by Rinko Ueda; adapted by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
These two volumes contain major changes for the series. To keep any possible spoilers to a minimum, I won’t give a summary. I’ve previously reviewed two other volumes of this series if you’d like to learn more.
It’s getting harder for me to find new ways of praising this manga. Ueda continues to impress me as a writer. A lot happens in these two volumes, but you never feel overwhelmed by the events or that the story is being rushed. The core of the series is the trio Usagi, Hanzo, and Mamezo. Ueda is careful to keep the narrative tightly focused on these three characters. This keeps the reader emotionally connected regardless of the whirlwind of events happening in the book. This tight focus also allows each episode the proper space needed to tell that section of the storyline before we move on to the next event.
One of the pleasures of this series is watching Usagi continue to mature and grow as a woman. She goes through a lot in these two volumes. At first, she falters in her handling a tragedy that befalls her, but through the guidance of an old friend, she’s able to get back on the road to a healthy recovery. We see her become much more self-reliant without losing the emotional warmth that is so central to her personality. Ueda has created a wonderful female heroine that is appealing to both genders. Just because it’s labeled shojo doesn’t mean that boys can’t enjoy this series too.
I must confess I know little about Japanese history. The author’s comment at the end of volume twelve had me doing a little digging on the internet for historical context. The events of the series all take place in the last half of the sixteenth century. In fact, the main event of volume twelve is very famous and can be pinpointed to an exact year. (I’ll leave the event unnamed so as not to spoil the book.) Ueda was ambiguous about including this event but did so to help keep the series historically grounded. This impressed me because it shows how thoughtfully crafted this series is. It also shows a real commitment to maintaining consistency throughout the manga. At the start of the series, Ueda set up certain narrative rules and is remaining true to these parameters, even when she’s forced to make tough choices. She could have broken her own rules, but she knew that would radically alter the manga. Ueda’s artistic integrity shows real maturity and exceptional craftsmanship as a writer.
Toward the end of volume twelve, we have a new main character, Yuki. He is a herbalist from Usagi’s clan who was sent to Europe to study medicine. He returns decked out in full Elizabethan garb, complete with a ruff. (That’s the large pleated collar you see in portraits from that period.) He has blond hair and delicate features. In fact, at one point in volume thirteen he’s mistaken for a woman. Yuki is a interesting character who provides emotional support for Usagi and helps her overcome a tragedy she was unwilling to face. He serves as a great contrast to the rest of the male characters because he is not physically strong or skilled in ninjutsu. I like how he’s a model of quiet masculinity based on intelligence and professional skills instead of muscle and warcraft.
The artwork is consistent with the previous volumes. It’s average for a shojo manga. There are a few times in these two books when the art becomes more detailed and takes on greater weight. At the most sober moments, Ueda reflects the intensified emotions through the art.
I did enjoy some of the character design changes in these volumes. In volume twelve, there is a one-year leap in the narrative. Ueda reflects this advance in the appearance of the characters. Usagi loses the baby fat that made her look like a teen and now looks like a young woman. Mamezo also matures in his looks. He’s taller and his features are less rounded. He goes from looking like a preschooler to looking like a young boy.
Overall, I continue to highly recommend this series. I’m now committed to going back and reading the series from the beginning. Ueda is a master storyteller with great characters and intriguing plots. The series ends with volume fifteen, and I’m already dreading its conclusion. I hope Viz has licensed whatever series the author is currently working on and will have the first volume ready when this series ends. For those looking to sample shojo manga, this series would be an excellent starting point.
(Complimentary copies were provided by the publisher for this review.)