The tale of Mulan, which was first a poem in Chinese thousands of years ago, has endured as a symbol of female emancipation. Although the most well-known version is still the Disney animated version from 1998, her tale has been recounted numerous times and in countless different ways. All versions have the same fundamental elements. During a time when women were not permitted to serve in the military, a young lady enlists and then proves her worth as a soldier by dressing as a male. Mulan versions frequently address gender stereotypes along the way and emphasize that anybody is capable of extraordinary things.
Shojo manga is one of the ideal venues to repeat this narrative because of the ideas and messages it conveys. Many shojo manga give their female characters more agency than stories from other demographics, as it's targeted at young girls. Similarly, cross-dressing is also a well-known trope in shojo manga. In Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi plays the part of a male host to earn money. In the ongoing series Prince Freya, heroine Freya takes the role of her land's prince after his untimely demise. However, these stories don't have the same flavor as Mulan. For fans interested in such a story, The King's Beast is a must-read.
Rangetsu Embodying Mulan's Spirit
The King's Beast, a manga series by Rei Toma, is set in the same universe as Dawn of the Arcana and follows the Ajin, a half-beast race that coexists with humans. The Ajin are under human control and are forced to live as slaves. While women work in menial professions or, worse still, prostitution, male Ajin are conscripted to engage in conflicts. Humans even manage their population by putting a cap on the number of children they can have in order to maintain this status quo. Some Ajin are captured to work as royal household attendants because they have particular abilities. Sogetsu, the brother of the main character Rangetsu, was one of these Ajin who was seized by the royal family and vanished without a trace.
Not long after being taken to the palace, Sogetsu was mysteriously murdered. Fed up with the world she's forced to live in, Rangetsu decides to change her fate. She disguises herself as a man and vows to avenge her brother, stating, "I'll give up being a woman. I'll take up a weapon. And my vengeful fangs will pierce my little brother's enemy." This "enemy" is the prince, who she is eventually given to as a beast-servant. Just like Mulan, it is her love for her family that spurs Rangetsu forward.
While it isn't a war that Rangetsu's fighting in, she finds herself trapped in the politics of the royal family. The princes are battling for the right to succeed the throne from their father, and they're using their beast-servants to fight their battles.
A Courageous Warrior Faces Love
Adaptations of Mulan commonly have an element of romance to them, pairing the titular character with someone she meets on the battlefield. This love interest may be a fellow soldier who initially gave her a hard time, or even her superior. The King’s Beast also has this plot point, but Rangetsu’s love interest is initially established as her target. Prince Tenyou, the very man who Sogetsu served before his death, is Rangetsu’s prime suspect. After making her way to the palace and being given to the prince as a beast-servant, she vows to kill him as soon as possible.
However, Tenyou is not at all what Rangetsu was expecting. He’s a kind and warm soul who still mourns Sogetsu’s death, even after so many years have passed. Tenyou is just as cunning as his brothers, and willing to play dirty when necessary, but treats those who serve him with respect. It’s not long before Rangetsu is convinced that Tenyou’s innocent, but still wants vengeance for Sogetsu and continues to hunt for the culprit.
The King's Beast is, unfortunately, a relatively niche manga. On MyAnimeList, less than 3,000 users have it on their lists. Social media is widely quiet about it, but those who have rated it have given it a high score. The King's Beast is a must for shojo fans who want a story with the spirit of Mulan.