Contract Of Cherry Blossom Guilt
桜花 咎の契 (Ouka Toga no Chigiri)
Boys’ Love – Historical, war
1 Volume (complete)
Media Do (MediBang)
It’s a turbulent time in Japan, with clans vying for power. As change sweeps the nation, some men look for comfort in another’s arms, while others prepare for the change that’s sweeping the nation.
Warning: this review is of a series that is recommended for ages 18+ and is not safe for work!
Me reading this manga was basically this
with an occasional dose of
Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilt involves a lack of contracts and cherry blossoms but a good amount of guilt. It’s a series of connected stories, with the middle chapters more heavily intertwined than the others. The manga is based heavily on The Tale of the Heike, which is often compared to The Iliad in terms of cultural significance. So if you’re the type of person that loves history and literature from almost 1,000 years ago, you’ll probably be a lot more invested in this manga than I was.
Of course, chances are that if you’re reading this review, you’re a native English speaker and may have a little knowledge of The Iliad that would help with a graphic novel adaptation that jumps around to different characters and points-of-view. I sure as heck don’t, but you might. But as a Westerner, you also probably know very little about East Asian history, specifically Japan in the Heian period. (Think Sai from Hikaru no Go.) There are a lot of names and places being thrown about, and while I occasionally recognized them from games or other manga (Bishamonten I remember from Noragami, Heike from Final Fantasy games, etc.), it is a lot to take in.
Especially since, as I mentioned, the manga doesn’t center around the same set of characters for the whole volume. The first involves a servant/assistant who goes to find his banished master, another involves a a young boy who meets a tengu, then his half brother, and finally a monk. Even in a chapter there can be jumps. For instance, Yoshitsune is given a sword and told to slay tengu in order to get his flute back. Right after the conversation about growing up, it’s suddenly four years later. I guess he won, which is amazing since he was probably 6-8 years old and probably had no formal training. Whatever.
The cover image features the characters from the most significant story in the manga, Yoshitsune and Benkei. Yoshitsune wants to overthrow the current government. Benkei intended to steal Yoshitsune’s sword but ends up protecting him instead, likely captivated by his beauty. Other characters are similarly captivated by someone in their circle, who ends up being their lover. But in each, it’s just a matter of time before they are forced apart. None leaves you with a happy feeling, as Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilt is a very melancholy or depressing manga.
Being a historical story, there are relationships that would be problematic in modern times — heck, some were frowned upon back then. For instance, the monk and a young page who hasn’t come of age yet sleep together. The master in the first chapter is many years older Ariou, the protagonist of the first story, and he mentally, physically, and sexually abuses him. Other relationships don’t have this level of uncomfortableness, but smutty scenes abound. Some readers may like that, but with limited time to get to know each of the protagonists, that affects the flow of the story.
It is interesting to see these types of relationships in feudal Japan, so the manga does have some educational value. And despite the tale not always being friendly to non-Japanese readers, there is a certain level of beauty and intrigue as Yoshitsune and others try to overthrow the Heike. On the other hand, the sudden introduction of tengu to make this a supernatural manga was a low point, and the manga making it seem like everything was destiny gave the story a shallow feeling. The final chapter is considered a side story, but it has probably has the best full story feel to it instead of feeling like a cliffhanger or missing a large chunk of the story. The opening chapter is definitely the worst, which probably ruined my mood for the rest of the manga.
The manga has nice artwork though. It features a lot of attractive-looking men of course, but it also has a softness that is lacking in a lot of boys’ love manga. Characters can sometimes look awkward in mid-distance shots, like Benkei’s hair suddenly looking taller in some panels, but everyone has a distinct design. Historical Japan is well represented here with the Heian costumes and armor. I’ve already mentioned my complaints on the flow of the story and the abundance of sexual content, and we see the characters in the middle of the act many times. Pages are quite busy and look full, and the manga is quite lengthy. So while this is a single volume, it took me longer than average to read this. It actually felt more like two volumes, which is surprising for a manga that is mostly connected one-shots. So in that way, Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilt is quite impressive.
Honorifics are used. Footnotes are used to explain some of the titles and phrases, but this is the type of series where several pages of notes and references would have been nice. There are also errors. For example, Benkei says he’s collecting “one thousand swords”, and the last “must be exceptionally magnificent”. He thinks to himself how the sword he just heard about would fit the bill. The problem? Benkai says he’s collected 99. Later, the manga has him correctly say he’s collected 999, but it threw me off. Also, the title page forgets to list the third chapter.
Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilts suffers from not having one overreaching narrative that better reflects the title. It’s a pretty, steamy, and long read, but it’s the type of manga where you have to be an active reader to keep everything in order in your head versus just sitting back and enjoying the story.
Renta! has Fukiya’s First Love Chronicles.