Between the Panels: The Strength of Women By Lance Victor Eaton (February 2007)
A connection between I-Haun's Real/Fake Princess and Kotaro Mori's Stray Little Devil is not immediately obvious. Stray Little Devil follows the adventures of a young girl, Pam, who willed herself into the world of angels and devils. Her only escape is to work her way through the hierarchy of devils and become a full-fledged devil herself, in order to get back home. On the other hand, Real/Fake Princess relates the story of Zhi Li, the supposedly lost daughter of the Emperor. She must prove that she is a member of the North Song dynasty. To fail means death.
At the outset these appear very different stories, but both speak to the inner determination of women. As Pam fights her classmates - and even the angels who obstruct her path to devilhood - she invokes a strength that Zhi Li must also embrace if she is to prove herself the true princess. Both are subject to highly regimented societies, and their lives weigh in the balance should they take a wrong step. Yet, both cling tight to a determined optimism and good nature that make them loveable characters.
In Stray Little Devil Volume 2, readers find Pam and her two friends, Vine and Ram, scrambling through a labyrinth, where they must fetch an object without falling prey to the many creatures lurking within, or to the scheming, devious classmates who wish to see them fail. No sooner has Pam escaped from her class thugs than she finds herself interning at a devil restaurant currently going under, due to the cheaper prices of a competing angel restaurant.
By Volume 3, Pam has helped turned the restaurant around. But her magical familiar En Zu has now lost his ability to talk. So Pam and her friends set out to find a cure. However, classmates are looking to settle a score and put Pam in her place. Also, the high council of angels have taken an interest, and Remy - the first being Pam met in the world of angels and devils - has been mischievously interfering with Pam's friends. Both Stray Little Devil volumes have great extras including brief character bios, act summaries, and sneak previews.
Real/Fake Princess Volume 2 finds Zhi Li battling her emotions over whether to become the princess she has been told she is, or to throw it all away and submit to her infatuation with Hui Tang, her caretaker since she was removed from the Emperor's palace as a child. Zhong Lu Wu, the seeker who is to present Li to the Emperor, must educate Li on all courtly manners and help her to keep her focus. But his judgment is clouded by his growing affection for the belligerent young woman.
With the date to meet the Emperor fast approaching, Wu must make sure all the details are set, but Volume 3 brings another contender, who has all the courtly manners and etiquette that Li lacks, as well as a note stolen from Li that certifies the carrier as the real princess. The usurper is none other than Dai Xuan, the talented courtesan whose love for Wu holds no bounds. The two princesses are pitted against each other with only Nanny, a treacherous and corrupt old woman, to decide who will live and who will die. Violence abounds in the climax of this volume.
For both Pam and Li, not all is what it seems. Those close to them may prove just as threatening as the enemies they know. Both have proven themselves in adversity, but will face increasingly troublesome challenges as they come closer to their goals. One of the reasons manga is so popular among female teens is because it provides a great many stories of women - young and old - who do great things. Pam and Li are but two examples of this dynamic of the strength of women.
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