A goofy, sweet-natured all-ages comic fantasy, Asuka Izumi’s The Lizard Prince (CMX) tells the tale of Canary Darlberg, princess of the fairy tale kingdom of Linaria, and Sienna Hyrangea, prince of a neighboring kingdom who’s been transformed into a lizard by a curse. The two meet and make a romantic connection when Sienna's ne’er-do-well younger brother Heath, fearful of an arranged marriage with the 17-year-old Canary, temporarily switches bodies with his lizard sib using “magic medicine.” Heath is counting on his more diplomatic brother to sever relationships with Canary, but instead Sienna falls for the tomboyish young princess. What’s a lovesick lizard gonna do once the body switch wears off?
Actually, this dilemma is rapidly resolved. Though the first volume of this manga series gives the impression on its back cover that the series’ll revolve around this “mixed-up triangle,” that particular romantic conflict is solved by the end of Chapter One. Newcomer Izumi originally wrote Lizard Prince as a stand-alone story, so in the first tale, the noble reptile is transformed back into human form through the power of Canary’s true love. To keep the lizard in the title, though, we learn in Chapter Two that Sienna, who spent 15 of his 19 years under the curse, has somehow gained the ability to turn into his lizard form for short periods. “After all,” Canary posits, “you spent 15 years as a lizard, maybe it ‘rubbed off.’”
This little plot revision actually proves more entertaining than you might expect. Sienna has spent so much of his life as a non-human that he starts turning into his animal self under the slightest pretext. Despite his love for Canary, he still appears to feel more comfortable as a tiny skittering creature — which sez a lot for his self-esteem. And while his new princess love proves the tough half of the relationship, Sienna is prone to the occasional teary outburst: he's a sensitive new age lizard, which makes for some engaging comic character blips.
The four stand-alone adventures that follow are variably successful: a trip to a haunted mansion (where our duo get temporarily possessed by the ghosts of two estranged lovers) is a stretch, but a chapter where they have to babysit an infant for Canary’s cousin Camilla is definitely chucklesome. Sienna, it turns out, is terrified of babies. All those years as a tiny animal at the mercy of small children’s curious hands have instilled an understandable fight or flight response in our prince. His subsequent attempts at working through his fears with the baby Coral are decidedly droll.
Manga newcomer Izumi’s visual depiction of her comic fairy tale is engaging, though at times Sienna’s pipe-cleaner lizard arms call for a bit more fleshing out. The artist seems to have the most fun with Princess Canary, the character with the broadest emotional range, though Sienna gets his own humorously histrionic moments, particularly in the baby chapter.
Per the page at the end of Volume One, The Lizard Prince will be concluding with a second volume in March 2010. Nice to see that the manga artist isn’t planning on keeping this series going ‘til it wears out its welcome. At the end of the book’s first chapter, Sienna’s shiftless sibling looks out at the artist and demands that she not wrap the story up with a “happily ever after.” Bet she’s saving it for the end of Volume Two.