Stravaganza: The Queen in the Iron Mask, Vol. 1

By Akihito Tomi. Released in Japan as “Stravaganza – Isai no Hime” by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazines Fellows! and Harta. Released in North America by Udon Entertainment. Translated by Zack Davisson.

Sometimes when you see manga brought over to North America in omnibus format, it’s because the series would be too long otherwise (see, for example, YowaPeda). Sometimes it’s because of financial considerations. Sometimes it’s because the series is only 2-3 volumes long so it makes sense to release it all at once. And sometimes it’s because the publisher knows that the series only really gets good at the second volume, and doesn’t want everyone to read the first one and then drop it like a hot potato. After reading Stravaganza, I’m fairly sure that this last one is the reason we start with an omnibus of the first two books. The first volume is not bad per se, particularly if you’re a fan of nudity. But the nudity seems to be the point of the book, and it doesn’t really impress. That changes when we start the equivalent of Volume 2, when suddenly things turn very dark and very violent.

Queen Vivian is the titular Queen, leader of a small Kingdom who wears a knight’s mask to disguise her face. She takes advantage of this by walking around the kingdom posing as a common adventurer, Claria, confident that the mask means no one will recognize her. This is annoying to her lady maid as well as her lead Knight, but what are they going to do? The Kingdom seems to be fairly isolated, and also has several species of monster living in its forest, including the Umber, whose snarling face can be seen in the background of the cover. The manga starts off with wacky antics, and while “Claria” is briefly in danger from the monsters, it gives every impression of being relatively lighthearted, including a “guess which of us is the queen” scene and tripping and falling out of her gown, revealing her breasts to her subjects. It was very much “for teenage boys.”

Then we hit the halfway point, and suddenly a huge herd of Umber are slaughtering everyone in the kingdom, climbing the walls to the castle, and looking for all the world like they’d stepped out of Attack on Titan. You sense there will be an arc where the kingdom unites to subdue the monsters, but these monsters are simply too overpowered and terrifying. In the end, they’re forced to flee the land after over 90% of its people are killed. The humor does not entirely go away (the Queen races forward ahead of everyone else, and is later found panting on the ground begging to be carried) and the nudity is still around, but there is a definitely “fun times are over” sense to things, which makes some plotlines such as the return of a lecherous old man from the first part (who’s far more dangerous – and lecherous – here) seem out of place.

I was interested enough in the first book to get another one, but it has to be said: the tone of this is all over the place. If you want a good action manga and don’t mind a lot of nudity, you might enjoy this, but be prepared to have it wander all over the place before it settles down.

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