The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth, Vol. 1

By Atori Haruno and Aikawa Yu. Released in Japan as “Sennen Meikyuu no Nana Ouji” by Ichijinsha, serialized in the magazine Comic Zero-sum. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Beni Axia Conrad, Adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane.

As I continue to read more and more manga, I find myself becoming familiar with not only the differences between genres, but also the difference between specific Japanese publishers and how they work in those genres. A Jump manga and a Sunday manga are too very different beasts, and both are also different from Magazine. If I’m reading a shoujo manga from Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume, I expect two to three times as much dialogue as I would if the manga was in Shueisha’s Betsuma. And sometimes you can be reading a manga and without even knowing who the publisher is, you can correctly identify it based merely on the style. Such is the case with this new Seven Seas title, which may be one of the most Comic Zero-Sum things I’ve ever seen.

This is not a bad thing, to be fair. Seven Princes knows what it wants to be, and does its job very well. It wants to be Zero-Sum doing a survival game manga. Being Zero-Sum, instead of teenagers locked in a school, we get beautiful and slightly eccentric young men locked on a fantasy world castle/dungeon combo. Our hero is the only one who isn’t famous, or so it seems at first. Ewan wakes up one day to find himself trapped in a deep pit. Luckily, he’s rescued by another man who was trapped in a different part of what turns out to be a prison. Evading deathtraps and meeting up with others, they gradually realize that they are participating in a legendary ritual to determine who will be the new Emperor. Unfortunately, that ritual seems to involve a lot of deadly puzzle games – one participant is already dead when we meet him, and two more seemingly die by the end of this first book.

I say seemingly as I have experience in this genre, both good and bad, and know that fake deaths and “they never saw the body” are common occurrences. One of the fun things about this title is that it knows its cliches, and feels free to blithely abuse them when it suits. One character is introduced to us as the one female participant, something that is so unlikely in this world of “it’s not quite BL but close enough” that several of the characters immediately think “there’s something odd about her”. And sure enough! Likewise, Ewan may say that he’s just a typical young student, and not a famous thief/detective/singer/etc. like all the others, but he not only has the shiny “we can get through this if we all work together!” attitude that most survival game leads need, but he can also apparently read ancient lost scripts with ease.

I do wish there was a bit more humor – the few attempts at it mostly revolve around the thief and detective hating each other in amusing comedy ways, but for the most part this is meant to be serious business. Old-school manga fans may recognize the artist from such works as Butterfly (never completed here as the publisher stopped doing manga) and Dark Edge (different publisher, ditto). This is only four volumes, so hopefully will have a bit more luck. Recommended to those who like dark fantasy, survival games, or hot guys getting close to each other.

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