Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why Erotic Isn't Automatically Explicit: Boy Princess Review

One series I collected is the manhwa Boy Princess by Seyoung Kim. It was an unusual series for me to collect because (1) it means I'm reading left to right! (2) I don't much care for the art--everyone, except Jed, the Crown Prince, and the guys with beards, looks feminine in an elongated way that seems specific to Korean manhwa; I have a hard time telling people apart (and I don't usually care for androgynous characters).

Bride of the Water God is a good example
of excellent manhwa art. See elongated
lines from Boy Princess below.
However, I greatly enjoy it. Unlike some other kings-princes-princesses manga, the politics is actually as complicated and layered as politics should be. Far too often in fantasy/sci-fi, the politics is either so simplistic, it makes your brain melt or so complexly muddy, one suspects the writer has no more idea than the reader what is going on. There are exceptions: among American writers, Asimov and Cherryh are excellent at creating complex yet explainable politics.

The other reason I get a kick out of Boy Princess is how entirely non-explicit yet erotic it manages to be. I discuss explicit versus non-explicit art in other places, such as here and here. My overall point is that explicit art is not automatically skanky but that non-explicit art is not automatically lacking in eroticism. Sometimes it is what is unsaid/unshown that matters more than what is said/shown.

The story basically follows the adventures of a teenage (15/16) prince, Nicole (total tangent: in 1990, .006 of American boys were named Nicole), and the prince of a neighboring kingdom, Jed. The premise is, okay, slightly ridiculous: Nicole's sister runs away before the marriage, so the family in desperation sends a disguised Nicole in the rather extreme hope that it's only a marriage-of-form and will give them time to set things right.

And the less ridiculous politics ensue: Jed is not the crown prince but he has the army's loyalty, so although the crown prince moves against him, he has to do it subtly. The crown prince appears to be acting with his mother's backing but likely has his own agenda. And the palace apothecary--who becomes embroiled in everyone's secrets--has HIS own agenda in a major way. And then there are various marriage proposals being suggested or knocked down by various allies and enemies of the two kingdoms.

In the middle of all this, Nicole (rather innocently and desperately) and Jed (wiser and more aware of the possible problems) fall in love.
Nicole remembering being with Jed.

In Volume 3, Nicole runs off to see Jed again (he was temporarily returned to his kingdom). Jed finds him wandering in the forest between their kingdoms and takes measures to hide Nicole's identity. However, he also spends the night with Nicole. They don't have sex. The reader is left with the impression that Jed merely held Nicole--until Nicole returns home and his brothers discover that Jed left a few love bites on Nicole.

The discovery scene is practically a throw-away--a few extra panels that clarify that Jed was restrained but smitten. (Nicole always just does what he wants.) It is highly erotic in a way that a million explicit panels could never achieve. Kudos to the author/illustrator.