by Rinko Ueda; adapted by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Usagi is a female ninja in training. She is undercover in Kyoto when her true identity is discovered. Her finance and fellow ninja, Hanzo, rescues her and takes her to his safe house in the city. Ranmaru, a retainer for the local lord, is scouring the city to find the ninja spies and restore his honor. Usagi must stay hidden in the house while Hanzo continues their information-gathering mission. She stays busy trying to create a medicine that will help improve the failing eyesight of Mitsuhide, a newfound ally.
I was surprisingly impressed with the writing in this manga. First, even though this is volume nine of the series, the book was accessible to a new reader like myself. You can tell that you’re coming into a story already in progress, but you never feel lost because of what you’ve missed. Any information needed from the previous volumes is introduced within the narrative flow. Of course, this also works well for faithful readers of the series. You don’t have to worry about memorizing every detail of the story in order to understand each new volume. (A couple of American comic companies could take lessons from this writer.)
Second, there is a lot of back story revealed in this book, but you never feel overwhelmed by what you’re learning. In fact, I didn’t realize how much had been communicated until I thought back over the book for this review. Suddenly, I found out I knew a lot about Usagi, her relationship with Hanzo, and even her relationship with an old friend who shows up at the end of the book. The author, Ueda, does a wonderful job of delivering little bits of information throughout the narrative, instead of flooding the reader with pages of back story all at once. (Did I mention, some superhero comic writers might want to use this book as a study guide?)
Third, Ueda has created a great cast of characters. They’re all likable people, and you quickly empathize with them. Hanzo is a serious, slightly older man who has mastered the ninjutsu disciplines. He’s focused on their mission but makes sure to spent time with Usagi. His maturity helps him to properly balance the competing responsibilities he has. Usagi constantly learns from the example he unconsciously sets.
Usagi is the perfect shojo heroine. She is a teen girl deeply in love with Hanzo who finds her emotions occasionally get the better of her. Sometimes she is so happy to be reunited with Hanzo that she forgets the seriousness of the situation they’re now in. She struggles with self-doubt and is still discovering new things about herself. She’s full of energy and throws herself whole-hearted into her work. She keeps the mood positive throughout the book.
The artwork is the only slight disappointment I have. It’s generic shojo art. The characters and backgrounds are well drawn, but there’s nothing distinctive about Ueda’s artwork. Of the ‘house’ styles, I tend to like shojo the most, so the art being average didn’t bother me greatly.
Another nice feature in this book is the extras at the beginning of most chapters. Japanese readers have written in requesting to see various characters dressed up in different costumes or clothing styles. There is a marvelous sense of humor to the art. I love the way it shows how Ueda and her characters really connect with the readers. There is also usually a piece of trivia on the chapter title page. These are useless bits of random information that are nonetheless fun to read. I enjoy this book so much I’ve put the series on my ‘things to read next’ list. (A list that is slowly becoming its own book in length.) Ueda has captured my imagination and I’m interested to see what I’ve missed and what’s coming up next. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good historical romance with generous doses of adventure and political intrigue.
(The publisher provided a complimentary copy of the book for this review.)