Arina Tanemura is a popular shojo mangaka, and one of her works currently being translated into English is Sakura Hime, a magical shojo story that puts a twist on a famous Japanese legend. Volume 3 has recently been released, and you can read on for the review. (Also, for those who are interested, you can click on the links for my Fandom Post reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2).
The story centers on Sakura, the granddaughter of the Moon princess Kaguya. As her descendent, Sakura wields the power to defeat Youko, monsters from the Moon, but Sakura’s Moon heritage also means she’s predisposed to becoming a Youko herself…
Back Cover Blurb
Sakura, still grieving Oumi’s death, must fight the powerful youko of Uji. But she finds herself no match for the demon’s poisonous vapor. It’s time for Kohaku and Hayate—with a little help from the full moon—to step in.
Have you ever read such a bad scene that it jolted you out of the story? That was my experience with the conclusion of the Snake Youko fight. The monster attacks with poisonous vapor, Sakura hurries to protect Aoba, and then… nothing. During the span of time it takes ninjas Hayate and Kohaku to run to the nearest stream, have an attempt at romance, and bust the side of the riverbank, the fight between Sakura and the Youko remains at a complete standstill. No attempt to escape by the humans, no attempt to finish them off by the monster (seriously, he’s just staring at the helpless couple when he could be taking a big bite). I suppose this is a shojo manga, and perhaps the main purpose of the scene is to convey Sakura’s feelings for Aoba. However, Tanemura has also set Sakura up as a princess warrior, and from a battle standpoint, it makes no sense.
Another puzzling development is the introduction of human-form Hayate. Considering he’s been in the story since Chapter 3, his once-a-month change feels like a belated add-on. I don’t have any problems with his character; considering the cast is heavy on the females, it’s good to have a male buddy for Aoba. I just get the impression that the story details are handled poorly.
At any rate, we end the Snake arc with the demise of a couple human characters, the addition of one human character (sort of), and resolution of where Aoba and Sakura stand with one another. That done, we move on to the mysterious Enju, and as mentioned in Tanemura’s closing notes, this is where the story actually begins.
Though Sakura’s brother was mentioned at the very start of the story, we have almost no information about him other than Sakura loved him dearly. As such, it is little surprise when the focus of the story returns to him. There is an initial element of *eww!* as the details arise in a girl conversation about romantic love (Tanemura-sensei does mention that sibling marriages were okay back then). However, once we learn the true fate of Sakura’s brother, Enju not only becomes more compelling a character but the lines of good and evil become blurred. With members of the court actively manipulating Sakura for their own purposes, conflicts are no longer solely about humans versus Youko. While this makes the story more interesting, the court’s hot/cold attitude toward Sakura is still confusing, and whether or Tanemura-sensei can get all these elements to jibe remains to be seen.
We finally get resolution on Sakura’s and Aoba’s true feelings for one another. Having settled that, we move onto something infinitely more interesting: the mysterious Enju. Tanemura-sensei does a good job of blurring the line between friend and foe, but the exact relationship between humans, Moon people, and Youko and Sakura’s place in all of that remains to be clarified.
If you’re looking for beautiful shojo Heian-era artwork, Sakura Hime has plenty of it, but weak plotlines make you cringe, steer clear.
First published at the Fandom Post.