We’re finally back to some shoujo! It’s too bad that these particular titles are far from being my favorites. Ah, well. Today we’ll look at another sparkly magical girl title from Arina Tanemura, and another volume of a series that should be good, but struggles in the hands of Rinko Ueda.
Title: Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura
Author: Arina Tanemura
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 1 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2008 by Shueisha in Japan, April 5, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Historical romance, comedy, magical girl
Fourteen-year-old Sakura has been engaged to Prince Oura since birth. An orphan, Sakura has been living off the good will of the prince, but she still protests the arrangement, claiming to hate the prince. While trying to escape, she bumps into the prince’s emissary, Aoba. Immediately the young man insults her, sending Sakura into a fury. She is comforted by the tiny spirit, Asagiri, whom she rescued as a child. Sakura, forbidden by the priestess Byakuya to look at the full moon, accidentally gazes up at the moon when she tries to run away. At once, an enormous demonic spirit appears and attacks her. Aoba comes to her rescue, and Sakura is able to escape with Priestess Byakuya, who explains to her the truth of her lineage. Sakura is the granddaughter of Princess Kaguya, a princess from the moon who came to Earth and killed evil spirits with her mystical sword, Chizakura. Sakura’s mother should have done the same, but chose not to fight and was instead taken over by an evil spirit, and then killed by her husband, the Emperor. Byakuya also gives Sakura her soul symbol, a symbol divined upon birth that reveals the fate of its owner. These symbols can also be used to cast powerful curses, so it’s important to keep them safe (they’re only allowed to be seen by their owner and the person they marry). Sakura’s soul symbol says only the word “destroy.” After a quick magical girl transformation, Sakura hurries to Aoba’s aid and summons Chizakura. Unable to properly wield the sword so soon, she manipulates its power to defeat the demon. Soon after, Sakura accompanies Aoba to the palace, where it is revealed that he was Prince Oura all along. Sakura begins to train to use her powers and wield Chizakura as she awaits the marriage ceremony. Sakura, still upset to be entering a marriage without love, confronts Oura about never having visited her, while she was lonely and on her own. As Sakura watches Oura and learns more about him, she begins to fall in love, so when Oura confesses that he had been watching her from afar, and honing his skills at everything to attract her attention, she is thrilled that there may be love in her marriage after all. Unfortunately [and this is a BIG SPOILER here], someone betrays Sakura and her soul symbol is given to Oura early. Reading the symbol, Oura decides Sakura is dangerous, and attacks her with his guards. Oura holds resentment for Sakura, whose ancestors caused pain and death in his family, and is the reason why Oura is not allowed to become the next Emperor. Distraught, Sakura is unable to fight back, but she is rescued by Byakuya and escapes into the forest. Injured and faint, Sakura finds herself in the kind but clumsy hands of a ninja girl named Kohaku. As she spends time with the spunky ninja, she learns what it means to fight for oneself rather than because of a duty to a title, or because fate has declared it, and vows to become a true princess who can protect her country.
OK, I’ll admit it. I like the story concept here. However, I don’t like it in the hands of Arina Tanemura. What could have been a really cool Heian Era demon fighting shoujo, is a super sparkly magical girl series. The little outfit that Sakura transforms into is entirely too modern looking, and frankly is a little ridiculous. Tanemura herself says in the side bars that it would be difficult to fight demons in full traditional clothing, and it would. But there are ways to modify that without going to such an extreme. Tanemura explains it away as clothes from the futuristic civilization on the moon, or something to that effect. So I’ll buy her excuse, but I’m not thrilled with the plot point. The plot twist is interesting. Oura/Aoba’s betrayal; though it’s obvious he’s already having second thoughts about it. It seems that while he may harbor some ill feelings toward Sakura, he’s been pushed over the edge by his advisers. Sakura, like many of Tanemura’s characters, is fairly generic and pretty much exactly like every other Tanemura heroine. Oura is also about the same as every other Tanemura hero. So if you like Tanemura, then there’s no reason you won’t like this new series as well. As for me, I’ll ask the manga gods not to make me read anymore Tanemura, if you please.
