by Fumi Yoshinaga
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
This collection of four connected short stories by Fumi Yoshinaga has more in common with Ooku than her yaoi works. For one thing, all of the love relationships demonstrated — and there are several variants included — are either male/female, friendly affection, or familial (parent/child). For another, the setting is a kind of historical fantasy, revolving around a castle and its baron.
Two adopted brothers wander out of the desert to become bards for the baron, where they find an unusual connection with the lord’s daughter. Many coincidences overcome a tragic biography, a condition that also applies to the second story, which gives the baron’s horrible history with his past loves and wife. She demonstrates the quiet strength of years of determination and suffering in silence, although I found some of her actions inconceivable. The historical setting helps make them more palatable, though, as it’s easy to imagine “things were different — and more dramatic — then.”
Like so much of Yoshinaga’s art, the style here places emotional faces against blank backgrounds, the better to focus on their bittersweet pain. I found myself impressed by the way she draws long hair; both the baron and his daughter are more attractive because of their flowing waves.
The bard and the baron find unexpected connections as they discuss love and fear and daring to care for another after being hurt. Finally, the full flowering of the garden of the title is seen as the two receive news they were craving and take a remarkable action that irretrievably changes their lives. Ultimately, they form a new kind of family.
There are a few sample pages at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)