Sakura Hime 9

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2012 – 12 volumes

I haven’t read this in awhile, but it’s still addictively good, though I’m not sure how many fans it will win outside the shoujo audience. Arina Tanemura is always good for it, and this series is particularly good. I’m not sure that it’s my favorite, but it’s probably the most solid and enjoyable all the way through.

Less drama in this volume, most of which is dedicated to the odd friendship between Hayate, the young ninja who was accidentally turned into a frog, and Rurijo, a kind of Nataku/Golem-type creature that looks like Sakura and was brought to life by her brother. Rurijo is a particularly nasty villain. While all the others have a reason for following Sakura’s bitter brother, Rurijo does so because he created her, and she loves him.

This volume shows a wonderful side of her, though. While it can be a bit tiresome to see villains made to be “good” over and over again, I thought it was nice to see the bright, cheery side of her personality. And that’s pretty much all it is, her personality, as we learn later. I liked that part of it, too. We also get to see a new side to Hayate, who feels neglected by Kohaku. While he thinks of nothing but Kohaku, he’s not sure that she shares his feelings since she tends to be completely devoted to whoever she’s serving (in this case, Sakura). The friendship between Rurijo and Hayate is quite lovely, and was an unexpected bright spot in a story that has been tending towards darkness lately.

Speaking of which, we get some of that in the beginning when we learn about Aoba’s curse (which is pretty awesome) and settle the matter of cheating, alternate wives/spouses in general, et cetera. That part was never very interesting since there was no chance Sakura and Aoba were going to spit up. I wish there was, especially since Aoba was so terrible in the early volumes, but that’s not the case.

Tanemura expresses some dismay at having to draw Rurijo in the nude so much, which I thought was funny. As a golem-type creature, she needs to soak up a lot of water, so Hayate actually runs across her (and keeps meeting up with her) while she’s bathing. Being naked doesn’t really bother Rurijo, and that adds a lot to the personality thing I mentioned earlier, too. It’s nice to see that she can be naked without it being a super-sexual thing, too. Tanemura is right, it seems to suit her.

Tanemura talks a bit about the volume Fudanjuku Story that she was working on around the same time this was released. I mentioned before that this was totally coming out in English as an inevitability, but as she was talking about it here, I realized that it was apparently about some sort of idol group? In which case, it’s totally not coming out here. I was bummed, but an online summary I read just now made it sound like a very typical shoujo manga, so maybe she takes the band members and puts them in a school club, or something? In which case, there’s a chance, depending on if the manga’s only a small part of the book or the whole thing? I’m a little curious now. Then again, it’s also possible that Arina Tanemura’s manga aren’t selling that well in English anymore, which would also explain why it hasn’t been licensed. That would be most heartbreaking, though.

Basically, I’m still enjoying this immensely, and I am curious to see how it ends. I’ve expressed doubt over the end of a Tanemura series before and been surprised by Time Stranger Kyoko, but then again, Full Moon. She mentioned Sakura Hime was going to be long, but then ended it at volume 12. I’m curious to see how cleanly this happens. We’re mostly caught up with Japan, which means the next few volumes will come out slowly. That’s fine, because I do enjoy this series a lot and will be sad to see it end, something that doesn’t really occur to me much anymore. And I do hope to see more of her work in English. If not Fudanjuku Story, maybe her new series.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 8

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2012 – 12 volumes

Hmm… I guess I didn’t realize this had ended in Japan! I was under the impression that it would continue into the upper teens at least, Tanemura’s commentary made it sounds as if there was still quite a bit of story to go. Now I’m curious!

I haven’t read this series in awhile, and this volume was a great place to pick it back up. It had gotten a lot darker with the ugly Enju fights over the past couple volumes, and this volume takes a break from all that and gets back to the business of romance. Now, in my heart of hearts, I really can’t forgive Aoba his actions in the early volumes, but it’s so easy to get swept away by well-done girly romance, and Tanemura is a master of all things girly. The book opens with Sakura and Aoba more or less all over each other, and both are gearing up for their wedding night. But a wrench is thrown into their plans when Aoba’s father insists he take on a concubine or give up Sakura. The new wife, Princess Yuri, seems like the perfect woman, and through her efforts, she manipulates Sakura into thinking that the two are friends. Later, Sakura begins to suspect Aoba is cheating on her, and things go downhill from there. There’s a bit of drama, but it’s mostly good-natured, and it’s nothing like the dark volumes that came before. There’s some minor infidelity on both sides when Aoba falls for Yuri’s attempts to seduce him, and Sakura falls into Fujimurasaki’s trap while he consoles her broken heart.

