English, Please and Thank You!: Sakuran
November 4, 2011
Moyoco Anno – Evening Magazine (Kodansha) – Seinen – 1 volume
This book was my next license request, but Vertical beat me to the punch by announcing it at the New York Comic Con a few weeks ago. That doesn’t mean I can’t still talk about it, though. So instead of another round of wishful thinking on my part, I’ll just show off why this was an awesome choice on Vertical’s part. Vertical is also releasing a new English edition of Adolf, by Osamu Tezuka, another series I’ve discussed at length before, so look forward to that as well.
Sakuran is the story of Kiyoha, a spirited taiyu courtesan living in a brothel in the Yoshiwara district of old Edo. Though she is beautiful and one of the most sought-after women at her establishment, Kiyoha has no interest in being a taiyu. One night, the Oiran, or head courtesan, is murdered, and Kiyoha is nominated to take her place as Oiran. Kiyoha wants nothing to do with the honor, and from there, the story flashes back and we learn of her life.
Kiyoha’s life isn’t a pleasant one. At a young age, she is sold into the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters as a slave. Time and time again, she tries to run away, but can never get past the closed Yoshiwara gates. She is dragged back and beaten for her troubles frequently, but Kiyoha never loses her rebellious personality.
One of the most interesting things about this book is watching Kiyoha grow up in the brothel. There are different stages to becoming a taiyu, and Kiyoha is forced through all of them unwillingly. The hairstyles differ depending on the age of the girl, and even the girl’s name changes as she grows older (Kiyoha is her adult name). Anno does a thorough job documenting the life of the main character, from a young girl that waits on the taiyu, to a courtesan in training herself, to a young woman that is a reluctant star. The journey is a fascinating one, and sometimes hard to read, but the best part about it is that Kiyoha never stops being herself throughout, no matter what.
Anno’s art is at its absolute best in this book. The period details are exquisite, and she puts a lot of work into drawing everything. The story very rarely leaves the inside of Kiyoha’s brothel, but Anno still renders every room and decoration in full. The costumes and hairstyles are the primary focus, however, as it should be in a story like this. The Japanese edition is a gorgeous book, too, a perfect match to the story. The cover is printed on a shiny foil (which is why it scanned badly in that first image), and all the original color pages are included with every chapter that had them. The edges of the pages are also tinted pink, which is a nice touch.
I always hesitate to pick up period books. Frequently the historical details elude me and the narrative never bothers to explain since the intended audience is already familiar with what’s happening. But Sakuran is a beautiful, beautiful story. You learn about the life of a taiyu along with Kiyoha, and she’s an interesting character and easy to sympathize with. I can’t wait to read this in English.