Age Rating: M/Mature/18+
When I first heard you speak your native language, it sounded like some little bird singing. Like the sounds just rang and danced off your tongue. I didn't even think they were words.
I absolutely adored Maiden Rose, even though it's chock full of elements that on some level I think I should take issue with. But the emotional intensity of the story, the superb execution of the art and writing, and the sheer unabashed romanticism of it all sweeps me away on a tide of pleasure and silences my intellectual objections.
Set in a world both like and unlike our own, Maiden Rose is about love in a time of war. Taki Reizen is an aristocrat and military commander in a nation allied to "Eurote"; while abroad on a diplomatic mission, he meets Claus von Wolfstadt, a Saxon whose nation is at war with Eurote. Claus is powerfully smitten, and when Taki is deported for espionage, he demands to go with him, and gives up his wealth, his citizenship and his rights to become Taki's "knight". Taki agrees, over the objections of many in the military who consider Claus dangerously headstrong. "I don't understand why Lord Taki wants such a man around him," says one. "Who cares how capable he is? We call Claus a dog, but the truth is... he's a mad dog."
The story is told in a non-linear way, alternating flashbacks with present-day action so that we often see a situation before seeing how it came to be. In this way, Inariya adds layers of significance to each scene that aren't always immediately apparent, and the manga benefits from being re-read as well as from being read carefully the first time. In particular, Claus and Taki's relationship takes on a different hue in retrospect, when the revelation at the end of the volume makes sense of certain puzzling scenes and deepens the reader's understanding of how much both Claus and Taki have sacrificed and what they are enduring.
The relationship is, naturally, at the core of the story, and it's beautifully realised. Claus is stubborn, headstrong, fiercely independent and heedless of protocol; being in a foreign country, he has no ties to anyone but Taki and doesn't much care, but he's also liable to misread or misunderstand the situations he finds himself in. Taki is equally stubborn and strong-willed, but as a noble in a wartorn land, he is keenly aware of his responsibilities and of the webs of social rules that entangle him. Their relationship is as much a struggle as a joining, as much defined by conflict and abuse as by love. Although Taki is Claus's commander and could have him dismissed or deported with a wave of his hand, in private Claus is the dominant one, and his behaviour is often cruel and brutal. It's hard to get into details without spoiling the story, but suffice it to say that the sex scenes are explicit enough and often unpleasant enough to make more sensitive readers very uncomfortable.
Yet that discomfort is part of the point. Inariya's cleverly constructed a situation in which Taki and Claus can't really win, either by following their own desires or by denying them. That they love each other is not enough, for there is a wide world beyond the two of them, and that world creeps in where it's least wanted, disrupting their most private moments.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Inariya mostly wanted to do this manga so as to indulge a uniform fetish without having to deal with troublesome real-world history; but self-indulgent as it is at times, Maiden Rose is emotionally complex enough to be immensely satisfying to read, and it's gorgeous to look at from the first page to the last; Inariya's layouts are denser than is usual for any manga, especially BL manga, invoking the intensity of battle and sex and the claustrophobia of Taki's highly-scrutinised life, and opening up to lighter, less tightly-packed pages only for those brief moments of emotional clarity. Taki and Claus look convincingly different -- Taki being slender and elegant, Claus tall and muscular -- and convincingly "foreign" to each other without (as is so often the case in BL manga) looking like members of different species. For all that it's set in a fantasy world, Maiden Rose is more realistic than most BL manga.
Minor objections aside, Maiden Rose is a rich, meaty feast of a book, worth tasting and savouring. Highly recommended.