Once upon a time, in a faraway land, the emperor’s son was murdered by his seven formerly-loyal vassals. This created a lot of trust issues around the throne, so the kingdom decides on a totally foolproof and not weird at all way of deciding their next rulers. Every generation, they throw a bunch of pretty boys into a locked castle and wait until one of them takes the job. Guess whose turn it is?
The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth (an accurate if awkwardly long translation of its Japanese title, Sennen Meikyuu no Nana Ouji) pulls together a diverse cast of characters. We have a master detective and the famous thief he chases, a well-known activist, a superstar singer, a champion martial artist, a genius mathematician, a prominent noblewoman and … uh, some rando guy from Malé Island (which I’m going to assume is a pun, because pretty boys).
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The first thing I noticed while reading this is the pacing is … uh, it’s not kidding around. The first volume covers so much territory, plot-wise and background-wise, that I figured we were in for about three volumes before the series was done. (I was close; it’s four). There’s not really much in the way of subtlety. I feel like it’s not really a spoiler to say the rando, Ewan, is being foreshadowed to be the eventual winner of this ruler-by-committee—he’s even depicted on the front cover as such. No less than two out of the other six characters comment on how he seems special. (Six because one of the seven candidates is taken out pretty early). Despite these strangers having been together for maybe a few hours over the course of the manga, we get no less than two major secrets confessed to Ewan concerning the martial artist (spoiler: he’s the emperor’s son) and the noblewoman (Wait, a woman in a pretty boy manga? Just kidding, he’s a crossdresser).
With a book this straightforward, the tenuousness of the plot and the need for a high degree of suspension of disbelief is more glaring. Strange women in ponds passing out swords seems a more reliable way of choosing your government. Have these people not heard of elections? Why did you decide this contest needs to take place in a trapped-to-hell-and-back castle, where its secrets are kept by conveniently missing engineers? Also, why is your castle having flooding issues when every picture depicts it at the top of a hill? While not reaching the levels of, say, Sharknado, this is one of those stories that works better if you don’t take it too seriously and just go along with it.
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The nice thing about that lack of subtlety is that when it comes to the traps, there is some logic to them which is thoroughly explained. The reader is typically let in on the solution by the master detective or our rando protagonist, who sees no problem with sharing with potential rivals how everything works. I’m one of those people who will play an RPG for the puzzles, so I liked seeing the characters trace their way to the solutions.
Despite the frenetic pacing, the cast introductions are spaced out enough to make it easier not to be overwhelmed. The plot is easy to follow and there’s some cute moments of friendship/bromance among the cast, particularly in concern with our main character Ewan. The bonus pages at the end especially get a guffaw and a d’aww. This is a manga done in traditional shoujo style, which means all of the characters are pretty easy to look at—young, slim, many with long hair. The artist does a good job of keeping so many characters visually distinct; not an easy task in a black and white manga.
Overall, The Seven Princes of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth does nothing surprising—bar a few minor details, I could predict how this ends. So it’s definitely not what you want to tune into if you wanted deep political intrigue or Christie-like mysteries. But if you’re looking for a cute, fluffy read you don’t have to take too seriously and that’s nice eye candy for the men-preferring crowd, this can scratch that itch. And at an eventual four volumes, it’s not a huge commitment for a complete storyline, either.