There's an old joke that the shortest story ever to unite elements of politics, religion, royalty, sex, and mystery consists of a single line:
"My God, the Queen is pregnant! ... But who did it?"
Expand it into a shoujo manga series, and that's more or less the premise of「Oujo no Jouken」. In the European-esque, matriarchal country of Bragança, the sudden death of the queen leaves her two daughters Estrela(16) and Lua(14) in direct ascension to the throne, on one condition: that whoever is first to bear a female heiress gains the right to rule. Both sisters are infatuated with their cousin Affonso, who happens to have
an agenda of his own. Thus a power struggle unfolds in the form of a race for pregnancy, wrought with love, sex, lies, and betrayals.
So far, so soapy.
As a reader who gravitates towards the more mature, sobering themes in terms of manga choices, I picked up「Oujo no Jouken」in search of a pulpy read. The series fulfilled all my expectations wonderfully. It's beautifully drawn - perhaps not the most exquisite artwork I've ever seen, but the rich array of royal balls, lush costumes, and handsome suitors certainly appeased my inner otome (with the exception of Syldonio, who consistently looks like a turd). The story is exceedingly readable, with no pretensions of high culture, history or politics - it's a soap opera through and through, and unapologetically so.
Character development is a bit of a hit-and-miss. Personally I appreciate the sparing use of inner monologues and flashbacks (compared to certain series that smother you with too much of both...*coughKuzunoHonkaicough*), leaving room to readers' interpretations. To that end it can come across as a bunch of teenagers making bad life choices with little insight into their actions - but thinking back to high school history lessons on the lives of royalty, you can't underestimate the destructive power of ennui. Traces of Marie Antoinette's infidelities and the conspiracies of the Medici's are felt in the story, and I couldn't help but think to myself as I read: this is what happens when you let adolescent girls rule a country.
But sarcastic jabs aside, I enjoy the series for what it is at heart - an entertaining family drama you don't have to think too deeply about - and look forward to the next installment, further unraveling of the whodunit behind the (possible future-)queen's (impending) pregnancy.
[Review based on vols. 1-2.]