In the beginning. Once upon a time. It was a warm, Summer day. These three phrases have something in common: they all begin a story.
The beginning of the story is essential in many ways. What may be the most important is the way it hooks the reader. If a reader is not intrigued within the first few paragraphs, they feel inclined to satisfy their interests elsewhere. This is also why a synopsis serves well in portraying the story before the story has even begun. The key factor within all of this is interest. Interest in the story, its characters, and what a story has to offer as a whole.
Dokuhime is a story worth garnering interest.
The one thing that stands out is the aforementioned synopsis. Set in a fantasy world of kingdoms and monarchies, warring states and political jabber. The promise of a tale of misery and suspense; a girl who cannot love, as she is poisonous to those who draw near. Assigned with the task of assassinating the king of a foreign land through use of her poisonous fluids. Everything about Dokuhime sounds like ancient epics told through hymns. In parts, it feels that way, too.
The story is set up wonderfully. The characters are established (although the central character may be misleading at first). The art is suitably gloomy and somewhat gothic. Everything progresses the way one would expect, until the moment of assassination. From the very beginning, the graphic scenes come full swing. A woman being burned alive. The effects of the “poison princess” show through profuse amounts of blood regurgitated from the mouth. It’s dark without being a spectacle. It’s psychological without being overdramatic. These are only the first few chapters and they’re fun to read.
If only it stayed that way.
Once the story has settled, it becomes complacent. It begins to diverge along a path that branches in every direction, introducing more characters and storylines that attribute these characters. Each chapter quickly becomes less about the dire situation that looms above to developing the relationships between the foreign kingdom’s royal family, made up of male triplets, and the poison princess. It almost comes off as an “edgier” slice-of-life, with a bulk of the chapters focusing on character development and the secrets the royal family hides from the outside world. It progresses slowly, carefully planting the seeds of destruction that causes an uproar by story’s end. The only issue is, will the reader find the ending as anti-climactic as I did?
While the pace of the story may falter, the characters within Dokuhime all exhibit interesting qualities. Note that I don’t equate “interesting” to “likable.” There are some stories that like to dump all of one character’s dark past onto the reader in one sitting. Dokuhime, thankfully, doesn’t do this. It approaches its character development the same way it approaches its story progression: slowly. The story is set up somewhat like a fable, prophesying destruction and chaos that involves the characters. This makes the characters a tad more interesting, as the reader begins to question which of them falls into which part of the prophesy. However, this only strengthens the characters by means of plot progression. The characters themselves leave much to be desired, especially the poison princess.
What begins to develop as the story progresses is the issue of romance. The poison princess becomes the driving force (to varying degrees) behind each of the three royal princes’ actions. In fact, two of the three have a few scuffles over her through the accusation of jealousy. The fear of a female-pandering reverse harem quickly entered the confines of my mind. Thankfully, yet again, the path was ultimately avoided. However, the feelings of romance still bloomed in the hearts of each prince.
A beautiful girl who is actively trying to assassinate the king of your country. The same girl you hold hostage in your country to keep her in check. The same girl you force to submit to twisted, sexual acts for your entertainment. The same girl who cannot love, for her condition shall not allow it.
Dokuhime has a very dreary atmosphere, which is aided by its style of drawing. It almost bleeds gothic and psychologically aesthetic. The characters look as they should inside of a story within the Josei genre. The men are long, light, and reek of bishie goop. The women have long eyelashes and look like dolls. Add some traumatic sprinkling and Dokuhime has its own style. Though, one issue I had were with some of the action sequences. With the way the characters looked and the gore they had already shown up to that point, some of the more grotesque actions (decapitation in particular) seemed underwhelming. Almost as if the mangaka hesitated to show too much. That may explain why they showed only half of the poison princess’s exposed nipple.
Despite its length, Dokuhime has a lot to show for its run. Had it not taken its time trying to pursue an unneeded romance aspect, the story may have felt a little more impactful. Despite its flaws, it certainly has appeal. It has that interest that makes it almost immediately immersive. Dokuhime could be described as a story that doesn’t live up to its potential. Nevertheless, its current state is enough to read over many fans. If not with the grim plot, intriguing characters, or mind-boggling discrepancies, it appeals with its overall experience. In the end, most remember a story for its passion, rather than its objective achievements. Dokuhime just couldn’t have both.
Personal Score: C+
Critical Score: C+