Japanese Title: Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori
Genre: Historical Action Drama Romance
Length: 96 chapters (28 volumes)
- Good use of historical events and characters
- An engaging and grand plot
- Quite a few beautiful art compositions
- Uses the same set of plot conundrums each arc
- Characters are thin on dimensions
Red River uses a story type more common in the West than in Japan – you could have called it the West’s “isekai” at one point – time travel. Fifteen-year-old Japanese girl Yuri’s greatest troubles are the flutters in her heart from the boy she just kissed. A mysterious force yanks her into the water and takes her back to 14th century BC Middle East. The Hittite Empire is on the rise, set to rival the Egyptians and Yuri will be at the fore of it all. That is, if she can survive plots from the evil queen, rival lovers for the prince’s affection, rival lovers for her affection, and assassination attempts.
Prince Kail takes her as a concubine for protection, but love soon blossoms between the pair. Yuri will have to make the choice between staying by Kail’s side – even if he must marry a foreign princess for duty – or finding a way back to her family in Japan. Some say she is a reincarnation of the goddess Ishtar. This story of love and war spans several countries and draws in many characters.
Red River reminds me of classic epics like the Mahabharata or Ramayana, where the characters are simple, designed for their one role with a straightforward personality, and plot drives the story (complex characters are relatively modern). It’s easy to remember so many of these characters because they are simple. “Wasn’t he the one that fed insider information to the queen?” Around 95% of characters can have their complexity covered in only one sentence. Even the handful of major characters are quite simple. There are no hidden motivations, subtext, or deeper truths to unravel on closer inspection. This may be a problem for readers who like their characters as complex as a labyrinth with no end.
The romantic conflicts are easy to follow. Yuri loves Kail, but he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. Kail loves Yuri, but he knows he’s a prince, so they can’t be together. This other guy also loves Yuri, but she’s with Kail, so they can’t be together. The queen is trying to sacrifice Yuri to curse Kail because she wants her son to be the next king, therefore Kail must protect Yuri. It’s easy to follow.
However, if you can accept this fact, Red River is an engaging saga over its 28 volumes (an easy read) as the Hittites wage war with various surrounding kingdoms involving real people from history. This is the time of Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, Ramses II, and Mattiwaza. Because they lived so long ago, details are thin on what they were like in reality, which gives plenty of room for creative freedom by the author. Key historical events and alliances also play prominent roles throughout Red River’s plot. The historical aspect of the manga is the most interesting part to me. Had it been all fictional characters and fictional events, it wouldn’t have captured my attention anywhere near as well.
Where Red River falters most in its plot is with repetition. Expect to see the following devices several times. Yuri kidnapped by the enemy; a prince from a rival kingdom falling for Yuri (often the kidnapper); the queen using Black Water to mind control innocent people to kill others (there is a minor magic element); and someone close to Yuri such as a servant or advisor framed for whatever evil the queen committed, followed by an unfair trial. Plenty else happens, yes, but you start to notice when it’s one of those four again. Leaning more into the politics could have avoided the need to resort to these staples. Instead of the queen controlling someone to kill her 30th victim, why not have here use some clever political scheme to corner her opponents?
Red River could have been a High quality manga even with the simple characters had it not been for this repetition problem. When you see Yuri kidnapped again by a love rival, you know where the story will go. And when the plot is meant to carry the series, such predictability kills motivation. It is particularly egregious when the final arc use the Black Water, Yuri kidnapping, a foreign prince, and the false accusation towards an ally all over again.
Still, Red River is a good manga that I recommend to any history fans who want it spliced with shoujo romance. I enjoyed my time with it.
Art – High
Story – Medium
Recommendation: For history fans. The romance is quite typical of shoujo, but the use of real historical characters and events makes this war drama something different.
(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)