This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to racism, child brides, abuse, death, self-harm, and violence as it appears in the manga.
Beastkind and humans live entirely separate lives. Each is designated land with an agreement to never cross into the other's borders, except for the agreed-upon ritual. To uphold the peace between the human kingdoms and the beastkind, humanity must give a human sacrifice to the king of beasts. Unfortunately for Sariphi, it is her turn to be sacrificed. Oddly enough, though, she isn't afraid. She has known she was meant to be a sacrifice for a long time and has resigned herself to this fate, ultimately happy that her life and death could be meaningful.
During the ritual, she is faced with the king of beasts. However, instead of killing her, he turns into a man and tries to set her free. Since taking the throne, he has never once killed a sacrifice and instead helped them all to escape. Even so, Sariphi doesn't leave. She has nowhere to return to and now has no meaning for her life. The king is entranced by her lack of fear, something he must contend with every day because while he is the king of beasts, he is not entirely a beast. Drawn to her, the king decides to let her stay with him under the pretense that she will one day be his bride and help close the divide between human and beastkind.
Having lived her whole life under the assumption she would one day die as a sacrifice, Sariphi must now find a new motivation to continue. She battles against prejudice, political schemes to keep her from becoming queen, and efforts even to take down the king of beasts. Can a human girl survive in a world made for beasts?
I was super into this from the get-go. It does have a Beauty and the Beast feel to it, with the beast king Leonhart falling in love with the human and him having a human form, but it really doesn't compare past that. Sariphi is our lead, and it is such a joy to see her grow. She starts as this melancholic being, seemingly floating through life. She accepts her fate with no complaints, but she flourishes when given a chance to go against the future she always expected for herself. Throughout the story, her melancholic disposition gradually grows into something more hopeful and lively. Sariphi's growth really makes this series, and she is an excellent lead to follow.
On the opposite side, we have Leonhart, our male lead. He's cold and strong, but beneath all of that is a neverending pressure and fear. A fear that he isn't enough and could never be enough because of his biology – something he could never control. Sariphi plays a perfect counterweight to him because she has never had a problem accepting what she was and, in turn, never had a problem with accepting Leonhart. I especially like the irony that a human designated as a sacrifice has more confidence and self-assurance than a beast king. It puts all the power in Sariphi's hands, which is a nice dynamic.
However, something that is pretty problematic is the age of Sariphi. She is fifteen years old, and while Leonhart, the king, ages differently since he is beastkind, his profile states that he is approximately twenty-five in human years. So we have an adult grooming a child to be his bride. I can already hear people saying I am too harsh or that it is just fiction, so it shouldn't be a big deal, but I do feel like it is worth mentioning regardless. I know this is fiction and is based in a fantasy setting where it is more than likely “acceptable” for this to occur. Still, it did rub me wrong when I realized how significant the age gap was, mainly due to Sariphi being a child.
Something else problematic that gets tackled through this is racism depicted through prejudice between the species. There is a particular scene where the big bad of the series, Set, is executing his plans to segregate species into mammals and non-mammals. A soldier from the palace holds a frog child and asks the mother, a mammal if that is her child. The child, of course, is desperately crying to go back to his mother, the mother pleading for her child back, while the soldier is planning on separating them simply because they present as different species. It was a heart-rending scene, to say the least, and there are many instances of this throughout the series. It hurt me deeply.
The art is pretty, though not consistent. There are many times when Sariphi's eyes are completely different sizes (see volume 8 cover), but overall, it is a lovely style when it's done right. I also loved the designs of the beastkind and Leonhart's human design. He was my type through and through, so I was pleased with that. The story itself is also really strong, with Sariphi proving herself worthy of queen and Leonhart proving to himself and beastkind that he is not any weaker for being half-human. There are so many uber-fun characters that I really did fall in love with.
Pretty art, great male lead, meaningful story – all the makings of an excellent manga series. However, promoting a relationship between a fifteen-year-old and an estimated twenty-five-year-old just rubs me wrong in so many ways. Yes, I know this is fiction and notably a fantasy setting where one of the characters isn't even human, but it is still something that I don't necessarily care for. I can't readily recommend this because of that.
Have you read Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!