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Sakuran: Blossoms Wild Paperback – July 17, 2012
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"Anno’s unique style, with its huge eyes (even for manga) and fashion-influenced design, and her off-kilter female personalities are put into a Japanese period piece. Although perhaps best known here for the children’s series Sugar Sugar Rune, her josei work, Happy Mania, is closer in tone to this stand-alone volume...The demanding book rewards attention and is not for new manga readers; best for those experienced with the format seeking something a bit out of the ordinary for adults." - Publishers Weekly
"Moyoco Anno, the writer and artist takes a calculated risk by starting off with Kiyoha in full bloom of her brassy antagonism, and then jumping back to show us how she got that way — or rather, to show us how her always-extant stubbornness and bad attitude might well have been the only thing keeping her fire alive...Sakuran is further proof that a bad attitude can be a great thing." - Genji Press
"If Sakuran sounds like a hectoring treatise on prostitution, rest assured it’s not. Anno creates a vibrant, fascinating world, teeming with people from every walk of life. Though her female characters have limited agency, they nonetheless find opportunities to exert influence over their customers, improve their social standing, and choose their own lovers... It seems only fitting that the story ends not with the outcome that a modern reader might choose for this fierce woman, but with one that reflects the heroine’s own clear-eyed understanding of what she is. Highly recommended." - The Manga Critic
"Sakuran is a bit of a challenge for those who don’t read a lot of manga, because the story is very compressed. However, the fascinating subject matter and Anno’s jerky, expressive art should make up for that." - Robot 6
About the Author
Tokyo native Moyoco Anno was born March 26, 1971. Known as one of the major names in Japanese women's comics, she is equally known for her iconic fashion designs and as a fashion writer. Her manga and books have attained considerable
popularity among young women in Japan. Though she primarily writes manga for women, her most popular title in the west is Sugar Sugar Rune, which was targeted at primary school-aged girls. In a recent Japanese poll, she was voted the eighth most popular manga artist among females and thirteen in the general category. Most of her works have been adapted for film or TV, including SAKURAN, Hataraki-Man, and Sugar Sugar Rune. In 2005, Anno's Sugar Sugar Rune won the comic artist the prestigious Kodansha Comics Award.
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The kids call out for the help of the oiran, the head courtesan of the house, who is promptly told by Kiyoha, the young woman, that she is not defying her by acting as she does, but that she just can't stand her.
And so the story begins of Kiyoha, a girl who was sold to a brothel in Yoshiwara and who will become one of its legendary figures.
Kiyoha comes to Yoshiwara as a child. The child, who is named Tomeki, is rebellious and vows to run away. She makes trouble and defies the head of the house as much as possible and while continuously punished for her actions, her spirit never diminishes.
But as with all stories of this type, the spirit may be willing but the circumstances are not so accommodating. So it is with Tomeki who eventually becomes O-Rin once she becomes a courtesan-in-training.
The artwork is beautiful although the character design isn't as varied as it should be. I enjoyed the fierceness of how Kiyoha is portrayed but I did have some trouble with distinguishing other characters because many looked similar.
But the fierce vibe overall was just to my liking. I have hopes that since Vertical is the publisher that has brought over Moyocco Anno's Sakuran that there will be more but in researching it looks like this single volume will have to satisfy.
All in all, it really is a great book. Totally worth the cheap price, it's a work of art in and of it's self.
But it's also deeply, and more lastingly, sad. Kiyoha is fifty times the usual feisty protagonist: she's crass, arbitrarily malicious, and often outright violent. While this can all be amusing, even admirable, it's also a disturbing, straightforward statement about the molding influence of a system founded on mistrust, competition, and the basic cruelty of buying and trading young women. Sure, Kiyoha might just be a queen of cats by inclination, but we also bear witness to the events that progressively eat away at her humanity, at her willingness to trust and share and be kind.
The courtesans' lives are haunted by a desperate craving for love, and by its impossibility. If I recall correctly, only one of the girls eventually marries her favorite patron; the rest are fated to disappointment, or even death, at the hands of patrons, or their own desperation. The manga culminates in a quiet emotional ruin: in a few pages, we see Kiyoha - at the ripe age of twenty-something - eaten completely hollow by love's casual betrayal. Sakuran is an anti-romance, in other words.
While I have nothing but praise for Sakuran`s emotional daring and honesty, there are several practical stumbling blocks to enjoying the manga. Moyoco Anno draws only a veeeery narrow range of facial features, so it's nearly impossible to distinguish the oiran (and many of their patrons, too) except by their wardrobes. Flipping frantically between pages to double-check which girl with what dialogue bubble had the kimono with the crane pattern and not the peony pattern and these hair ornaments not those hair ornaments, was about as fun as it sounds - and then you get to do it all over again as soon as the scene changes and everyone's wearing different clothes! Which happens often, since the manga drifts from vignette to vignette, with little connective tissue. This works to create a sense of drifting and dislocation, of the oiran existing in an unmoored twilight realm whose essential drudgery is punctuated by episodes of bizarrely heightened emotion. But my god, it wouldn't have hurt for everyone to look a little bit more different, would it?
Productionwise, there's a lot to love about Vertical Inc.'s sophisticated visual design, as usual (ohhhh that glamorously garish metallic cover), but I wasn't entirely satisfied with the translation. While a certain degree of informality seems apropos to the manga's earthiness and irreverence, many of the anachronisms ("spacing out," "twerp") just seemed silly and misplaced. And, too, most of the lyrical reflections don't quite reach the height of fluency and elegance that they need to work as emotional transitions between scenes; they contort into fortune-cookie-esque awkwardness, e.g. "Castle-topplers whisper idle nothings to trap their guests."
Still, the underlying substance of the manga is so very excellent that it more than made up for all the practical distractions; I look forward to the added fluency of comprehension that a reread will bring. If you didn't like Memoirs of a Geisha (I didn't), or maybe if you did, too, but are ready for a more hard-bitten take on the courtesan-memoir, I strongly suggest you give Sakuran a try.
The design of the covers are beautiful and glossy. The art is very interesting and I loved the color pages interspersed amongst the chapters. The plot reads like the book 'Memoirs of a Geisha' meets Moyoko Anno's managa-style. The plot is nonlinear which makes the story hard to follow at times. But it was an enjoyable, adult read. The previous critique on the binding is understandable if you frequently break the spine of your books/manga. I read this without any pages coming loose. I do not regret my purchase.