Things don’t end in a good place, especially since Fujimurasaki has revealed his feelings to Sakura, who obviously doesn’t return them. I have no doubt where all this is going in the end, and I know that Fujimurasaki doesn’t have a chance in the world. What is interesting is that it seems like the story is going along with the fact that Aoba has two wives, though not in his heart of hearts. Now there’s some ground-breaking shoujo, at least in English.

I was also delighted to see the Ion one-shot in the back! Hooray! It’s been so long since I’ve read that. The characters have been aged just a bit for the one-shot, but it’s basically the same silly psychic-themed romance. Tanemura has some fun at the expense of her changed artwork, and it’s basically the kind of thing you would expect from her. It’s nothing groundbreaking or special, but again, I’m a huge fan of girly shoujo, and it certainly is that in a huge dose. I was pleased.

I’m curious to see how the series will resolve the Fujimurasaki business, the rift between Aoba and Sakura, and the conflict with Enju in four volumes. I have my doubts. Then again, I had my doubts about Time Stranger Kyoko too, and that series is supremely awesome. Sakura Hime isn’t necessarily my flavor of shoujo, but I do love Tanemura’s work to bits, and I get caught up in every volume so easily that it’s really hard not to like it. Volume 9 in December! Can’t wait!

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 7

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2012 – 10+ volumes

I was happy to see the end of the fight against Enju and his minions here. It was not without its emotional moments, but I still loved every pretty page of it.

Asagiri and Ukyo are still fighting things out at the beginning of the volume here. The flashback has ended, but they still have a bit more to go over in the present. Asagiri and Ukyo are potential lovers, of course, which adds extra drama to the whole thing. Especially since they both seem to be missing the intentions of the other. Asagiri in particular doesn’t seem to really understand where Ukyo stands presently, which is making the battle that much more difficult. But Asagiri is also my favorite character, and I’m happy the story is spending so much time with her.

There’s a wonderful two-page kiss scene between the two, with Asagiri in her one-inch-sprite form. Aaahh, shoujo manga.

The action shifts back to Princess Sakura, who is temporarily freed, then enslaved mentally by Enju shortly after. She begins acting as a puppet in her transformed form, doing Enju’s bidding without being able to resist or even conscious of what she’s doing. She’s actually enslaved in a strange mental prison, where Rurijo holds her captive against her will. Bad things happen while she fights this inner fight, but one of my favorite parts of the series so far happens at the end.

She turns to her brother, and realizes he’s not her brother Kai that she used to know, but Enju, a very bad man. Conversely, Enju has to realize that she’s not his little sister, but the Sakura that all her friends know (a fiancee, a warrior, Princess Kaguya’s granddaughter, a friend), and she refuses to throw all of it away to go with him. It’s a beautiful speech, and a wonderful chapter. Again, a truly great moment of shoujo manga.

Tanemura says she’s got a long way to go to tell the story of Princess Sakura, and I’m happy that this isn’t going to end anytime soon. It’s quite an involved story at this point, and it would be a shame to see it rushed or ended early. I’m also happy that all these flashbacks are over and done with, and that the plot can move on now. As for what it is moving on to, I’m curious to know. There’s not a clear direction at this point, but the emotional fallout from this will probably take a volume or two to deal with. Or not! Sometimes shoujo manga characters are quite resilient.

I do love shoujo fantasy, but it’s difficult to say whether I enjoy this or Dawn of the Arcana more. They’re completely different flavors, and I’ve only read two volumes of Dawn. Both are very good. Dawn has a slightly more mature flavor, but there’s something to be said for Tanemura’s beautiful art and her very classic stories. They’re always worth reading, and always a lot of fun in the end.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 6

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2012 – 9+ volumes

So, now that I’ve read volume five, the fight between Shuri and Kohaku makes sense! As of this volume, the characters are still working their way furiously towards Sakura for an attempted rescue. Last volume, we were waylaid by a flashback and fight for Shuri. This volume: Ukyo, with a lengthy flashback about Asagiri!

