by Rinko Ueda; adapted by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
This volume continues Usagi’s struggle to find her place in the world now that her clan has been destroyed. One decision that she’s made is to leave behind her life as a ninja and become a professional herbalist. Ueda’s excellent storytelling continues as Usagi is confronted with two great challenges. The first is learning to navigate this new and strange world of the Japanese feudal court. It’s a world where deference and biting your tongue are the highest virtues. Only the most powerful people are permitted to be open and honest in their expressions. Usagi finds she needs to learn new forms of stealth and discipline. For someone as outspoken as Usagi, this is providing as challenging as any of the physical demands of her ninja training. (I’m reminded of a line from Mark Heard’s song “Hold Back Your Tears”, “a frank and honest face could well destroy society.”)
I can’t help but think that this serves as a metaphor for young women leaving behind their families and trying to build a career in the business world. Where Usagi is giving up the ways of the ninja, the modern young women is giving up her schoolgirl ways. The workplace world can be just as strange and frightening to those fresh out of high school or college as Usagi finds the feudal court. Usagi’s struggles and successes become a way to encourage young women also trying to make it on their own for the first time.
The second great challenge for Usagi is having to work for the man who ordered the destruction of her village, Lord Nobunaga. In the last volume, the surviving elders of her clan told her not to seek revenge, but to find a way to live and prosper as an herbalist. She’s obeying their advice even if she doesn’t understand it. Usagi is still working through her sorrow. Almost every day, she seems to be reminded of her old village and especially of Hanzo. It’s only through the example set by Mitsuhide that she finally comes to fully comprehend why revenge is wrong. It’s a beautiful moment of seeing Usagi mature as a person and begin to think about life on a deeper level.
After reading this volume, I would really like to know what the historical consensus in Japan is on Lord Nobunaga. Ueda doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of him in this series. Is she expressing the majority opinion about the man? He’s described as temperamental, but that’s putting it too mildly. Ueda depicts Lord Nobunaga as petty, cruel, abusive, selfish, and oblivious to the way his subordinates attempt to sabotage each other. He only rewards results and doesn’t care how a person achieves the objective. If you don’t complete the task he assigns you, then you’re immediately punished. He accepts no excuse for failure. It also appears that he keeps no record of the loyalty and success of his staff. What counts is what you did today, the past is dead and forgotten. I have to wonder why anyone would follow him or find him inspiring.
Ueda’s artwork is solid, if not particularly impressive. I do like the way she’s matured Usagi’s look. This strongly reinforces the narrative about Usagi now being a woman making choices about her life and career. It also helps to explain why so many men find her attractive. Ueda makes an interesting character design choice with Lord Nobunaga. First, she gives him pointed ears; he’s the only person will such a distinctive feature. Everyone else has nice rounded ears. Second, she gives him a very pointed Vandyke beard. In fact, he resembles some traditional images of the Devil. I wonder if I, as a western reader of the book, am just reading my own cultural history into this design, or did Ueda made the conscious decision to model Lord Nobunaga after a well-known, evil figure as a way of emphasizing his vile disposition? How odious a person does Ueda find Lord Nobunaga?
I continue to highly recommend this series to all comic readers. The key to this series is Usagi and how we as readers care about her and want to see her find happiness. This volume is no different. Because of her new circumstances, we worry all the more for her. Ueda has become one of my favorite manga authors. She crafts such great personal stories about people living in historical turbulent times. This series ends with the next volume. I’ve said before that I’ll be sad to have to say goodbye to Usagi and the others. Thankfully, Ueda is working on a new series, and I hope Viz will bring that to the US as well.
(A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher for this review.)