Once upon a time

Ludwig Revolution is a gothic manga of four volumes and was first serialized in the shoujo manga magazine Melody and several magazines belonging to the Hana to Yume line (Hana to Yume Step, Hana to Yume, Bessatsu Hana to Yume) between 1999 and 2007. In 2012 and 2013, two more tales spanning four chapters were released under the name Ludwig Fantasia.

At the King’s behest and under the threat of disinheritance, the story follows the arrogant, headstrong and hedonistic Prince Ludwig — Lui — and his faithful childhood servant Wilhelm as they journey across the land in search of a suitable bride. The bride candidates along with several other characters are all figures of classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, whose stories are retold in typically grim Kaori Yuki fashion. True to her trademark gothic fiction, she combines mystery, horror, death and romance — but also includes plenty of comedy. (Its horror elements do not make it a horror manga, and the series becomes more and more light-hearted as it progresses.)

If you’re unfamiliar with Kaori Yuki, the first volume of Ludwig Revolution may be a good starting point as far as her short stories go. If you’ve already read some of her works and enjoyed Count Cain/God Child or Perfume Master, Ludwig Revolution may be to your liking due to the combination of mystery and cruelty, with Lui not rarely assuming the role of something akin to a detective — not to mention the way he leaves a trail of women behind, which is reminiscent of Cain.

Click here to read on about my opinion of the series and a list of fairy tales covered in each volume along with recommendations.

It’s worth noting that the tales vary in length, tone and ambition. The series starts out with each chapter covering a different tale, but the later half of the series implements an overarching plot and features multi-chapter tales. The first volume was conceived as a oneshot with vague hopes of continuing Lui’s adventures at a later point, hence the times between the publication of the first and later volumes. It feels truest to Kaori Yuki’s usual stories in that it contains many dark and disturbing elements, whereas later volumes tend to include far more comedic and downright silly elements. The first tale, Snow White, encapsulates that, although it is not representative of the series as it was meant to be a standalone chapter; Lui’s disturbing “preferences” in Snow White do not carry over. Ludwig Revolution may be a parody of Grimm’s fairy tales, but depending on the tale, the thoughtful elements may outweigh the silly ones and vice versa.

Below is the table of contents of the series; italicized titles are the chapters that I enjoyed and recommend reading for one reason or another.

  • Volume 1
    • Snow White
    • Little Red Riding Hood
    • Little Briar Rose
    • Bluebeard
  • Volume 3
    • Hansel and Gretel
    • Cinderella
    • Cinderella
    • Cinderella
  • Volume 2
    • Rapunzel
    • Maid Maleen
    • The Frog King, or Iron Henry
    • The Goose Girl
  • Volume 4
    • The Salt Princess *
    • The Salt Princess *
    • The Salt Princess *
    • The Blue Light

* Based on the fairy tale The Goose-Girl at the Well; the alternate title was chosen to avoid confusion with The Goose Girl.

I think Snow White, Little Briar Rose and Maid Maleen are exceptionally well-done and original (especially the last one), as they really show that Kaori Yuki gave the motives of the original titular characters quite some thought. She addresses some of this in the volumes’ side columns and afterwords, and I particularly appreciate how specific elements of the original fairy tales are rationalized or questioned in her reimagined stories — the cruelty of the Evil Queen’s punishment in Snow White, the way female beauty and goodness as well as ugliness and wickedness are equated across different fairy tales, the fact that fairy tales cut off at a convenient point, with many couples living happily ever after, Maleen’s long imprisonment and the way she spoke with objects, to name a few examples.

Little Red Riding Hood’s retelling doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s a must-read because it’s the closest the series gets to a backstory for Lui and Wilhelm; its dark nature is in line with Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. In contrast, Little Briar Rose and The Frog King, or Iron Henry are quite sweet and show a different side of Lui.

As you can see, I strongly discourage from reading the second half of the series. There are less, but longer tales starting from the third volume, and they feature more recurring characters — the tales and characters themselves, however, aren’t well-written in my opinion, and the attempt at an overarching plot seems more poor and clumsy than anything else. It fits into the fairy tale setting, sure, but its development doesn’t do Lui or Wilhem’s characterization any favours. I may read the manga for its retellings, whether or not they happen to be dark, but I can’t say that I’m fond of the absurdity of the comedy in the second half. Ludwig Revolution seeks to entertain, but in this case, the increasing absurdity comes at the cost of storytelling, pacing and characterization.

Ludwig Fantasia takes Lui on a journey across the seas as he explores foreign lands — namely those of Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid and the Japanese folk tale Princess Kaguya/The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The former is light-hearted, whereas the latter includes romance and yearning in line with many other stories by Kaori Yuki. These two retellings are quite enjoyable!