Freya, dressed as herself, by chance on a merchant vessel while en route to Nacht. Of course, both of them are going to the same place to deal with the same situation. Classic enemies-meet-by-chance trope. (Love it!) Even better, Dimitri falls in love with Freya, and he will do anything for her like murdering a bunch of pirates who dare attack the merchant vessel.
This chapter was fun, and I like the campy but dangerous vibe Dimitri brings to the table. He's just a BAMF and a straight-up cartoon villain rolled into one. I have zero complaints. I absolutely love him, and whether he gets a redemption arc or not, I'm going to enjoy seeing him do battle with Freya and her army. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in Prince Freya including its "Teen Plus" (T+) for "Older Teen ages 16 and up" rating.
The Age Rating
Prince Freya definitely earned its T+ rating. Prince Freya is about war so some violence comes with the territory, duh. Depictions of death, violence, and injury are not limited to blood, gore, sword fighting, decapitated heads, impalement, and other war stuff. All are seen on the page. Additionally, there are sexual innuendos and sexual situations like the (almost) threesome that I alluded to earlier (see volume 5 🙈). Violence and sex are major caveats, but not the only ones. Let's circle back to the "major caveat" I alluded to in my intro.
As far as a "major caveat" to keep you from liking or trying Prince Freya goes, you have your pick. For a few people, Prince Freya may prove to be too violent for them to attempt reading or to read beyond volume 1. (By comparison, Yona of the Dawn is deemed less violent and suitable for younger teens 13+ with a "T" for "Teen" rating.) Additionally, there are some sexual innuendos and situations to consider. For the impatient people out there, it may be the wait times in between volumes now that we're caught up to Japan's release of the series. For others, it may be the characters or the European ambient setting. For some, it may be the severe lack of romance as a subplot in the overall narrative.
If Prince Freya does get to the romance, it will be of the reverse harem kind as Dimitri, Julius, and Alek are in love with her, and none of them are backing down anytime soon. More suitors (and one-off entanglements) may pop up as the story unfolds. Who will win is anyone's guess. (Personally, I'm torn between Dimitri and Julius. 🙈) As of volume 7, it's clear that Freya feels something towards Julius and Alek, but she's not ready to call it romantic love, yet. Prince Freya isn't tagged with romance by major book retailers (ex: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, RightStuf, etc.), but it is tagged that way by Viz (of all entities 💀) as well as a lot of manga databases. (That's a headache for another time.)
The takeaway—if you're looking for romance as the main plot with adventure, war, and politics, I'll stop you right now and steer you towards Tail of the Moon, Dawn of the Arcana, and Nina the Starry Bride. All of these stories have political marriages as a central plot point. (You get your cake and eat it too!) If you want a story of a cross-dressing girl destined for greatness who goes forth on an adventure but happens to find love along the way, then Basara is the story for you. Of course, Yona of the Dawn is a great option for action-adventure stories with romance as a subplot too. However, romance is a very minor subplot in Yona compared to Basara. Lastly, if you want to read a Shakespearean tragedy or you love War of the Roses retellings, then Requiem of the Rose King is for you.
In conclusion, Prince Freya is a binge-able series with a shocking beginning that pulls you in and doesn't let go. It's a fast-paced, action-galore, plot-driven, fantasy adventure story set in a European-ambient world with a crybaby female protagonist impersonating a dead prince. Freya is a serious work-in-progress protagonist, and it's matched by a strong and formidable but unserious antagonist. The rest of the characters, Julius particularly, are also great. You want to root for Freya and her army. If you're not opposed to a lot of on-page violence and see romance as a nice bonus rather than a requirement, you're in for a good time. (Just be patient from volume 9 onwards for new volume releases as we're caught up to Japan's release of the series.)
Prince Freya is definitely a series I want to keep reading and more importantly, re-read. I'm really enjoying Prince Freya. I'm glad that I bumped this up my TBR list, and hopefully, you will too!
Check out Prince Freya via Viz's website here.
(So, have you read Prince Freya? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know on Twitter @ThatMangaHunter. )