by Rinko Ueda; adapted by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
This volume opens with Usagi and Hanzo, her fiance, enjoying some time together at a hot spring. However, their bliss is interrupted when they’re attacked by an enemy ninja. Hanzo is hit with a poisoned throwing star and collapses. Usagi administers first aid but needs stronger medicine to counteract the poison. She has to sneak back into town (where her ninja identity has been compromised) to make the needed antidote. At the same time, Mitsuhide (a friend in the shogunate government) needs Usagi to make more medicine for his ailing eyes. Finally, just when everything looks to be settling down, Mamezo’s biological grandfather sees him in the city and takes the boy back to his house to reunite Mamezo with the rest of his family.
As with the previous volume I reviewed, I found this book to be accessible to new readers and a delight to read. My favorite part of book eleven is watching Usagi step up and take charge in a crisis situation. We really get to see what she’s capable of when she focuses on her skills as an herbalist. It was exhilarating to see her come alive and live up to her full potential. I loved how she was able to put aside all her emotions and worries and concentrate on making the various medicines needed. The antidote especially required strict precision.
Hanzo and Usagi are both archetypal characters. Hanzo is meant to be the ideal boyfriend/husband. He’s tall, well-built, and handsome. He’s a good cook and isn’t scared to do house work. Hanzo’s completely devoted to Usagi alone. He’s mature and able to handle most situations. He’s the one that’s level-headed enough to hear the approaching ninja even in the throes of passion. He instantly goes from love-making to a fighting mindset with any hesitancy. However, he’s still human and has his vulnerabilities.
Usagi is meant to be the typical teen girl. She’s cute, intelligent, and in good shape. She has her self-doubts but is able to work through them. She’s completely devoted to Hanzo alone. She has her own abilities and skills that contribute to their relationship. She can let her emotions get the best of her at times, but when there’s a crisis, she’s able to get serious and do what’s necessary to ensure the safety and happiness of those she loves.
One interesting aspect of this volume is the author’s, Ueda, condemnation of feudal Japanese family court life. Mamezo’s biological family is a member of the imperial court. Through Mamezo, we discover that family life among the ruling class is dictated by the rules of etiquette and not by the bonds of affection. Family members don’t hold hands, even in private. They respond to each other according to proper decorum. When Mamezo falls in the mud, no one, not even a servant, wants to touch him for fear of getting their clothes soiled. In that moment, Usagi’s simple gesture of picking him up and holding him condemns such rigid and sterile family life. She isn’t worried about her clothes, social status, or proper decorum. Mamezo is someone she loves, and he needs comfort. Her affection dictates her actions. The grandfather is wise enough to learn from Usagi’s example that genuine love trumps all other considerations in guiding our behavior. Ueda rips apart the elegant facade of the imperial court life to expose its emotional emptiness. It’s a powerful critique that is subtly delivered.
There’s no real change in the art since book nine. It’s still generic shojo, but it’s effective to communicate the complex emotions of the characters. Again, I must mention the wonderful extras that come in between each chapter. Ueda is a great sport and dresses her characters up in any costumes the readers suggest. It’s done with humor and playfulness, and I laughed at each illustration.
The strength of this series is Ueda’s ability to make the family relationship between Usagi, Hanzo, and Mamezo the core of each volume. I’ve now moved Tail of the Moon up several places on my ‘things to read next’ list. I suspect the next volume I read will dissolve any remaining hesitancy and make this a must-read for me. I continue to highly recommend this series.
(A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher for this review.)