Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura
桜姫華伝 (Sakura Hime Kaden)
Shoujo – Magical girl, romance, historical, drama, action
12 Volumes (complete)
In the Heian Era, Princess Sakura is suddenly summoned by her fiancee, Prince Oura. Having never met him before, a messenger, Aoba is sent to escort her to the palace. Not wanting to be tied down at 14 in a loveless marriage, Sakura escapes during a full moon, despite being warned to never look at it. Now Sakura finds herself attacked by beasts, and she is the only one who can defeat them.
Tanemura’s last series in Ribon serves as her swan song to the magazine and turns out to be one of her best pieces. Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura is atypical of magical girl manga and even the author’s own works in many ways. This actually benefits the series and provides an enjoyable spin on the Princess Kaguya fairytale.
One of the first ways this story breaks the mold is the romance is not the focus. The main couple gets together long before the ending, and victories are not always attributed to the power of true love. While most main characters (minus the “other guy”) are paired up in Tanemura’s stories, at least one character’s romantic life is left up in the air. Battles are waged between characters and not just demons (Jeanne) or aliens (Mistress Fortune), and some of Sakura’s allies do die. It’s the the edgiest or ground-breaking plot, but it’s much less fluffy than many Ribon (magazine that targets elementary girls) manga.
When I first started reading Sakura Hime, I was expecting something a Heian Era version of Sailor Moon, but thankfully this series quickly forges its own narrative. The story covers several story arcs, but each arc is almost like a different manga genre. There’s the magical girl arc, shounen battle arc, shoujo romance arc, etc. It probably wasn’t quite as noticeable in a monthly magazine format or even when picking up the compiled volumes months apart, but I definitely felt the jumps in tone when marathoning the series. The author throws in a few twists in the story and are always a nice surprise.
For me, the series was best when chapters concentrated on the major plot (the moon, politics) than the individual characters’ lives. Backstory and character development are important, but the series slowed down and loses some of its intrigue whenever romance became the focus. The characters are often contradictory but may not realize it until they or their allies have suffered. Sakura normally acts like she’s a happy girl but is secretly lonely. Her friend Asagiri realizes how she actually viewed the village. And we have a couple of “I didn’t realize this was love” moments. Again, readers of Tanemura’s other works will recognize some of the character’s personalities flaws and issues from previous works. You might actually enjoy them better if you think of everyone in terms of Tezuka’s star system rather than supposedly new characters. My favorites were Byakuya and Asagiri.
I do wish the author would have fully explained Sakura’s fighting prowess, and I don’t understand why Sakura’s battle outfit had to be like a sailor fuku when nobody else’s was. The fourth wall is broken a few times during the series, but this not one of Tanemura’s more comedic series.
Tanemura’s art is hard to analyze, as she has a style all her own. If you have read any of her other series (and you should), you know exactly what to expect. Her characters’ eyes are some of the biggest I’ve ever seen and many just seem too similar to previous characters. She uses plenty of inking and screentones, and she will pack of lot of panels (with side notes) to move the story along. Despite her busy artwork, Tanemura does not neglect one full page or dual page spreads. Again, the character design is better when thought of the star system. On a side note, the covers are some of the prettiest I own. Most of the cover images continue onto the back, and the back cover summaries are minimal. Just a beautiful series to have on your shelf.
I was a little surprised Viz did not use honorifics in this series. Not only is it a historical piece, but they use the word “hime” right in the title! (And one text box in volume 1.) I also found it kind of interesting when the translator chose to use English words and when Japanese is kept. Oura is called “Prince” (Shinnou, Imperial Prince) but Fujimurasaki is called “Togu” (Crown Prince) and often called “Lord” or “Highness”. I guess the translator wanted to emphasize that Fujimurasaki is a higher rank than Oura? I just found this kind of weird.
Speech is not too formal and fairly modern considering several characters are royalty. Kohaku in particular loses her unique speech pattern (generally uses first person to refer to herself and -gozaru). I’m not saying I wanted the text to be full of thous and shalls (even the original text doesn’t seem too formal or old-fashioned), but contractions could have been used less. It’s actually a little jarring when uncommon words like “lummox” and “acerbic” are used. I don’t know if these were just unusual word choices or an intentional choice to be old-fashioned.
Translation notes are not included but I found at least one instance where at least a footnote could have been included (junihitoe kimono in volume 9). Volume 1 includes the legend of Princess Kaguya. Despite some instances where I think some nuances were lost in translation (like the end of Chapter 13 comes off as more of an invitation/come on in Japanese than in English), this is actually a very good translation.
Tanemura followers have probably picked up this one long ago, but whether you have not given her works a chance or are just not a fan, I recommend it. Interesting plot twists managed to through me off the track a few times, and I do like the art (but not always her limited character designs).
Almost all her works have been licensed by Viz Media, including the upcoming Idol Dreams.