Seimaden Volumes 1-5 by You Higuri
I generally like books by You Higuri, even those of her works which aren’t as strong as Cantarella. I read the first two books of Seimaden a long time ago and put them aside. I always meant to go back and read more but for whatever reason I didn’t quite find the characters compelling enough to seek out the later volumes. I swapped some other manga for volumes 3-5 recently and I’m glad I decided to give the series another chance because Seimaden tends to be more entertaining when it is read in large chunks. The heroes aren’t necessarily good, and the stereotypical heroes have negative qualities. A sprawling cast of characters interconnects in different ways, setting up a confrontation between the human and demon world. Throughout all the events one question remains – can a human girl and the Prince of Darkness find happiness together?
I’m going to write about plot developments in the later volumes, so there are spoilers ahead.
Hilda is a tavern dancer who is so beautiful that she seems to attract the attention of any man who looks at her. She has an overprotective patron named Laures who always comes to her rescue when she is threatened or kidnapped. Laures has a rather dark personality, perhaps because he is actually the King of Hell. To add to Hilda’s issues, she also has a severe case of amnesia and her best friend Cheryl is suffering from a horrible wasting disease. A young man named Roddrick arrives in town. He’s the last of the Azelle, a mystical race with magical powers. Roddrick is accompanied by a precocious and obnoxious little boy named Rabby.
Hilda is kidnapped by a local bully and Roddrick and Laures hasten to her rescue. Laures demonstrates his demonic nature when he begins to torture Hilda’s captor, and she runs away in an attempt to rescue herself. She starts to swim across a moat only to encounter flesh eating fish. Roddrick jumps into the water to save her, and tells her that he’s been searching for her for a long time. Hilda sees Roddrick as a clue to her past, but when Roddrick reveals that Laures is the one who wiped her memory, she can’t reconcile the image of the evil Laures with the person she knows as her fierce protector. Roddrick and Laures begin a fight that ends without resolution. Laures retreats to the demon world and Roddrick recuperates in his room. Laures has a demonic servant with feathered wings named Tetius who bears more than the usual amount of affection for his master. Tetius is quite dismayed that Laures is focusing so much of his attention on a lowly human girl instead of doing demonic deeds.
As the second volume opens Tetius is disappointed with Laures for turning away from his demon heritage due to his obsession with Hilda. He decides to free a rival for Laures’ demonic throne, the Lord Zadei. Zadei is pretty but not very intelligent. Zadei certainly enjoys death and destruction more than Laures, as he sends dragons and demons to the human world to pillage and destroy whatever they find in their path.
Hilda agrees to take a dancing job for a local count who looks like the Phantom of the Opera. The count also has an unconventional love of taxidermy and a compulsive urge to collect beautiful things. He wants to add Hilda to his permanent collection. Laures comes to rescue Hilda, and the count immediately decides that he prefers the demon lord, declaring “His body lithe, like an ebony panther. The depths of his utterly inhuman, intoxicating eyes! I’ll die if he doesn’t belong to me!”
Hilda and Laures escape, leaving the count alive. This is an unfortunate decision because the count decides to ally with Zadei, turning his castle into a portal into the demon world. Hilda’s backstory begins to be filled in a little bit, as the reader learns that she is the reincarnation of Laures’ lost love Elis. Also much like Anthy in Revolutionary Girl Utena, Hilda’s body houses the long-lost mystical Sword of the Azelle. The sword is a mystical relic that can amplify Roddrick’s power.
Roddrick’s annoying young companion Rabby becomes even more annoying when it is revealed that he’s possessed by the spirit of an ancient Azelle priestess. She’s determined to rid Roddrick of his feelings towards Hilda. Hilda is captured again and Laures allows himself to be imprisoned by Count Phantom of the Opera in order to protect her. Trapped in the count’s castle, Hilda sees Laures’ true demonic form, complete with cute bat wing ears. She still loves him though!
The fourth and fifth volumes detail Zadei’s growing obsession with the angelic Tetius and the count’s gradual decline into demonhood as the magic portal in his castle warps his already unsightly body. Laures is chained to a wall and tortured a bunch. Rabby tells Roddrick to claim the Sword of Azelle from Hilda. Zadei sees Laures staked to a wall and is annoyed that his powerful foe has been reduced to such a pitiful state.
Tetius sets off a demonic organic bomb by growing a Dimension Tree in the castle. Roddrick rescues Hilda, but she insists on going back to save Laures. They end up confronting Tetius, and Hilda yells at him “If you’re going to kill me, do it! I’m not running away anymore!” Tetius raises his sword, and Laures (who could have freed himself any time he wanted to) jumps in front of Hilda. Tetius is unable to kill his former master.
A confrontation between Laures, Zadei, Hilda, and Roddrick ends with Hilda manifesting the Sword of Azelle, and Roddrick grabbing new power. The expression on his face changes, and he no longer looks like a simple orphan hero. The castle begins to drift into another dimension. Rabby starts dressing in drag, his personality totally subsumed by the spirit of the high priestess who has possessed him. Tetius ends up sacrificing himself to save Laures, and Zadei demonstrates his deep affection for him by ripping off his wing and kissing him. Zadei and Tetius disappear into a dark dimension with the castle. Zadei swears that he will crawl out of the bowels of hell to destroy Laures.
Seimaden is full of epic battles between good and evil, but there’s plenty of moral ambiguity to make everything more complicated. I thought it was interesting that Roddrick, the character with the most traditionally heroic traits, is really just a supporting player in the story of Laures and Hilda. While Hilda is constantly getting kidnapped, she isn’t entirely passive. At one point she demands that her captor serve her his head on a platter. Laures is the typical attractive, tortured, and dark Higuri hero. If you enjoy Cesare Borgia’s descent into darkness in Cantarella, you’ll likely also enjoy reading Seimaden.