This is currently one of my top-ranked favorite series. Admittedly, the very colorful illustrations were what initially drew me in (the volume 1 cover was gorgeous; the physical copy, even more so!), but it was the classic gradual buildup and delayed gratification writing style that really sold me on this series, so do pardon my gushing enthusiasm while I share my thoughts regarding this one.
Kuro no Hiera Glaphicos (or Kurono for short) is a series written by Akihiko Ureshino (as his works list is too many to count, I’ll just link to his wikipedia page), illustrated by Miyuki Ruria and published by Famitsu Bunko. The first volume in the series came out on March 30, 2012, the series currently spans 10 volumes, with the tenth volume released on July 30th, 2014 (to widely positive reviews). The series involves the unlikely partnership of its protagonists – the naive, sheltered but well-intentioned Valeria Costacurta, and the world-weary, cynical jerk with a heart of gold Dimitar Richternacht.
The setting is akin to a hodgepodge of Europe during the Crusaders and the Renaissance (which comes off as totally conflicting, but bear with me), in that while the kingdoms under the Holy Alliance (Ahmad, Heidelaute, etc.) evoke the imagery of Renaissance times, their conflict against the heretical kingdom of Bigelow is pretty much identical to the nature of the Crusaders (save for an unspoken cessation of hostility currently in effect). Magic exists, but in the form of magic tattoos, and while only 1 in 10 people might be able to use magic, only 1 out of 100 (of those who can be taught to use magic) can be called elites. Ahmad, in comparison to the other countries in the Holy Alliance, stands above everyone else due to their political, economical, and magical strengths, which earns them the jealousy of the aforementioned countries (so it’s pretty much the EU, in a sense). Also, there exists a position called Dominas – maidens who are akin to the Wives of God (think shrine maiden in Western terms). These girls also act as representatives of their respective countries, performing tasks such as emissaries, mediators, and sometimes intervening in conflict; as such, they are chosen from the best of the very best. There can only be twelve Dominas in existence, and Ahmad possesses three – another point of contention for their allies.
The main characters are as follows:
– Valeria Costacurta: A newly-appointed Dominas of Ahmad, Valeria was chosen for her sheer magical aptitude, and not much else. She’s completely naive when it comes to how the world works as she grew up in a sheltered (but not pampered) environment. While she’s very well-meaning, she tends to act first without regards to the consequences, which often ends up putting herself and those around her in danger. Thanks to this, she ends up butting heads more often than not with Dimitar Richternacht, which is too bad for her because she’s stuck with him whether she likes it or not.
– Dimitar Richternacht: Tasked with being Valeria’s Hiera Glaphicos, Dimitar is the cynical and world-weary foil to the idealistic but ignorant Valeria. He comes off as aloof and tends to avoid intimacy with other people due to a trauma from his childhood, distancing himself from people with his sarcasm and self-depreciation. He is the shadow to Valeria’s light, often undertaking the dirty roles so Valeria won’t have to sully her hands and her conscience (without her knowledge).
Reasons why I like it:
– The vast character diversity: This series has a plethora of characters, all of them vastly diverse and interesting from one another. Especially the main pair’s dynamic; the author wrote them as a subversion of the “tsundere” couples that Zero no Tsukaima made popular; Valeria has no violent, unreasonable physical outbursts towards Dimitar, while Dimitar is less tolerant of the cliched tsundere outburst and will verbally harangue Valeria should she display such childish behavior. Most, if not all, of the characters – protagonists and antagonists alike – also maintain their relevance to the story after their initial appearances, avoiding the distinction of being just one-shot characters to great effect. The importance of a character isn’t measured by just one value alone, which is part of what spurs Valeria’s character growth. Most importantly, the protagonists do not have a higher moral ground on everyone else, and some of the actions they undertake are very much morally questionable. The characters, in short, are anything but boring, unbeatable and better than everyone else. Behold the current roster (as of Volume 8)!
– The heroines: The females are just as much characters as the male ones – no demeaning treatment but no special one, either – and it is a very refreshing thing in the face of contemporary LNs and their grocery cart heroines approach. It defies the harem genre convention openly; the females are able to stand on their own, without arbitrarily falling in love with the male lead, or requiring help from the male lead in every volume or scene, with motives, personalities and storylines of their own that carries just as much as importance as the main pair of Dimitar and Valeria.
