by Arina Tanemura
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I’m not a fan of Arina Tanemura’s manga. (She’s created such titles as Full Moon: O Sagashite, Gentlemen’s Alliance +, Time Stranger Kyoko, I.O.N, and Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne.) It’s SUCH generic shojo, always about a girl with impossibly huge starry eyes and long hair granted amazing powers. It’s teen wish fantasy, where a formerly normal girl is suddenly special, tasked with saving her family or her town or even the world.
In this case, Princess Sakura, 14 years old, is about to go to the big city for an arranged marriage to the prince who’s supported her all her life. She has no family, only an old wise woman, a servant, and a miniature fairy spirit for her to confide in (and readers to find incredibly cute). She’s willful, wanting to make her own decisions, even if they’re stupid. She’s been warned all her life not to look at the full moon, but of course, she does. A demon then attacks, revealing her heritage as granddaughter of a fabled moon princess, heir to a magical (and disobedient) sword that will allow her to battle the demons.
This left me wondering why, if Sakura was fated to take up this fight, everyone tried to keep her from it, but the plotting here is sometimes jerky in how it changes directions. The book was summed up for me in an early author’s note, where Tanemura asks the reader to “Please support her growth, romance, struggles, and fate.” It’s a typical magical girl shojo, tossing together fable, royalty, love, and magic.
The art is all eye-focused faces, or if bodies are shown, it’s mostly to get an idea of the clothes, or to strike a battle pose. It’s set during the Heian era, so the outfits are robes and kimonos, except for Sakura’s remarkably Sailor Moon-like moon princess fighting costume, with a short skirt and collar pendant.
Sakura Hime was the first of Tanemura’s shojo I was able to get through, which is faint praise, I know. There’s a twist in the second chapter that I was mildly intrigued by, although the third chapter then jumps to another setting and set of supporting characters, a young ninja girl and her talking frog friend. (There are only three chapters because they’re double-length.) Tanemura, in another author’s note, says that Sakura is different from her typical characters because she’s got more strength. That’s another reminder that her other series aren’t for me, since this girl doesn’t strike me as particularly determined. If she’s the strongest, I definitely don’t want to see the weaker ones.
But I’m not the target audience for this. For girls who like this kind of story, it’s an intriguing entry with some distinctive twists (that I don’t want to spoil). Arina Tanemura has so many series because there’s clearly an audience for these stories about young women who come into power as they grow up. In our culture, it manifests as Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in Japan, it’s a moon princess with a mystical sword and a pre-arranged prince of a boyfriend. (The publisher provided a review copy.)