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Monday, February 17, 2014

Manga Review: Sakura Hime GN 12

Sakura Hime volume 12
Author: Arina Tanemura
Viz Manga/Shojo Beat
216 pages
Spoiler warning: Since volume twelve is the series finale, events leading up to this book as well as events in this very book will be discussed. Read with caution!
Do yourself a favor, fellow Sakura Hime fans. Don't read the Viz Manga synopsis for this volume. Just don't! Because it gives away a lot of the plot twists within this final installment and quite frankly, that's rather rude. Go into it without knowing a single thing of what is to come and I promise you, Tanemura's last book of Sakura and Aoba's destiny-defying romance will certainly hit you right in the feelings box.
If your heart hasn't become even a smidgen overwhelmed with emotion by the final page, you are probably a stone cold robot and should stop reading manga. Is that hyperbole? Well, yes, but that is what Tanemura is really good at. She's a top tier manipulator of heartstrings, making you care about her characters and their futures only to calmly destroy all their dreams with a single panel. Her and Jun Mochizuki and Masashi Kishimoto should form a band.

The final volume of Sakura Hime opens with Sakura paralyzed with grief after the death of Asagiri, who Sakura accidentally killed while in disguise and wielding the magic sword Chizakura. Aoba, who cares for Sakura dearly and wishes to stay with her despite knowing his time with her will be cut in half, can do nothing to comfort the love of his life. Sakura isn't the only one torn up by recent events; Rurijo, who is now Sakura's handmaiden, takes matters into her own hands in an attempt to make things right and stop Enju.
Everything starts going to hell in a hand basket by the end of chapter 45. At this point, the body count in Sakura Hime starts climbing and climbing - and with that, so does the helplessness and depression within Sakura, who can only stand and watch while her loved ones keep sacrificing themselves for her sake. But that's the kicker: it's through fighting through the darkness and the feeling that she's no good that Sakura's strength is able to shine through, that she rises up and fights like never before.
Sakura Hime has always been a story about destinies and whether or not our fates were preordained by unseen powers. Sakura has always felt defined by one word, the word on her soul symbol: destroy. Society saw her as a demon, an omen of their demise. Just living was an everyday act of defiance against a world who say her only as a cursed spirit of destruction.
So in this volume, when Sakura rises from the flames of her own body and rips apart her own spirit square, it is the greatest act of defiance she can achieve. She has literally destroyed her own destiny, creating a new path for herself, and it is the most powerful image of the series. Sakura is officially her own person and she defines herself and she will fight for herself and her most important people. Her power isn't for destroying; it's for protecting.
Also, it's rather amazing how forgiving Sakura is. Her love is infinite and well won by all she knows, even Enju/Kai who is pretty much responsible for a majority of her personal issues. She forgives Kai and Rurijo and Shuri and how does this woman have enemies? By the end of the series, they've all been converted to best friends and would be more comfortable having tea parties with Sakura than trying to off her!
Another great moment in this volume is the revival and appearance of Princess Kaguya, which sets off another massive chain of events. To be frank, I thought Kaguya-hime would be more classically beautiful, but that's what I get for reading the Sailor Moon manga as a kid (the Luna in love arc, anyone?). It's good to finally meet Kaguya considering that Sakura is descended from her and that this legendary princess is who Enju has been trying to revive the entire series.
Everything is on point for this series finale, but the art is particularly wonderful. The most emotionally effective scenes have the best artwork attached to them. Rurijo's failed wielding of Chizakura, a burnt to a crisp Sakura ripping up her spirit square, Aoba being attacked by Enju - all scenes drawn with maximum emotional skill. When Tanemura lets her art dominate an entire page or a two-page spread, it's always a good thing.
I was actually expecting a really depressing ending, based on what folks were saying on Goodreads. Is it a technical happy ending? Well, no. But it's a hard won ending for Sakura and Aoba, and marks how far they've come in their relationship. The point wasn't that they get married. The point was that they come together, realize that the other is worth fighting for, fall in love and become each others' partners. And that is what happened, death itself be damned.
I seem to always give Arina Tanemura nonsense for her shojo manga endings because everyone always has to come out on the other side satisfied and happy and alive. Sakura Hime doesn't do that. People stay dead. Feelings get hurt. But in the end, the specter of a destiny that can't be fought has been destroyed and two lives have been brought together so they can realize their happiness, finally. And that is something worth celebrating. See? Tanemura can bring on the dark, too - but in the end, she always makes sure that her characters get a proper resolution.

Speaking of Sakura Hime, the Viz Media website is hosting a Flash-based Sakura Hime game until the end of the month. Check it out!