Ouke no Monshou - War, Politics, and Love Triangles in Ancient Egypt

Prefer to listen on YouTube instead? https://youtu.be/hHxA1HBHtV8

Ouke no Monshou, or Crest of the Royal Family, is a historical shoujo manga which first began publishing in 1976 in the magazine Princess. It’s drawn and written by Chieko Hosokawa, and despite the fact that it started four decades ago, it’s still publishing to this day. It’s also the third best selling shojo manga of all time, also making it one of the best selling manga overall. Despite this it’s relatively unknown outside of Japan, which is why I’m here to explain why it’s still worth it for you to read it.

The premise is quite simple, a girl named Carol, is studying egyptology in Egypt itself. She is but a teenager, however she is very knowledgeable regarding the subject. One day, an ancient tomb is unearthed, previously untouched for over three thousand years. However, Carol manages to activate an ancient curse which sees her transported back to ancient egypt. While she initially leads life as a slave, her unusual appearance sees her being taken notice of by the Pharaoh himself, Memphis. With a vast amount of knowledge at her disposal, Carol ends up directly affecting the course of History.

One of the things that don’t work very well about the work is the way it uses dual timelines, as in it has two stories running concurrently, and it occasionally changes perspective between the two. The first timeline is obviously the one involving Carol in the past, and it is the much more interesting one, while the second one takes place during present day, and sees Carol’s family searching for her. While this may initially seem like a good idea, as it is a time travel story, it doesn’t really end up working because there is no sense of tension during the present day timeline. While the past timeline involves Memphis waging war on other countries, and trouble in the egyptian court, the past timeline only has one plot point: that being the search for Carol. And where is Carol? Three thousand years in the past.

As there can be no resolution to the plot point of the present day timeline, it ends up being boring and uninteresting to read. Combine that with the fact that the characters in the present day aren’t very interesting or fun either, and it ends up backfiring. The way a dual timeline is supposed to work is such that timeline 1 is interesting, and then when it reaches, or is near a climax, you switch to the second timeline in order to do two things: give more information surrounding the nature of the plot, and relax the story. You then switch back after a while, and repeat the process. Hopefully, after a while, the reader will have spent enough time with the characters in the second timeline to be engrossed in it, and you have two interesting stories. They also may or may not coincide.

Another negative aspect is that there are a few too many anachronisms in the story. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a chronological inconsistency - when an object, phrase or concept appears in a time when it should not have existed. For example, in the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” the version of the american flag which appears in the painting, simply did not exist at the time the painting takes place. And there are a lot of such instances in Ouke no Monshou. For example, Carol often refers to Memphis as a “tyrant,” and Memphis objects to this, becoming rather enraged whenever he is referred to as such (an instance of this happens in vol 6 ch 24 page 31). However, it’s a word which originated in ancient Greece, therefore it makes no sense that he would understand what the word means.

I’ve probably focused a bit too much on the negatives this time around, even though I set out to praise it, as it is genuinely one of my favourite manga! So what is it I love so much about it? Well for one, despite how it may seem at first, this is a military strategy series, and seeing wars waged in ancient egypt is nothing short of awesome. There isn’t much use of strategy, although as it isn’t the main focus of the series, it can be forgiven, as what little there is, is still quite good. You might be asking yourself what exactly the main focus is then, and it’s the rather troubled relationship between Carol, Memphis and his elder sister, Isis. If you guessed “love triangle,” then I congratulate you because you my dear friend, are correct. The general conceit of the story, once you get past the premise, is that Memphis is in love with Carol, and Isis is in love with Memphis, and therefore sees Carol as an obstacle. This is also how most of the political intrigue I mentioned earlier arises, but I don’t want to spoil too much.

Refering back to the concept of anachronisms, it’s occasionally used in some interesting ways, which also leads me to another point: the fact that there's some occasionall humour. In vol 6. Ch 24 page 5, when Carol wants to be alone but Memphis enters her room regardless, Carol shouts that she’ll call the police and Memphis is outraged at the thought that there is someone more powerful than him, as he shouts “You’re calling for the police? Who is the police? Do they have more power than me?” Now I do want to point out that it is still a serious scene, so whether it was intended to be funny, I’m still not sure. Does it really matter? I don’t think so. It appears serious to the characters, but it’s funny to us, so I’m leaning towards it being intentional.

Focusing more on the relationship between Carol and Memphis, the scene I just used as an example also summarizes the relationship between the two. Carol wants to go home, Memphis wants Carol, so he takes her by force. Carol still resists, and Memphis becomes enraged by the fact that some girl dares defy him, the king of Egypt. He maybe hurts her physically, then leaves and makes his servants take care of her. It’s almost a textbook abusive relationship. In many instances Carol is seen crying out for his help and being really happy when he comes to her rescue. Although she only reacts this way while she’s at her lowest, and rejects him every other time.

Now that I’ve also quoted directly from the work, it leads me to my next point: the translation, as well as the scans themselves. There is no denying the fact that the scans are of… below average quality, to put it lightly. As it has never been officially released in english, and the demand doesn’t seem all too high, it’s no surprise that a shoujo manga from the 70s hasn’t received the best treatment. It is obviously still readable, but stilted sentences and poor grammar alore are to be expected, especially when reading the earlier chapters. Also, it’s not fully translated. Out of the 66 volumes currently published, you can only find 20 volumes online. This also seems like a good time to mention the fact that the english Wikipedia article claims that Toei Animation adapted the series into an OVA in 2004, however there is no citation for this, and I can’t find anything on various database sites. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I felt it was relevant enough to mention.

In conclusion, Ouke no Monshou is well worth reading, despite the fact that the scans and translation aren’t very good, and despite the fact that very little of it, at least overall, is translated. It’s still filled with great artwork, interesting plot developments, and large scale war. So I say give it a try, and perhaps you’ll end up liking it.