I had wondered about Asagiri more than the others. She’s a tiny mononoke sprite, after all, and while she seems quite affectionate towards Sakura, she’s fairly grumpy otherwise. Plus, I was sure she was concealing all sorts of secrets. Her backstory is very good, and I don’t want to spoil it. She does come from a village of female snow spirits, and Tanemura does a good job of bringing their culture and lives to life in the flashback. There’s lots of tragic stuff afoot, obviously, and I liked both Asagiri and Ukyo’s role in it. It does finish up with one of my pet peeve plot developments, the “I’ve done something horrible that I’ll regret the rest of my life except nobody would ever blame me for it so I’m not really a bad person”-flashback. But even so, it’s pretty evil stuff, and the story suited Asagiri.

There’s a couple cute short stories in the back. One’s a fairly simple children’s story about an angel named Maple Rose that visits the world of humans to escape from an angel party, and another is a silly gag chapter about the mascots from the various Arina Tanemura series. I missed Finn and Jonathan. And I say that Asagiri should be the mascot from Sakura Hime. And what about the cat from Time Stranger Kyoko? Maybe cute small people don’t count? But Fin does!

Obviously I’m still having a blast reading this. I loved Asagiri’s flashback, and I’m looking forward to where the story is going to go from here now that all the backstory is out of the way. Hopefully it’ll lighten up a little bit between serious story arcs, because I love seeing the characters having fun with one another.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 5

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2011 – 9+ volumes

Bah, I did it again. Volume 5 disappeared from my to-read stack, so when 6 came in this week, I wound up reading that one first. Sadly, I didn’t realize I had skipped a volume. To be fair, I was puzzled by the fact I didn’t remember Kohaku being in the middle of a fight, and I thought it was odd that the backstory about the ninja village would be skipped. But I still didn’t realize I missed a volume until I went to mark this off my to-read list at Librarything.

But anyway. I still love this series dearly, and I like volume five just as much as I did volume 6. It had the missing Kohaku fight, as well as all the ninja backstory you could want. Bizarrely, there is a fight with Byakuya and Maimai that is just glossed over when Byakuya uses a strange power and grows younger. But, you know, whatever. The story will probably go back to that later.

One thing that did disappoint me a little was when the realization hit that… well, we are simply working our way systematically through the backstory of all the characters as they fight while working their way up to Sakura. Knowing there’s a formula to it isn’t that fun, nor is the fact that the main story is on hold while we learn all about the bad guys and… well, why they aren’t bad guys, I guess? One of my other pet peeves is when characters are blaming themselves (and others blame them) for some catastrophic event, usually a death or the deaths of many, that turns out to not be their fault at all. And after everything is explained, and it’s clearly not the character’s fault, everyone continues on as if it is. This happens to one character each in this volume and the next. The character in this volume does appear to be forgiven as of volume six, but he still hasn’t explained himself, nor does anyone else know he’s not guilty. Whatever.

After having said that, though, I still enjoy this series immensely. I love to nitpick, but really, this is continuing to deliver some fairly solid shoujo action/fantasy, and I’m a sucker for these stories when they’re this good. The ninja fights here are interspersed with flashbacks to the days at the ninja village. We see young Hayate, Kohaku, and Shuri train with Aoba, and we also learn about their various love triangles, how Hayate was turned into a frog, and the mission that drove Shuri into the arms of Sakura’s brother. As you can imagine, tempers run high through this, since it was a childhood friend that betrayed Kohaku, and with the barest hint of romance scattered through everything… well, that makes it exciting in a way that only a shoujo manga can deliver.

There’s a 50-page bonus story in the back of the volume, called “White Rose Academy: Vampire Rose.” It’s… about what you’d expect from a shoujo one-shot, but I really loved it. Tanemura has a knack for telling this kind of girly story, and even the shameless vampire element wasn’t enough to deter me. It has an unusually passionate climax, something you wouldn’t normally see in one of her stories since she tends to write for a younger audience. That was a little different. It wasn’t anything too terribly shocking, but it was satisfying enough. And what can I say? Vampires, vampire hunters, and the supernatural are pretty safe subjects for me.

But really, the thing that got me most excited was the intro to this story, where Tanemura reveals the fact she loves reading about out-of-place artifacts. I want to read a story by her with that theme SO BADLY now.

