Tail of the Moon
月のしっぽ (Tsuki no Shippo)
Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u)
月の吐息愛の傷 (Tsuki no Toiki Ai no Kizu)
Shoujo – Adventure, comedy, drama, harem, historical, romance, war
15 Volumes + 1 Prequel (complete)
Usagi is a crybaby and a klutz, a combination that doesn’t make for a good ninja. Fortunately, she’s given an assignment that even she can succeed at: bear the children of the leader of an ally clan. Usagi ends up falling in love with Hanzo at first sight, but he has no interest in her or her mission!
First, the one-volume Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u) was the first story set in the Tail of the Moon universe. It had its own separate title originally, but the latest Japanese release of Tail of the Moon includes it as a part of the main Tail of the Moon. The Other Hanzo(u) was released after Tail of the Moon had finished its English release, so first-time readers may be tempted to either skip this volume or read this last. However, there is little reason to read this after its more popular sequel. If interested in Tail of the Moon, you should pick up The Other Hanzo(u) first.
Be warned, however, that while The Other Hanzo(u) sets up the current state of the world and some character relationships, it is very different in tone to Tail of the Moon. The prequel is a ninja story in the vein of Romeo and Juliet; Tail of the Moon is, for the most part, a more lighthearted comedy. The amnesiac Kaguya is a skilled warrior; Usagi is very much like that other popular character named Usagi who stars in a moon-related series.
Going slightly off-topic here, I’m sure most of you know what a flowchart is. Lots of manga include them as a “what character are you” bonus. There’s a question, and you follow down a different path depending on your answer. If I were to include Tail of the Moon in a “what’s the perfect manga for you” chart, the very first question would be:
Do you mind a childish heroine?
- Yes. –> Don’t read Tail of the Moon.
- No. –> Don’t read Tail of the Moon.
Note that “childish” could also be replaced with “crybaby”, “klutzy”, or “lovestruck”, or maybe those would be the next options on the flowchart. I’m not putting Usagi down as a protagonist; it’s just, if the shoe fits…
Seriously, this Usagi tries hard to out-Usagi Sailor Moon‘s heroine. She glomps onto people (wrapping her legs around a guy), constantly thinks about her love interest, has trouble jumping over a seedling, and has everyone — including her former enemies — love her. Again, if you want a kick-butt emo heroine and/or fell in love with Kaguya, run far, far away from Tail of the Moon. This is very much Usagi’s story. The side characters appear too inconsistently to provide a respite from Usagi’s adventures; even when they do, they spend much of the time fawning over or supporting her. (The series has reverse harem elements as well, although the men don’t generally compete for her at the same time.)
However, Usagi meets Hanzo and is immediately smitten. She spends the majority of the series trying to be worthy of being his bride-elect, and it isn’t easy considering her lack of physical prowess, abundance of talented rivals, and of course, the reluctant groom. Plus, as Usagi is reminded several times over the course of the story, the path of the ninja is a potentially deadly one. Hanzo firsts starts supporting Usagi because her grandfather is the village leader and she needs to be able to do basic self-defense, but later he teaches her so that they can be married. I was pleasantly surprised their feelings become mutual much earlier than I expected. It was nice not to have the main couple keep waffling forever and for Usagi to have a tangible goal for her to work towards.
My favorite part of the manga, though, was Mamezo, Usagi’s partner/charge. I am a sucker for younger kids who try so hard to support their older siblings/friends/whatever. Usagi and Mamezo are closing than siblings yet not quite mother and child, which would seem pretty odd considering Usagi admits she’s never dressed herself before. (And yet somehow Usagi raised Mamezo? Can anybody explain this to me?) He is a bit prone to tears, but at least it’s understandable at his age.
Meanwhile, rival Yuri chasing after Usagi’s brother-like figure Goemon was also an interesting way to tackle the “pair off the extras/love losers” trope. Yuri definitely was not going to give up even when Goemon still expressed interest in Usagi. Ueda also mixes things up by including Usagi’s grandfather and great-grandfather. This was a nice, unique family dynamic. Plus, the great-grandfather was pretty funny. Again, though, everyone else’s appearances and arcs are too short or tied too strongly to Usagi to raise the overall level of the manga.
But enough about the characters; back to the story. Usagi ends up doing a lot of work as an herbalist. Her talents lead her to cross paths with many famous figures like Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Readers who don’t recognize these names won’t be missing out on much, but this does help provide some historical context. The later volumes start shifting the tone from drama about “does he love me or not” to the struggle for survival. Usagi, who barely knew what people do on their wedding night, tries to use her feminine wiles to save her friend. A big change, except… it was her fault they ended up there in the first place.
Which is part of the whole problem with Tail of the Moon: everything ties too much to Usagi, including when things go horribly wrong. A lot of readers will adore Tail of the Moon for its romantic misadventures and ninja action, but if you find Usagi irritating even as she matures, there is not a lot for readers to fall back on….
Well, there is one aspect to fall back on: the art. While Ueda got her start in the late 80s and early 90s, her art doesn’t heavily reflect this. Tail of the Moon debuted in 2002, so she had already been working for over a decade. While Usagi and Mamezo show signs of aging because of the time skip, the art itself doesn’t go through any significant shifts. Usagi starts off with the typical genki girl smile (complete with goofy expressions to boot), but like protagonists like the other Usagi and Miaka of Fushigi Yûgi, she appears to have matured physically and mentally.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast features a wide range of styles, from some long-haired handsome men to father-son old men who are twins to androgynous beauties to little girls with pig-like noses. The grandparents aside, it is very refreshing to have a cast that is easy to tell apart at a glance. You might see shades of other characters from different series, but Ueda proves she has range with her characters without resorting to crazy hairstyles and eye colors. A couple of animal mascots also find their way into the series, and the dog looks exactly like what you would think a dumb-looking anime dog would look like.
The historical Japanese setting is recreated faithfully in the art, with lavish castles and plenty of assassination attempts. Considering girls like Usagi were of marriageable age, a couple of sexual situations are included. (That’s not too surprising considering Usagi’s original mission). Usagi and the gang spend plenty of time outdoors, and you can see the range of trees and the variety of herbs Usagi collects. Simple flower prints and plaids may not make for gorgeous kimono, but they do reflect the setting. Plus Ueda keeps the flow of the art very straightforward, not letting the action get lost in a series of blows too quick for the eye to see. It all puts together for one very nice presentation.
No honorifics are used. The series generally uses Japanese name order, but I don’t remember a note detailing this. I know it was very confusing at points because then the manga would sometimes use Western name order.
To differentiate between the two men with the same name, one is referred to as “Hanzo” and the other as “Hanzou”. That’s a pretty straightforward way to address the issue considering their names are written differently in Japanese.
Meanwhile, the lack of honorifics means a few things are missed. Usagi is referred to as “Usa-sama” by many of the villagers, Mamezou included. This emphasizes her family’s rank.
Lots of translator’s notes are included at the end of each volume, but a good portion are just repeated. I don’t believe the term “ninjutsu” is ever used despite its presence in other series.
Tail of the Moon does get better after its one-track-mind beginning, but a lot of your enjoyment is going to come down to whether you want to see a physically and mentally strong action girl or a crybaby who grows up. If you want a more visually modern version of Fushigi Yûgi or Sailor Moon, Tail of the Moon would probably fit the bill.
Viz Media has released Ueda’s Stepping on Roses. The author has recently started a Tail of the Moon spin-off called Ran to Aoi (蘭と葵, Ran and Aoi), but it isn’t available in English.