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Sakuran by Moyoco Anno


by Moyoco Anno

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In the pleasure quarter Yoshiwara, during the Edo period, a child is sold into a brothel by a pimp and forced to work as a maid. The girl is clever and spirited, and she is apprenticed to one of the courtesans of the house, beginning her rise toward becoming an oiran, a top-ranking courtesan. Strong-willed but emotionally broken, Kiyoha is forced to endure one trial after another as she dreams of one day leaving Yoshiwara behind.

Originally projected as a two-part series, Sakuran ended up as only a single volume. Thus, it feels rather truncated – the book opens with a chapter in which Kiyoha’s house loses its top courtesan, and the business owners beg Kiyoha to step up and become their new star. Suddenly, jarringly, the story jumps back in time to Kiyoha’s childhood, and from their proceeds from her early years until the last chapter more or less catches up to the opening story. I assume that the abandoned second volume would have looked Kiyoha’s life as the highest-ranking courtesan in Yoshiwara, a story I am sorry we won’t get to see.

The story that we have here is chaotic, at times confusing. The main character’s name changes several times throughout her life, and her fellow courtesans are not always clearly distinguishable. The chapters are very episodic, and sometimes sizable chunks of time slip by between them, and it can be difficult to reorient yourself in Kiyoha’s world.

The artwork is either beautiful or terrible, depending on your opinion of Anno’s work. Personally, I love her fashion figure-inspired women, who wear their beautifully patterned kimono equally well in elegant dignity or sloppy disarray. Her attention to detail makes the elaborate hairstyles appear almost architectural in construction. But I know many manga fans who find her egg-eyed, anorexic characters too off-putting and strange to be enjoyed.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is that the characters speak in blunt, modern day language. It emphasizes both the unsavory aspects of their jobs (they’re whores, after all!) and makes them much easier to understand than the faux-Shakespearean dialogue created for other historical Edo era manga. ( )
1 vote makaiju | Aug 18, 2014 |
Being an enormous fan of Sugar Sugar Rune, I am pleased to get my hands on a copy of Sakuran. Yet, there really is no comparison. Sakuran reads like a shounen, shoujo and josei manga all in one. As a child, Kiyoha is a feisty uncontrollable minx that can't tolerate the confines of the Yoshiwara. Yet, as she grows into young adulthood, her image and beauty sharpens and courtesan skills take off. The art in Sakuran is a very lovely expose of Edo-era geisha kimono and hair styles that made me swoon more than once. The characters are fun and interesting and the plot skips by before you know it. A wonderful, highly enjoyable manga. ( )
1 vote senbei | Apr 22, 2014 |
Sakuran: Blossoms Wild by Moyoco Anno was initially serialized in the manga magazine Evening between 2001 and 2003 before being collected into a single volume in Japan in 2003. The English-language edition of Sakuran was published by Vertical in 2012. It's a physically beautiful volume with a foil color and retaining Anno's color pages. The previous manga by Anno to be released in English, the final volume of Sugar Sugar Rune, was published in 2008. Four years later, I was thrilled to finally have more of Anno's work available in English. Except for her short manga "The Song of the Crickets," collected in the anthology Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, Sakuran is currently the only historical period piece by Anno in English; her other manga all take place in contemporary settings. Although I'm only now getting around to actually reviewing Sakuran for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast, I was very excited for its release.

Kiyoha is one of the highest-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara, the pleasure district in Edo. She hasn't always held that position, though. Bought as a young girl by Tamagiku House, Kiyoha began her service as a maid but her good looks and cleverness made her an ideal choice to become an apprentice courtesan. Kiyoha's willfulness and lack of social graces prove problematic and her attempts to escape Tamagiku lead to her being severely punished. Life in Yoshiwara is an extremely difficult one and the women who live there have very little control over their own existences. Kiyoha, like so many of the other courtesans, is both admired and hated. It's a harsh world. Every glimmer of hope, as few of them as there are, is accompanied by sadness, heartbreak, and tragedy. And yet Kiyoha perseveres.

Sakuran is one of the most realistic and honest portrayals of sex work in Edo-era Japan that I've come across in manga or in fiction in general. No doubt Sakuran is sensual, but the brothels and the lives of the courtesans haven't been glamorized or romanticized. The story is almost matter-of-fact in its presentation. There is explicit sexual content in Sakuran, which probably shouldn't be too surprising considering the manga's subject matter, but Anno handles it very tastefully. Even though the women in Sakuran are largely powerless, forced to work within a system not of their own choosing, they are also incredibly strong. Becoming a high-ranking courtesan had its benefits but also carried with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. Supporting their houses and those who served them was often a thankless job.

Before reading Sakuran, I had never seen any of Anno's color work. I am very glad that Vertical kept the color pages for the English release of the volume because they are gorgeous. Some might find Anno's art style to be ugly, but it is also exquisitely elegant. I love it. I've always been a fan of Anno's distinctive artwork, but Sakuran is particularly arresting visually. Anno has an interest in fashion and Sakuran allows her to really let loose. The attention she gives to the details of the elaborate kimono and intricate hairstyles and their accessories is stunning. Sakuran is a beautiful manga. It may only be a single volume, but that also means it's more immediately accessible than her longer series. Sakuran is one of Anno's more serious and sophisticated works, but I also think it's one of her strongest overall. Simply put, Sakuran is marvelous.

Experiments in Manga ( )
1 vote PhoenixTerran | Jan 24, 2013 |
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Pretend love. Because true love is hell.
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"In Sakuran, Moyoco Anno lifts the veil on life in the Edo period pleasure quarter, Yoshiwara. The story follows Kiyoha, sold into a brothel as a child and forced to work as a maid and her rise to prominence as one of the top-ranking courtesans in Yoshiwara. The allure of the 'flower and willow world' as it was called by artists in the day is underscored by the very real tragedy, heartbreak and difficult lives led by those seemingly glamourous courtesans. Will Kiyoha's fox-like wiles give her a chance to break free of her gilded cage? Or will her fighting spirit ruin her chances of ever escaping the brothel?" -- from publisher's web site.… (more)

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