Tokyo Ever After packs too much into its princess tale

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean. Image courtesy Flatiron Books
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean. Image courtesy Flatiron Books /

In Emiko Jean‘s Tokyo Ever After, Izumi Tanaka is a California girl who lives in Mount Shasta. It’s a predominately white town that’s split between hippies, Confederate flag owners, and everyone else who doesn’t fall into either party.

Izumi, who goes by Izzy because it’s easier for her white peers, is American like the rest of Mount Shasta, but she’s treated differently because she’s Japanese. Her heritage marks her as a foreigner despite the very fabric of the United States being weaved by all races, ethnicities, and nationalities.

Her support system which includes her mother Hanako, her dog Tamagotchi, and her Asian Girl Gang–Noora, Hansani, and Glory–are what’s been keeping her afloat despite her deep-seated yearning to know her absent father.

Cue a little accidental rummaging through her mother’s things which produces a poem signed by the man himself plus some Googling on Noora’s part, and voila: Izumi not only finds out who her father is but that she’s also a princess of Japan.

Tokyo Ever After tries to be too much of everything

Tokyo Ever After, at its core, is a young adult book about finding yourself. Izumi has never felt like she’s enough. She’s considered to be too Asian for white Americans, and so she figures Japan will be the place she belongs. But that’s not quite the case there either.

Izumi knows little Japanese, isn’t familiar with Japanese customs, and is very clearly American from her attitude to her irreverence. Obviously, tensions arise and it starts with her bodyguard Akio who will later become her love interest.

From the start of Tokyo Ever After, Izumi’s personality jumps off the page. She’s impulsive, rarely serious, and incredibly dramatic. She also does what she wants when she wants to darn the consequences or forethought to the clear as day pitfalls.

On the long plane ride to Japan, Izumi neglects to read the carefully put-together brief that would have given her cursory understanding of her security detail, the royal family, presumably expectations and protocols, and so on and so forth.

It leads to her not recognizing the young man in charge of her protection, Akio, and instead of admitting this mistake she chooses to dislike him for expecting her to have read the brief. From then on Izumi becomes a fish out of water who is curiously surprised by the expectations she can’t seem to meet.

While reading Tokyo Ever After it was hard to suspend disbelief when it came to just how out of touch Izumi was about the gravity of her father’s position. Makoto is the Crown Prince, heir to the throne, next in line to be Emperor of Japan! But she didn’t think that her life would be dictated to her from her clothing to her schedule?

Even the kerfuffle with the press was puzzling. Her public misstep with the Prime Minister wasn’t her fault, however, expecting a simple apology to her father would suffice was weird. It was a political misstep and though she felt horrible about it, saying “I’m sorry,” and expecting that to be enough was odd.

So was her personal belief that fitting in while in Japan hinged on acceptance from the press and her royal cousins who were rude to her. It made me crave scenes where she interacted with people who weren’t her family or in service to her.

Instead, Jean treated readers to beautiful descriptions of the setting as Izumi comes to know more about Tokyo from the perspective of the palace. She strives toward becoming the person she’s expected to be all while a bodyguard romance brews which adds another piece to this story.

A key component of a bodyguard romance is the inherent taboo of it, and yet Izumi gets upset with Akio once he verbalizes that reality. It briefly throws a wrench into the good-natured vibes they’d fallen into once Izumi stopped seeing him as a grumpy, handsome, control freak who needed to chill. Of course, once Akio throws caution to the wind, that gets rectified. But somehow it’s once again a surprise to Izumi that the inevitable happens and they’re found out, causing a media storm.

Izumi being surprised by what she should have seen coming happened more than once in the plot as did things working out in her favor and conveniently being fixed or a misunderstanding on her part. In order to trigger this plot reaction, she has to run away from her problems first. This happens repeatedly.

There’s so much potential packed into Tokyo Ever After. Izumi’s personal journey concerning her acceptance of herself, though rushed at the end, was important. I didn’t like that there’s a moment in which she ties her place in Japan to whether or not she can be with Akio, but I appreciated that she began to carve out her own space in the royal family.

Jean kept making reference to Izumi leading with her heart which was beautiful. Izumi is capable of incredible selfishness throughout the book, but she’s also generous and kind in ways that were thoughtful toward the people around her.

The romance could have been structured better especially given it’s a bodyguard romance and doing one should actually involve discussion of the power dynamics within the couple. But I appreciated the poetry, the chemistry worked more than it didn’t, and Akio and Izumi did have sweet moments. Though I could have done without the plot twist near the end that set the third act break up into motion.

All in all, Tokyo Ever After juggled more plates than the story could handle and it did so in a way that undermined some of its good qualities. However, Emiko Jean established a unique voice with Izumi Tanaka and a story rooted in themes that will resonate with readers who also feel like they have to choose between their different heritages instead of being one whole person informed by them both.

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