It was once a land in which the peace was protected by a king who ruled from the center of the empire. The singers who lived in the villages of the land supported the king with their song. However, they lived as if in captivity and her destiny was to sing constantly. The strength of the singers has been transmitted only from mother to daughter. The singers were closed by order of the king in towers and should always sing lullabies. If a village lost his song, it was faced with ruin. The siblings Kain and Maria have a singer as mother. When Kain finds out that the village uses the singers, he protects his sister Maria to preserve her from such a destiny...
Sometimes, when you're looking for some nice manga you can read in a short time, as a sort of breath of fresh air from all the 20+ volume long manga series you already started, you stumble across those which seem to have a very weird storyline at first. One of those, at least to me, was Utahime by Aki. When I read the synopsis of the overall story, my first reaction was something like "this fits into one volume?". To me, the story seemed rather complex, with a lot of explaining and backstory, so how do you fit this into
only one volume? Interested enough, I gave this manga a try. So, here are my thoughts.
Story: As said above, reading the synopsis made me feal a bit uneasy about the story. It felt like this would need so much explaining without dealing with the actual story of the manga, so just exposition. I thought this is gonna be one of those stories that leave you without an actual ending, which I really dislike. However, I was pretty wrong. It does feel a bit confusing at first, I gotta admit that. There is really some explaining and a lot is happening, but the story manages to keep track because it does not implement too many characters, so it's easy to recognize them all. The first chapter is more an introduction to the overall story; but it manages to gain the interest of the reader, because of it's, let's say, creative setting. A female king, when there should only be male ones and a male songstress when, you guessed it, there should only be females. Allright, that's a setup that promises to be interesting. However, instead of getting more into the story where we are at this point, we get flung back in time. Just to say, this is part of the manga covers most of the actual story, and it's definitely the best part. In the next chapters we get to see more of the backstory of our protagonists Kain, the male songstress, his sister Maria, the supposed actual songstress and their friend Thomas. In my opinion, this part is the strongest part of the story. You get a good overview over the setting of the story, like, you get to know about the backstory of the songstresses and their vilages. Also, the relationship between the main characters is pretty well established. You get to follow the story quite easily, as it's not that confusing as I first thought it would be (because the focus lies more on the characters than the setting). Even though there is no real tension, since you pretty much know what is gonna happen, but the events leading to it are very well established. It's not exciting, but interesting. We also get to know two other characters who get some things to move, however, they don't feel misplaced but do play their own important role in the story. At the end, we are back where we started and are awarded with, in my opinion, a very satisfying ending. I can't really say the story moved me or anything, but at least it didn't leave me unaffected. I really liked the story overall, it is really a breath of fresh air and something unique among your regular manga, that's for sure. It does miss a climax structure though, but I guess it did not really want to have one to begin with. There should have been a bit more tension though, because that was something that was really missing. It's a very good story with some little flaws, i.e. lack of exciting moments. Furthermore, it's neither a dark nor happy story, more like kinda inbetween. You have some funny moments, but in general, the leading atmosphere is a rather serious one (not too serious though, it's still a fantasy-shoujo-drama). If you're looking for a rounded, one volume long manga with a rather unusual story, go for that one.
Art: Oh yes, here comes the part in a review I don't like that much; discussing the art-style. Don't get me wrong - art is one of the most important things in manga, it's just very hard to discuss in my opinion. So here goes: At first, the art is good. Good. Nothing more, nothing less. Why? I adore Aki's art-style. She manages to draw "pretty" boys that do still look like males. That's not something everyone can do. As I said, I love her character designs as well, especially in Utahime. It does have some kind of fantasy middle ages style, but remains a slight modern touch, which is very neat to look at. Her character designs and overall drawing of characters are a big plus for this manga. However; sometimes the drawings don't look to clean, they seem rushed and thus a bit off. Even if it's just something very small, you see it. Also, the proportions are a bit off as well. The main reason why I think you can see those even small errors so clearly is the lack of backgrounds in this work. There are literally none. Well, yeah, sometimes there's tree but.. That's it. I do see why you can argue and say that the characters are supposed to be the focus, and yes, that is indeed true. It's just a shame that with some amazing backgrounds she could've made those other drawing errors almost unseen. I'm not expecting a breathtaking landscape in every panel, but maybe at least some background. The few that are present are fine if they just would've been in more panels. To cut a long story short: Character design and overall way of drawing characters is amazing, but drawing-errors and lack of background turn this down, sadly. It's still a very good-looking art Utahime has to offer, and I guess we can look over those small details that are off. It's still very pleasing to look at. Another positive thing to add that her way of drawing emotions is also rather nicely done.
Character: In my opinion, the best part of the manga. I, personally, really liked the characters. I don't want to talk too much about, because you can see yourself how you like them while reading. We get a lot of insight on the characters thoughts, which makes you understand their problems. For me, I could really feel the struggle the three main characters had to go through, and because we got such much insight, it really had me wondering how I would react if I was in this situation. Through thoughts, the inner struggle is very well presented to the reader - more than to the other characters. It's kinda hard to say, but their problems felt real, even in that fictional world. I guess you can say the characters do fall in some kind of archetype classes, like Kain being the stubborn brother who just wants to protect his sister, but there is really much more to it. Their relationship between each other is established so well through backstory, you won't see the deepest bond of friendship though, but I haven't had the feeling this would've been necessary, it worked just fine the way it is. Even though I would've wished for more interaction instead of just the characters keeping their thoughts to themself, it was fine in the end. They were portrayed in a realistic way, you could see their motivation and they were sympathic. All in all, this story has three very good, interesting main characters, and also nice side characters.
Enjoyment: What can I say, I really enjoyed this manga. There is a bit much to read on every page, a lot of thoughts and speaking, but it's interesting. I really enjoyed getting more to see on how the story and the characters progress, even with the lack of tension, it is, in my opinion, a very enjoyable journey. If you're into more thoughtful stories with likeable characters and interesting setting, this would be a good choice.
Overall: Well, not much to say. It's a very good manga. Story is very well executed, interesting, thoughtful, the characters are likeable, you have a very pleasing art-style to look at and you can read it very fast. For everyone who is looking for a more serious fantasy-shoujo-drama, I'd say try Utahime.