Suna no Shiro
Le Chateau de Sable
Shoujo – Drama, romance, tragedy, psychological
7 Volumes (original), 3 Volumes (shinsho), 4 Volumes (bunko), 6 Volumes (reprint) (complete)
Rather than be separated, rich heiress Nathalie and orphan boy Francis jump off a cliff to live together in death. Nathalie survives, but there is no sign of Francis. Following a tip that he has been spotted, Nathalie heads to an island. But what awaits her there sends her life into a different direction.
Suna no Shiro is a tragic, melodramatic story that is sure to leave an impression on you.
Set in France, Suna no Shiro is primarily the story of Nathalie’s life. Many years go by in this series and time skips are a-plenty. As her story continues, a deuteragonist emerges, and his struggles also play an important role in the story. As many years going by, they each form a small, tightly knit group of loved ones. But while the characters age and grow up, this is not a coming-of-age tale. It is primarily a drama.
This series is hard to discuss without major spoilers. Bad things happen, and then more bad things happen. Yes, there are peaceful times, but Nathalie’s happiness is interrupted by twists of fate and her own emotional issues. This manga is a soap opera. However, what this manga ultimately delivers is emotion. I couldn’t help but smile when things go well and feel depressed when tragedy strikes.
Psychology plays a key role in this manga. Firstly, Nathalie is an emotionally weak heroine. I don’t mean this as an insult; she has severe psychological issues. Nathalie actually tries her best to be independent, but mental issues are hard to treat now, let alone 40+ years ago. Her companions try to support her the best they can. She is just incredibly fascinating to analyze. What event was truly her source of despair? How much of Nathalie’s feelings are love, and how much are a result of wish fulfillment? Should she, for her own health, have made the choices she made? But she isn’t the only one who is complex. One person commits suicide. Was it for love or a desire to possess? A key character struggles between admiration, guilt, and love. Was he raised to have those feelings? There’s just so many questions. But these aren’t the type of questions readers have because the author did not explain their characters well; these are questions arisen from the incredible complexity of the characters. I could almost see this series in a book club or even a literature criticism class.
While Nathalie’s life is at the center of the story, her friends and coworkers are given plenty of pagetime. Everyone is tied together on multiple levels, and each one plays a key part in the story. The characters are incredibly complicated and well-developed. As readers, we are given the opportunity to access everyone’s thoughts. These are real people struggling to live their lives while observing others’ struggles. Some characters are incredibly selfish and others are kind to a fault, but nobody is truly good or evil. That doesn’t mean readers have to like everybody or approve of the decisions they make. Even the author admits she doesn’t like characters like Nathalie. Unlike many stories, readers of Suna no Shiro are supposed to act as observers rather than place ourselves in the characters’ shoes.
The art is classic 70s shoujo. Characters have very detailed eyes, defined noses, and long, pointed faces. Shock is often portrayed with exaggerated faces. A lot of time can elapse between panels and chapters. Over thirty years passes from the beginning of volume one to the ending. Chapters don’t have an ending; instead the story just flows despite years often being skipped. In one panel, the characters may be in two separate places but one drives over to the other in just a panel or two. The fast pace may be confusing to readers used to modern manga style.
Chance of License:
This series is unlikely to ever be given an English release. Older titles are rarely licensed due to the financial risk. The older art style may dissuade many younger readers, and the main love story would probably raise a few eyebrows. The author is also pretty much unknown here in the US despite having written many titles and winning several awards. Probably the only way it would be released is either a) digitally or b) a print version backed by crowdfunding.
The series was originally serialized in Ribon (really?!?!), which is a Shueisha shoujo magazine. This means Viz Media would be the first (well, only) licensor. Probably the only way it would get released if they ever did a shoujo/josei version of their Viz Signature line.
Unofficial scanlations have released this entire series.
The title fits this series perfectly, but my enjoyment of Suna no Shiro will not disappear like a sandcastle. It’s depressing but incredibly fascinating.