This is one of those series that I continued following because the small fan base for it seemed particularly passionate. All indications were that the series would be pretty much your normal reverse-harem series, albeit with an especially spunky female protagonist (with a refreshing lack of weepy shoujo qualities, I might add) and an international flavor. Not a terrible series, but not something I was that eager to see more of. Instead, the series appears to take its silly-sounding setup in a stride and then gradually delves more into the financial and political interactions between the protagonist's family business and a fictional country called Laginay, leaving the major romantic aspects to the side (at least for the time being).
Kajika Barnesworth, the central character, is a 14-year-old who has lived a pretty sheltered life, growing up on an island with a leopard named Mustafa and a boy named Li-Ren as her closest companions. Just as Kajika travels to Japan to spend some time in a real public school and make some real friends, something that she's wished for, she's summoned to her father's side. He has a proposition - he has chosen three men from which Kajika can choose a husband. In doing so, he'll reveal to Kajika certain truths about her past which he has kept from her. Kajika, almost amused by this, agrees to the setup, despite some mixed feelings from Li-Ren (jealous, perhaps?).
Li-Ren, Mustafa and Kajika on the beach of their island home.
She meets the first candidate soon afterward, a beautiful but aloof man named Eugene. Kajika takes one look at him and decides that he's the reincarnation of her beloved snow leopard, Mustafa , an attitude which irritates Eugene to no end. It also turns out that Eugene is quite the ladykiller, literally - more than a few women associated with him have ended up committing suicide, a major red flag that sets the protective Li-Ren on edge. Kajika, ever goal-oriented, attends Eugene's private birthday celebration in spite of his protests to the contrary, and eventually learns of his tragic past. Eugene is on a mission to commit suicide like his mother, since he feels that he was merely a tool for his father's revenge against Eugene's grandmother, who favored her other, more beautiful son over Eugene's father. Kajika snaps him out of it and gets him to want to live his life again.
Eugene is quite the charmer and, at least to Kajika, resembles the noble leopard, Mustafa.
The second candidate appears at a dinner party Li-Ren's family is hosting. The second Prince of Laginay, a haughty boy named Lumati, appears, and Kajika is instantly drawn to him, calling him "Orient Blue" (after his striking blue eyes) until she learns his true name. When an attempt is made on his life, the two end up alone together and Kajika manages to temper his rude attitude. By the end of their ordeal, the two are unlikely friends, though Lumati must live with the fact that his older brother, the crown prince with a weak physical constitution, has tried to assassinate him. The attendant who made the attempt on his life is exiled from Laginay, but Kajika keeps the man on as a bodyguard.
Kajika meets Lumati, who she prevents from beating up an attacker.
After a brief visit to Japan where Kajika reconnects with Yui, her friend from school, and spends some time with Eugene, who inadvertently wows everyone with his beautiful appearance, the story time-jumps backwards to 1955, when a conference involving countries all over the world was held in New York. The Prince of Laginay at the time, Mahati, attends in his sick father's stead. He is also plagued by assassins, people who wish to destroy the Laginayan monarchy and turn rule over to Britain. Mahati is aided in his escape by a woman named Kathleen, who mistakenly thinks that he intends to attend a costume party at a local cabaret club. Mahati, only fifteen years old, gets a sip of champagne and wants more, but Kathleen won't allow it unless he's more forthcoming. Mahati rashly makes her his attendant, thus making her worthy to interact with him. Eventually the two fall in love, but even though Mahati wants to make Kathleen his wife, their positions make this difficult. Mahati returns to Laginay to try and convince his family to allow their relationship, while Kathleen remains, already pregnant, supported by her dear friend, Fred Barnesworth.
Mahati and Kathleen, two unlikely lovers.
We learn that this brief union produced Harry Barnesworth, Kajika's father, which of course begs the question: when Mahati returned to Laginay and became King, wouldn't the progression of heirs make Lumati Kajika's relative? If so, then why would Harry Barnesworth have chosen Lumati to be part of his "game"? While marriage between cousins is accepted in many countries, it seems like an odd thing to have happen in an anime (and yes, that even takes into account the fact that there have been anime about brother-sister incest).
While this could very well have been a fairly-decent reverse-harem series on its own, the questions that arise regarding Harry Barnesworth's motives in setting his daughter up, as well as the varied political and social entanglements involving the various families (including a third - the Fang family of Hong Kong, of which Li-Ren is a member) makes one wonder whether Kajika's marriage and the romantic elements leading up to it are really the focus of the series. I'm beginning to think that something else is going on here and that we really aren't going to spend 39(!) episodes sitting around and waiting for one person to confess their love to the other. A fact which suits me just fine, thank you.
A more lighthearted moment from the show - Kajika and Yui have dinner with a trio of attractive men, surprising Yui's family.
I have mixed feelings about Kajika as a character. I appreciate the fact that she's different from many other shoujo heroines. She's outgoing, forthcoming, and goes after the things that she wants, which is a definite plus. It's irritating to sit through a series and have to deal with a heroine who cries all the time and whose personal happiness seems to hinge on whether she can make the right chocolate for her love-interest on Valentine's Day or get him to walk her home from school. On the other hand, Kajika is very naive to the point of believing in silly things. Naming Eugene as "Mustafa" was nearly enough to get me to stop watching the show early on, since the concept was so silly and yet she believed in it so thoroughly (and to this point, she still calls him by that name).
Kajika innocently pesters Lumati for more info about himself.
I think at this point I'm still onboard with the story, though. Once it was clear that this wasn't going to be a bunch of guys doing nothing but trying to court a young lady (I had nightmares of various competitions taking place) I felt more comfortable watching it. I'm curious to see how the family politics play out, and I really want to learn about what's going through Harry Barnesworth's mind. And of course there's the fact that the third suitor hasn't been introduced yet. I'm curious to see how he fits into the picture, with Eugene serving the role of an old friend and Lumati unexpectedly being in the family.
Fred Barnesworth and Mahati - two men with ties to Kajika.
I'm not really into the whole shipping thing, either, but I'm kind of rooting for Li-Ren ;) While not one of the "chosen" suitors, it's kind of obvious that he holds a special place very close to Kajika, whether she realizes it or not.
In any case, the show is more than what it appears to be on the surface. Much like the author's other manga-turned-anime Jyu-Oh-Sei, this series has some flaws but remains enjoyable and fairly unique in spite of them. It's certainly not just the eye-candy series it might seem like at first, and once more political aspects of the story start popping up, it becomes fairly engaging. For now, definitely a keeper.