Manga-ka: Arina Tanemura
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: April 2011
Synopsis: “Sakura is the granddaughter of a mysterious moon princess who slew demons with her Blood Cherry Blossom sword. All her life Sakura has been forbidden to look at the full moon without knowing why. Then one night, unhappy over her impending marriage, Sakura gazes up at the moon, only to see a demon attacking her…”
Sakura Hime is one of the most confused books I’ve ever read. Not confusing – it’s linearity is fairly simple to follow – but confused in how it hops around between genres and moods so suddenly. While the story opens with a feudal-Japan love story, things take some surprisingly bleak twists that take things into the territory of dark magical girl stories complete with a Moon Princess, demons and ninjas.
Sakura Hime follows a girl aptly named Sakura who is due to be wed to a Prince. Sakura has never met Prince Oura face to face and is upset that an emissary is sent in his place to fetch her. The two don’t hit it off well and she can only hope that the actual faceless Prince is more likeable than Aoba. If you’ve already figured out this first obvious plot twist, don’t worry there are more to come.
Along with being betrothed since she was young, Sakura has been forbidden her whole life from looking at the full moon (a weak plot point tossed in with a single line of dialogue). Once breaking this rule, she learns through some demonic attacks and little pieces of paper that she’s actually the Granddaughter of Princess Kaguya – Japanese folklore’s Princess of the Moon. To battle the demons and embrace her heritage as the Moon’s Princess, Sakura now has the ability to summon a mystic blade that grants her the power to transform into, well, herself in a different outfit. Her transformation even comes with it a familiar, albeit tweaked, catch-phrase: “There is no escaping the moon’s divine retribution!”
This is where the story suddenly deviates in a way I didn’t expect. Everything seems to be going pretty well for Sakura – a handsome Prince boyfriend, a new home full of happy-to-help servants and the power to defeat the demons hunting her since her identity as the Moon Princess is revealed. As readers we learn there are some obviously not pleased with her role however, but even then it still comes as a surprise when Sakura is suddenly being hunted by none other than…someone. I won’t spoil it but suffice to say it’s enough to really upset her and put her on the run for her life as well. The final chapter introduces a secondary character to travel with Sakura – a spirited young ninja with angst all her own.
While I found the tone and genre (outside of very, very shoujo) of the story a little all over the place, Arina Tanemura’s artwork is pleasantly reigned in compared to her previous books. Often I find her stories difficult to follow because of overly-detailed pages and far too many misshapen panels crammed into one spot. There’re still elements of that here but I found everything, down to the art itself, more solid. The panels are more clearly defined and the characters themselves more strongly inked so they stand out at least a little better from the equally screen toned and detail-heavy backgrounds. So far I found Sakura Hime to be one of Arina Tanemura’s stronger series in regards to storytelling as well. At the same time, it still suffers from almost all the same problems – the characters come across as shallow and the story is the same: what you’re told is literally all you get.
Sakura Hime was entertaining enough to finish but eye-candy (gorgeous cover!) and subtle improvements aren’t enough to put me on the look out for volume two because of its silly story and characters I just didn’t find myself caring about.
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Book provided by Viz Media for review purposes