Fans of many series claim that their favorite manga demands special reader skills, but I say +C: Sword and Cornett makes you a real vet – it’s like a Stalingrad of straggling narratives. The plot is constantly growing, the cast is huge, the narrative freely shifts time and jumps between the many plotlines, and in the latter stages a bad translation descends in its unholy glory (in a story with politics, no less), making chances for survival of even the most battle-hardened scarce. (I am pained to say this, since fan translators are like gods to me, but in the later chapters of +C you have to guess the initial meanings of the lines.) Though this catastrophe is not the usual kind, where parts are poorly stacked together, but rather like a natural process of a plant growing out of itself, leaving the center dead.
So why is it getting a 6 from me? It’s because it has a huge strength where it matters: cast. It’s josei, and it has what female writers can excel in – an interconnected, dramatic, dynamic cast with chemistry recognized and moving the story.
Also this is a real, wholesome epic political fantasy adventure, one with no self-insert characters, gaming jokes or random stripping (we’ll come back to the fanservice later), which is, if you think about it rather rare.
Even though this praise is relevant only for a part of its length.
You see, this manga’s plot develops in concentric circles. At first it’s a rather simple story about an illegitimate child prince making a stand involuntarily and about a case of racial oppression. Then the author starts to add new details, secrets of the past and motivations, using the expansionist logic, we see in fictional universes, developed commercially – new things are written around the old structure and new views are brought in as secret truths. It brings the story to its peak, when it becomes a complicated system of different people acting out their agendas, with unlikely alliances forming and your favorites clashing deliciously, a sort of a thing the Song of Ice and Fire could be at the start. And then it brings the story to its downfall, when it becomes too bloated for the initial momentum to bear, and you start to feel like all the new events are the ending postponed, even though it technically could go on forever. The author mercifully delivers the coup de grace.
You stay till the end because of the characters. There’re two main plotlines and two main princes – an illegitimate child, Belca (btw, it reads like “squirrel” in Russian, now you’ll suffer too!), one with a golden heart and a story about finding his footing and righting wrongs, and Orcelito, stuck in a shades of grey political hell. I like the story of the second more. I don’t want to spoil, but here this manga does a truly amazing thing. There is this frequent mistake in fiction. Let’s say, you read a first book in a series, and it introduces an antagonist – a well-thought out interesting character. He teams up with the heroes for a bit, and their chemistry is off the charts. You start to like him and want him to stick around. But the writer for some reason is hell-bent of turning the guy into a moustache-twirling final evil, which is incredibly disappointing. This thing doesn’t happen here.
A honorary mention goes to the kindergarten-aged princess Muska (btw, it reads like “little fly” or a “beauty spot” in Russian, now suffer with me doubly!), who is amazingly racist, classist (because upbringing), innocent and kind simultaneously.
The supporting cast is diverse, almost everyone has his or her own story. You’ll find a couple of your personal pet peeves, as did I, of course, but it’s almost unavoidable in a cast this big.
Oh, and to avoid misunderstanding – this is an entertaining adventure, so there are a lot of comedic moments, mostly successful, which includes a bit of crossdressing.
Talking about fanservice, as I promised above: there is an open shounen-ai relationship and plenty of shipping bait. Personally I didn’t find this problematic. The one thing I can’t stand is the hidden unmotivated tension, but here you are not coerced to ship anything – there’s one open master-servant crush (not too annoying, just happens) and the rest is up to you to fill with romance or it can easily be read as friendships.
I know it’s not good for a review, but I can’t briefly sum up the art. I don’t exactly like it, but I believe that it carries the story well. I find it memorable. It’s a bit cartoonish, but this is typical for fantasy manga. It’s very narrative as in it doesn’t go for purely pretty frames as often as many mangas I know. It is rich in detail, offers plenty of beautiful uniforms and clothes, the designs of the important royal jewelry are very nice.
Sometimes it’s not easy to tell people apart though, and the environments do feel generic at times, which makes it hard to follow the non-linear episodes. On the other hand, I respect how well the author handles group scenes. We’re often shown top-down views of the events, so it’s easy to understand who is where, and the positioning and poses of people are well-thought out and informative. But I can’t nail the style in it’s entirety, so in the end I can only recommend to check it out for yourself. I don't think it will suit everybody.
It’s up to you too whether you want to fight the entropy that ate this manga and the warp demons of translation to get to the good part. After all, this good part is also a sort of a quantum state of different possibilities coexisting for a while. On the other hand, this is a bona-fide plot-driven historical fantasy josei with politics, which is rarer than unicorns, and it’s perfectly readable and enjoyable at times. Also in all honesty, the peak state of the intrigue here has few contenders among manga.
So: +C: Sword and Cornett can be recommended to the readers who value characters above everything else and to the fans of the political intrigue fantasy. But I’d advise patience at the beginning and being accepting of the fact that the narrative is visibly evolving (and ultimately falling apart) in the process.