What drives a girl to live another boy's life?
Review copy provided by Kodansha USA.
Atsuko has a rough, dark life as she supports herself through paid dates while her father drinks away any money she gives him. Shunned by her peers and surrounded by unsympathetic teachers, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for her to continue on. All that is before she’s kidnapped for the night by a group of rich, teenage boys, but she comes out of that better than expected. Later, one of the boys approaches Atsuko again: The most important member of their group has gone missing, and his mere presence is critical to the continued existence of the family’s company. Given their strong resemblance, the boys asks: How much does he need to pay Atsuko to impersonate him until the missing boy’s 18th birthday?
The Prince in His Dark Days isn’t quite Hiko Yamanaka’s first work but artistically it feels like one. Backgrounds are almost nonexistent and the characters look stiff and blocky. At its worst the art looks as if Yamanaka only had time to draw roughly and no time to refine or polish the art before inking, and the straight-lined jackets the male cast wears only exacerbate this problem. The manga also uses only very basic screentoning which contributes to its dull appearance. Visually it’s not very compelling; at this point the characters aren’t gripping enough to distract from the art.
Rationally you can understand what Atsuko is going through. After so many years of neglect and isolation she’s latching onto the first group of people who have ever had a need for her. Atsuko is striving to do everything she can so that she remains valuable, going so far as to heavily exercise and smoke to give herself more of a male physique and sound. But while Atsuko almost drifts through this new luxurious life, not making any emotional connections to other characters or the larger story, it’s hard to sympathize and worry for her as much as her situation warrants. This will be the series biggest challenge going forward, continuing to humanize Atsuko (and the even more frigid and aloof side characters) in these dark circumstances.