Publisher Kodansha Comics delivers the first volume of artist and writer Hiko Yamanaka’s 2011 series “The Prince in his Dark Days.”

Readers peer into the dismal life of protagonist Atsuko Okawa who takes small work to make ends meet for both her and her alcoholic father. Nearly everyone at her high school knows about her poor living situation and socially exile her. Atsuko accepts her fate and continues to work as a top student and main provider for her family. Everything shifts when she sees three male students from a private academy with a limousine stops by the local convenience store and they notice her. They suddenly sweep her away and take her to one of the boy’s mansion. Her fears of her safety diminish when the more playful of the trio, Itaru Nogi explains he merely wants to swap school uniforms for fun. Atsuko returns home with some money from them only to find out her father needs her to work with his friend in the yakuza or take more shadier jobs to pay off a debt of 500,000 yen. As she runs out of her home, Ryo a younger member of the trio is there with a strange proposition. Itaru disappeared the other night and Ryo needs Atsuko to become him until they find the boy. She accepts it, but it is unsure if she will be able to handle being someone nearly opposite of herself.

Yamanaka’s four volume series is like a less comedic version of Bisco Hatori’s “Ouran High School Host Club” with a tiny bit of Hisaya Nakajo’s “Hana Kimi.” Her story has a bit more drama compared as readers take an intimate look at the struggles between Atsuko’s own internal problems and conflicts others bring her. It is interesting to see how Atsuko does her job diligently as the new Itaru but maintains her own individuality. Identity seems to be a theme that pops up from time to time in the manga. It’s something very important and relevant to those still developing, especially at a time like high school when students gain more responsibilities from the world outside of campus and have to make more weighted decisions in order to grow into who they are. This book is definitely for those of the “Older Teen” age range. For more information, visit the manga’s page on Kodansha Comics’ site.

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