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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Manga Review: Sakura Hime GN 9


Sakura Hime Volume 9
Author: Arina Tanemura
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
184 pages
Princess Sakura has been staying at the estate of Fujimurasaki, the future emperor. Fujimurasaki tells Sakura he loves her and keeps her hidden from Aoba. Sakura yearns to be reunited with Aoba, but he's to marry Princess Yuri... (Source: Viz.com)
Spoiler warning: Review contains slight spoilers for the latest English translation of Sakura Hime.
Even when it's ridiculous, this series never gets boring. The latest volume of Arina Tanemura's Sakura Hime runs the complete gamut of what has made this such a popular Shojo Beat title: love triangles! Silly misunderstandings! Swords! Magic! Tastefully covered nudity! Sparkly shiny pretty artwork! 
All that and a sudden plot twist at the end of the volume relating to everyone's favorite talking frog makes number nine a book to remember. Read on after the jump for the rest of my review!


In this volume, we see the Fujimurasaki/Sakura/Aoba love triangle resolve itself - for now - in the first chapter. This seems to be a growing trademark of this series: set up a big problem at the end of one volume, quickly resolve it in the first chapter of the following volume. This time, it is quickly resolved by the arrival of Aoba himself and Sakura's steadfast loyalty to his princely self.
In this case, however, it is clear that Fujimurasaki still has feelings for Sakura but is just not letting them cloud his judgment any longer. I kind of feel for the guy, although I hate that he kissed Sakura without her consent; he's becoming the Eponine of Sakura Hime, knowingly pining for someone who will never love them back (and holy crap, the advert for Les Miserables came on as I was typing that - it must be true!). His proposal to Princess Yuri may be political in nature, but it would certainly be a marriage of convenience, at least at first.
The star of this volume, unlike last volume, is Sakura. She is actually making her own decisions and letting Aoba know what she wants and not bending to his whims. Granted, some of them ended up being well intentioned, but I think Sakura can handle the burden of knowing. After the reveal of Aoba's 'true nature', it becomes obvious that Sakura can indeed handle more than people give her credit for.
Aoba does himself a grave error by not trusting Sakura with some of these things. After all, consider her pedigree. Her soul symbol portends destruction for all she loves and holds dear. Her very body is cursed with a power she never asked for, but she keeps on living and does not curse life for it. Does she run or hide when she sees Aoba's secret? No; she stays by his side and holds him, remaining his calm center in the storm.
However, once this reveal does happen, Aoba does admit how much he needs and loves Sakura, and how much of Sakura's strength he truly relies upon. With the words "my fate belongs to you now", Aoba unconsciously deepens his bond with Sakura, the immortal princess of the moon and the man cursed to die sooner than most mortals. It's heartbreaking, it's terrible, and yet their love for each other is a bright light in an otherwise bleak scenario.
Speaking of Sakura as the star of the manga, we see the return of her Enju-created doppelganger, Rurijo. I won't give much away about her scenes in this manga, but they are some of the best in the book if not the whole series so far. Rurijo is Tanemura's favorite character and this bias is obvious in how carefully Tanemura unfolds Rurijo's character into something more nuanced for a member of the secondary cast. Her interactions with Hayate are wonderful, although it will trouble the hearts of any Kohaku/Hayate shippers.
Be warned, however, Rurijo spends most of her time (because of plot, I assure you!) tastefully nude and drenched in cold water. Naturally, her long hair covers her more personal places! It's like a gift for those naughty minded readers who want a lot more than just fan service of Sakura but haven't gotten it yet, since Rurijo is physically Sakura with skin markings.
As the volume reaches its cliffhanger of an ending, we see several plots come together, including those of political and dramatic intrigue. Our fearless princess is heading toward a meeting of grave importance while Hayate finds himself in a hell of a pickle. Many of Sakura Hime's main stars are in some serious hot water as the book concludes; even the survival of one of them isn't exactly assured if the last two pages are anything to go by. What exactly Tanemura has planned for these folks, only she knows - and American readers won't find out what that is for another couple of months!
I started reading this series continually let down by the story and characters, but its rise in intriguing story-lines and character development has proved my doubts wrong. With the re-emergence of the Enju subplot as well as solid movement on the Sakura/Aoba front, Tanemura's newest series has gotten back into my good graces. A few more volumes like this one, and Sakura Hime could be as good as Full Moon, a classic Tanemura shojo manga.
You can check out other volumes of the Sakura Hime manga at the Viz site.