I imagine I’ll probably write up volume 6 in the next couple days. I didn’t gush as much as I should about this volume, but really. It’s great shoujo fantasy. You usually can’t go wrong with Tanemura’s longer series, and this one is the best yet.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 4

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

I can’t help but be a total girl about this series. Every volume is yet another foray into sparkly shoujo manga heaven, and even with all the action we get in this series, there’s just something inherently shoujo about everything that Tanemura draws.

Enju enters the story in grand style, and the fight between him and the moon people against the prince and Sakura’s allies begins. We get to meet all of Enju’s followers, who are not real moon people, unlike Enju and Sakura. Apparently all the various hangers-on drank moon water, or something, to gain their powers and ally with him. We get stories for two of them this time around. There’s one that’s like a golem, not a real person, and is actually a pretty interesting character. There’s a weird relationship between her and Enju, and a very strained one between her and Sakura, and she even tries to infiltrate the Prince’s party. Rurijo was my favorite part of this volume.

We also meet Maimai, who Tanemura admits is a lot like Maora from her last series. Except Maora wasn’t nearly as depressing as Maimai. He’s actually kind of a bad guy, joining this side for all the wrong reasons, but you still empathize with him quite a bit.

The story here is the beginning of what will probably be a very long battle. The end of the volume also has a short story about Asagiri, too, and I suspect as the battle wears on, we will also find out the deal behind Ukyo and Shuri, Enju’s two other followers. I’m not sure how this will end, probably with Sakura and the Prince together, but the threat of the moon people is a pretty real one in the context of the series, and Enju isn’t someone that Sakura can easily go against. He won’t just go away, either. I’m very curious as to how this will turn out and what direction the rest of the series will take from here.

Sakura Hime 3

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

I always feel a little bad when I can’t quite muster the enthusiasm for a genuinely great series like House of Five Leaves, the review I wrote before this one, when I know I’m going to gush embarrassingly over something like this, which ran in Ribon magazine and is aimed at, like, 9-year-old girls. House of Five Leaves is the better book. Sakura Hime is easier to gush over. Especially for me, because I can’t help myself when it comes to girls’ comics.

I still haven’t completely forgiven Aoba for his nonsensical betrayal of Sakura in the first couple volumes, but the plot moves past that and, for some reason, makes the two of them a couple. That’s a very unusual move in a manga like this, and after a rough patch at the beginning, most of this book is spent with the two of them being over-the-top lovey-dovey. The end of the volume implies that the plot is moving in a different direction, and Tanemura maybe just wanted to get the romance out of the way to get to the meat of the story here. I can’t blame her, and honestly, I’m a little excited to see where she’s going with this.

The action part of the plot is still a little sketchy at the moment, though we meet up with a character who was important to Sakura in the past and threatens to upset everything once it’s settled down. This character also implies that Sakura will likely be better off with “her own kind,” and it’s implied that there are many other youko. I love this fairytale-like aspect of the story, so I’m very excited to see these new characters next volume.

The character I’m most curious about, however, is Asagiri. I suspect she’ll have a Finn Fish-like role in the plot, though maybe not necessarily evil.

It’s easy to like all the characters in this series, honestly, and another great part of this volume was finally getting to meet Hayate properly. He and Aoba are very friendly, and the relationship between him and Kohaku is fleshed out a smidge more. Nothing you couldn’t already guess, but it’s super-cute stuff anyway. I’m also a big fan of Fujimurasaki. Not the shadowy evil character I thought he was going to be, he seems genuinely interested in Sakura’s welfare, and he’s also fairly silly and a little romantic to boot.

There’s all sorts of wonderful stuff in this series. So far, I’m liking it just as much as Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, which is my favorite of Tanemura’s series. The romance is nice, and I like that it’s not the focus, because I know that Tanemura can do really fun action series, too. And I’m fond of the folk tale aspects of the story. I can’t wait to read more.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 2

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

Hmm… Tanemura promised last time that Aoba would be more likable. I don’t see how this is possible, seeing as how he shot her all the way through with an arrow and led a hunting party to kill her, shouting that he hated her all the while. But, you know. Arina Tanemura can sometimes surprise you like that.

Not yet, though. There are clearly still feelings of love between Aoba and Sakura, and Aoba keeps trying to do heroic things and gets jealous when Fujimurasaki begins hitting on Sakura. But all the same. He literally killed her. Completely and utterly betrayed her. It may take more than the power of shoujo manga to recover from that.