Sumi Kitamura was broke and nearly homeless when she ventured out into the seedier part of town intent on selling her body to feed the adopted children who lived with her. She was picked up by a young nobleman named Soichiro Ashida who offers to pay her in exchange for entering a loveless marriage with him, so that he can claim his inheritance. Unfortunately, Sumi had fallen in love with Soichiro’s best friend, Nozomu, when he had shown her kindness just before Soichiro came along. Forbidden to reveal her true identity, Sumi could not reveal who she was to Nozomu. Over time, Sumi came to love Soichiro, and was exposed to a rather violent and possessive side of Nozomu that frightened her. Meanwhile, Soichiro’s employees have become suspicious of Sumi, and attempt to investigate her origins. Nozomu, unable to snatch Sumi away from her husband, resigns to be married to the gentle Miu. In order to spy on Sumi, Natsuki Kujo, one of Soichiro’s employees as well as his step-cousin, sends a maid named Keiko into Soichiro’s household. As a result of the tensions caused by Keiko, who aside from spying on Sumi has also been trying to create problems between the husband and wife, and who has also been usurping the little bit of work Sumi has been allowed to do as a wife around the home, Soichiro’s loyal butler Komai leaves the household at the beginning of volume 5.
The Ashida household is getting ready to throw a party to celebrate Soichiro’s recovery from his illness. Both Miu and Nozomu have been invited, though separately. While Soichiro and Sumi dazzle the guests with a dance, Natsuki convinces Nozomu to cut in. As Miu watches her husband dance with Sumi, she grows intensely jealous and attacks Sumi with a bouquet of flowers, injuring her. After causing a scene, Nozomu takes her home where she confronts him, and he confesses to being in love with Sumi, just before leaving the mansion. Shoichiro comforts Sumi, and even skips work the following day to take her to visit the children. Surprisingly, they find Komai living there and taking care of the house. Unfortunately, while there they are spotted by Keiko, who of course reports back to Natsuki. After being admonished by his sister for not having a job, Sumi’s brother Eisuke shows up at Soichiro’s company asking for a job. Reluctantly, Soichiro agrees, but Eisuke’s requests don’t end there. He asks that Soichiro pay for the education of one of the children, Atari. When they take Atari to see his new school, Soichiro grows jealous when the teacher shows interest in Sumi. Frustrated and angry, Soichiro confronts Sumi, who insists that she does not love him. They’re not her true feelings, of course, but at the beginning of their agreement, Soichiro essentially commanded her not to fall in love with him. Soichiro runs out of the house, and Sumi goes after him, into the rain, where she is met by Nozomu, who insists she come into his house and dry off. While there, Nozomu convinces Sumi to model for a painting, to which she reluctantly agrees, but when Nozomu starts trying to undress her, she makes an attempt to flee. Nozomu is too strong for her, but she is rescued by the most unlikely person. Even angrier at finding Sumi coming out of Nozomu’s house, Soichiro begins to shun her. But on a visit to Nozomu’s house to retrieve Sumi’s belongings, he is greeted with a startling revelation.
There is some good stuff going on here. The plot itself is interesting. Nozomu has a lot more depth than I was expecting, and he turned out to be rather sadistic, instead of the very kind person he appeared to be in the first volume of the series. Sumi’s initial feelings for him have pretty much vanished, as she has fallen in love with Soichiro, but she is still occasionally swept away by Nozomu’s intensity. Though to be honest, it’s more like she’s so completely terrified of him that her feelings become jumbled. The story has grown more serious, but it’s still a little too much on the cutesy side to really draw me in. It has so much potential, but it wavers in Ueda’s hands. I’m also getting a little tired of all the misunderstandings and hidden feelings (and the complete oblivious nature of the main characters, though that’s nothing new to the shoujo genre). Sumi is so complicit in everything that it gets very frustrating. When will she stand up for herself? When will she stop being used by the men around her and quit being such a wallflower? Come on, Sumi! I know you’ve got it in you. I know this is the Meiji Era, but surely she can show some spine. We know she’s strong by her willingness to do anything to protect the children she cares for, but whatever strength she possesses seems to get locked away when dealing with Soichiro and Nozomu.
Now a quick note. I have some manga I’d like to send off to good homes. If no one wants them, I’ll drop them off at a library. Here are the books I have: Hyde & Closer volume 4, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan volume 2, Toriko volume 4 (I have 2 of these), Kurozakuro volume 3, Shaman King volume 32 (final volume), One Piece volume 56, Jormungand volume 5. Reviews for all of these can be found here on Comic Attack if you want more information.
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Review copies provided by Viz Media.