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Friday, October 12, 2012

Manga Review: Sakura Hime GN 8

Sakura Hime Volume 8
Author: Arina Tanemura
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
200 pages
Enju and the followers of the moon are nowhere to be found after the destruction of the hidden palace. Sakura has returned with Aoba, but the lovers may soon be parted again. The emperor has asked Aoba to take another bride... (Source: Viz/Goodreads)
I'm really excited to be up to date with the Shojo Beat English language release of Sakura Hime - because now I can review it! And lately, Sakura Hime has been a series for me which started off bumpy, got bumpier, and has been steadily increasing in quality. Volume seven seemed so top-notch, so good that I had my doubts about volume eight matching it, especially with a new story arc starting up. Now that the 'action arc' of recent volumes has concluded, what will Sakura Hime do with its transformed set of heroines and heroes now?
Oh, a love twist. Once again, someone tries to break up Sakura and Aoba. Damn it, and here I was hoping for more fights, supernatural plot twists and Sakura kicking ass with her sword Chizakura! Well, we can't always get what we want, especially with a shojo manga. If you have a Shojo Beat, eventually you have to take a break for love triangles. And that's exactly what Sakura Hime does in this volume.

Now granted, the first chapter does deal with the events of the previous volume, especially the rift which has formed between Sakura and Asagiri. Sakura, naturally, blames herself for what happened to Asagiri's lover, even though she wasn't in control of herself when it happened. Too bad Tanemura quickly glosses over this particular development so as to bring in her latest love entanglement in the form of Princess Yuri, the pretty girl who hides a sharp and scheming heart. With her eye fixed upon Aoba, Sakura will have tough competition from the girl aiming to become Aoba's royal concubine.
For a new character, Princess Yuri isn't terrible. She's not very developed yet character-wise, but she actually shows promise as an antagonistic-type character meant to drive a wedge between Aoba and Sakura - and in this aspect, she is very successful. Tanemura also does a good job at showing Yuri both in her 'flattering and tricking Sakura' mode when she's out and her 'prettiest princess in the palace' mode while at home. Naturally, her trickier mode comes to light when she's seducing Aoba, even when her best efforts come to naught against Aoba's natural naive state re: women.
It seems like for a love triangle to exist, one of the members must be holding the infamous Idiot Ball which makes them stupider than usual, thus more susceptible to another character's devious machinations. This volume, the Idiot Ball has fallen into the hands of our precious Prince Aoba - and he's taken to the ground running with the damn thing. It's hard to feel sympathetic for a guy who doesn't realize that you don't tell your to-be-betrothed who you initially gave the brush-off i.e. consummation that you slept with another woman, even if he didn't mean it. Yeah, all right, Aoba. Come back when you've had a good night's sleep and a bit of common sense plucked back into your brain pan.
I really can't say much about Sakura in this volume, as she seems amazingly susceptible to the back and forth waves of this manga's melodramatic plot twists regarding her relationship with Aoba. The real kicker was the scent on his clothes; that is a classic ploy in shojo and Sakura fell right for it. I loved Sakura in volume seven; I hope that Sakura comes back soon, because this lovesick Sakura is getting on my nerves (although I am effortlessly amused by the moments when she is waiting for Aoba, enraged and transformed with Chizakura out of its sheath).
As for the 'twist' of an ending, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this kind of development except that: oh boy, the love triangle became a love box! Maybe Enju will come back in the next volume, pull a Imouto-In-NakaImo and declare himself Sakura's future husband (because God knows Tanemura doesn't pull enough plot cards from Yuu Watase's deck, right?) and make this a real love jumble.
Overall, volume eight is drenched in romantic drama with enough humor to lighten the mood. The Sakura/Aoba/Yuri dilemma can get tiresome at points, so it is unfortunate that it is this plot that dominates this collection of chapters. The arrangement of some pages seem rushed and oddly laid out; even Tanemura admits to having to shove more info on her pages since her average page count has dropped from 40 to 32. Dear whoever is making Tanemura squeeze so many pages worth of information into less pages: give her back her damn 40 pages. She needs them!
Actually this volume seemed more like a bridge to a bigger story arc than just a love triangle meant to keep Aoba and Sakura apart. Maybe next volume will actually deal with the fact that the Emperor doesn't want Aoba to marry Sakura? That would be nice. I'll keep reading because Tanemura has written a good handful of quality shojo (such as Full Moon and Kaitou Jeanne) but if Sakura Hime doesn't pick up the steam plot-wise soon . . . well, I don't know where we'll end up.
Included with this volume is a side story for Arina Tanemura's earlier work, ION. It did nothing for me as I haven't read ION (yet!) but it seemed cute and some of the jokes even poked fun at the time gap between the original manga and this side story. Maybe she can do a Full Moon o Sagoshite side story next? I miss than series!