Annoyingly, the plot does a complete 180 here. After being hunted, Fujimurasaki shows up in Sakura’s hour of need and reveals that she can, indeed, stay in the kingdom if she agrees to fight yokai. I’m not sure why that wasn’t a condition to begin with. The plot then follows Fujimurasaki, Aoba, Sakura, and company as they venture into the mountains so that Sakura can prove herself by killing a particularly dangerous yokai. Along the way, Fujimurasaki begins making moves, Aoba is still clearly in love, and a new, demon-ish contender shows up at the end in the race for Sakura’s heart.

After being disappointed by some of the plot twists here, I still like this series quite a bit. There’s a ridiculous declaration at the beginning of the volume where Sakura decides to buck fate and do what she wants. It’s horribly cliche, but in the middle of a story by one of the girliest authors I can think of, it’s appropriate and extremely enjoyable. I also like the way Tanemura is developing the intrigue between the princes and the various royal personnel. There are issues later with one of the advisers, Sakura’s attendant still doesn’t trust her and a plotline follows that out to its conclusion, and Hayate the kunoichi is still hanging around being both helpful and goofy. I still don’t like Aoba, and I think Fujimurasaki is a creep for taking advantage of Sakura during her weak moments, but I like that both brothers are in the story. I like both of their roles, and I like the way they work as characters both together and with Sakura.

Plus, I’m just weak to super-girly series like this. A magical girl series with a strong heroine that slays demons in ancient Japan? Still a really fun concept as of volume two. The required romance is there, and all the action has a super-emotional spin on it that makes everything extra girly. The art helps, too, especially since Tanemura is one of the most ornate shoujo artists I can think of. Everything she draws is among the girliest manga I can think of, but she’s really trying hard to girl it up here.

I know calling something “girly” isn’t much of a critique, but I consider it a very positive trait in shoujo manga, especially one as good as this. I mean, I still like it even when I don’t like parts of the plot or characters. That’s strong stuff.

After the conclusion to the chase scene, the rest of this volume feels mostly like exposition. Tanemura mentions that we are still in the middle of the “Aoba arc,” and that it will likely finish by volume three. I’m looking forward to it, if only because she seems so sure that she can turn the reader around after what Aoba did.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sakura Hime 1

Arina Tanemura – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

Wow, I liked this an awful lot more than I thought I would! After reading Mistress Fortune, which I was not very fond of, I started to worry that I had lost my taste for Tanemura’s particular brand of whimsical fantasy-ish series. This has some of her sense of humor in it, but is set in ancient Japan and deals with the myth of Princess Kaguya.

Princess Sakura is engaged to be married to Prince Oura. She’s very much against being married off at the age of 14 to a prince she’s never met. An emissary for the prince named Aoba shows up. To nobody’s surprise, he’s really prince Oura, and Sakura says many terrible things to him both about Prince Oura, her feelings about the wedding, and to Aoba in particular since he seems fond of tormenting her.

So it has that going for it, and save for the setting, the characters and situations read a lot like Tanemura’s other work. But here’s where it gets interesting. Sakura is the direct descendant of Princess Kaguya, a princess from the Moon. When her household is attached by a rather savage yokai-like demon, it turns out that only she can wield Princess Kaguya’s sword, the only thing that can really kill the demons. She’s got a Sailor Moon-like transformation for this and everything, and she slowly learns to wield the sword and keep people safe from demons.

Except… with the ability to transform and kill the demons, which probably came from the moon anyway… and her bloodline is from the moon… so doesn’t that make her just as much a demon as them? The story takes a pretty terrible turn about 2/3rds of the way through the book. I was a little shocked at just how ugly things turned for Sakura.

She does have an adorable little mononoke maid named Asagiri (yet another notch on Tanemura’s belt for adorable mascot-like characters), and by the end of the volume, Sakura has also met the very likable kunoichi named Kohaku. For those two alone, I’d keep reading, but at this point I’m very interested in the mythology behind Sakura’s bloodline and how her being branded a demon will work, especially since that means life as she knows it is gone. I don’t think it will get too terribly interesting, or explore those themes too far in depth, but I know it will touch on them before all is said and done.

But yes, this is an awesome start! Tanemura is good at writing first volumes, and I was just as sucked into Full Moon and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne when I started them, too. I can’t wait to read more, and I’m very lucky I’ve got the second volume handy.


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