by Moyoco Anno
published by Vertical; $16.95 US
I was curious to see this single-volume historical manga by Moyoco Anno after reading her Happy Mania series. (She’s also had Flowers and Bees translated over here.) Sakuran promised to be similar to Happy Mania in its portrayal of a strong-willed but messed-up woman, only this one had kimonos and a more explicit use of sex as a transaction.
Kiyoha is a child slave at a brothel who eventually, out of stubbornness, rises to become a leading courtesan during the 1800s. Unfortunately, I found the story itself rather confusing. The various chapters make up different incidents in Kiyoha’s life, but they don’t come together into one coherent whole.
I also found it difficult to follow the various titles used to refer to the characters in lieu of their names. It took several readings before I could follow who grew up into whom. That’s not the only way that Sakuran is a dense work. The art can be crowded, and the text refers to some events elliptically.
I wanted many more cultural and historical notes than the single page of translations (eight entries) that we get. I think that would have given me more connection with the world we’re suddenly thrust into. Others may have issue with Anno’s unique art style, although I’m fond of the “eggs with huge eyes” look; it reminds me of fashion illustration. Katherine Dacey presents several pages in her review, as well as providing more historical context that I found helpful. There are more pages posted at Comics Alliance.
I didn’t enjoy reading this book because I don’t appreciate the “she’s a bitch, so she will be a great courtesan” attitude. It all seems very remote and artificial to me. There’s also a lot of unhappiness and unpleasantness in this work, from the forced child maids to the problems of sex as a career. I should have expected as much, perhaps, although hearing of a story about geisha leads one to other (culturally biased) expectations. In contrast, Vertical’s presentation is quite attractive, with a foil cover and color opening pages on several chapters, not just the first.
I’m glad this work was translated and made available, just to demonstrate the variety of manga out there, but I’d rather see more modern josei works exploring the lives of today’s women. (The publisher provided a review copy.)