– The worldbuilding: From the various countries and their customs, to the overarching mythologies of both Ahmad and Bigelow, the world and its setting are well-constructed. Most importantly, just like the characters, the various countries retain their relevance as the plot continues; they continue to affect and be affected by the ongoing political landscape (I tried to find the right term for this; several hours later, and this was the best I could do in phrasing the concept). Even the reasoning behind how magic works, and the current developments in magic, reminds me of the nuclear arms race. This series’ tagline is “Colours the world, in this Fantasy Action” – Engrish aside, the world is indeed very colorful, and the world in its entirety is also a character by itself, with the characters and places acting as its vital organs.
– The political and physical skirmishes: There are no overpowered characters showing off in combat, no drawn-out flashy fighting. The fighting is based around both parties trying to find the right stroke or moment that will win them the fight; tactics and decisiveness are given more importance than sher raw strength; even females characters take the fight to their enemies. The political probings and exchanges are done in a very cloak-and-daggers manner; subtle and discreet, but at the same time just as important as two men swinging their swords at each other.
– The twist that changes everything: Much like the movies The Usual Suspects and Lucky Number Slevin, volume 10 carries with it a twist which – while riveting and interesting to behold on its own – casts everything that has happened in earlier volumes in an entirely new light. Rereading the earlier volumes with the twist in mind changes everything that you thought about them, and turns scenes that were initially benign and heroic into something darker and devious. Even better is that the author hid some of the very clues that give away volume 10’s twist right in plain sight in all of the volumes as the story progressed – only that the reader didn’t have the proper context to discern said clues (one example; the Prince’s actions are so mired in politics that it seems as if everything he does is just to cement his upcoming political strength when he does ascend the throne, thus throwing off the reader as to the truth behind his precautionary actions once the truth in volume 10 is revealed).
– Love it or hate it: Most people who have read this series have a tendency to pick up volume 1, read about how immature Valeria is, and then develop a tunnel vision for the series due to their hatred of her character; even 2ch has noted this. While that was completely the author’s intention (though she was nowhere near as obnoxious as a certain whip-loving pink-haired tsundere) in order to showcase just how she needs Dimitar’s guidance (just as much as Dimitar needs Valeria for his own sake), it can rub people off the wrong way. To her credit, Valeria shows gradual signs of character development in the following volumes, and even the 2ch readers who hated Valeria at the start are now praising her for finally having grown into a character worthy of being a heroine in volume 10 – which is entirely the focus of Valeria’s character is, her character growth from then to now, and the birthing pains that accompany it.
– Pacing issues: Due to the author’s tendency to switch from one character’s point-of-view to another in order to make the story feel more alive and consistent, it has the side-effect of creating some pacing problems in some scenes. Particularly during high-tension moments, wherein the characters are in a fight for their lives, only to cut away to the point of view of someone who is sitting safe and secure somewhere else, discussing a relevant plot thread.
– Needs investment: Despite the praise for volume 10, even 2ch admitted that it’s a bit hard to recommend Kurono as a series that people should follow. It’s mostly because of the idea that it takes ten volumes before it really pays off and goes from a fun read to absolutely gripping – not that the prior volumes are weak or boring, mind. Older readers are more comfortable with this type of accumulative development storytelling, while new readers are probably less thrilled due to contemporary LN trends of instant gratification.
A lot of 2ch and akahoshi readers who have followed this series from the start are now ranking Kurono as part of their top LN series as of the moment, and I have to admit that I feel much the same. It’s a very worthwhile read, and at the very least, is worth a look for those who are tired of the abusive tsundere couple typecasting.
Unfortunately, it seems that with volume 10’s twist and climactic build-up, the series is on its way to its finale. The author mentioned as much in the afterword of volume 9, and from the phrasing, the decision to lead the series to its dawning closure seems to be out of his hands. And while it’s sad to see a fun series coming to a close (like it was with Jungfrau and currently with Senken), there’s always rereads.