When I write manga reviews for this blog, sometimes I feel like I get stuck reading only new volumes. Which is fine, because there’s plenty of exciting new manga coming out these days. But I don’t often take the luxury of time to go back and reread some of my favorite completed series, and there are plenty of manga series that I’ve enjoyed but not necessarily written about all that extensively. So I’ve added a new category of Reread Reviews for series that have come out some time ago but I feel still deserve plenty of attention. I thought I’d start this new feature by working my way through one of my favorite series, Yumi Tamura’s Basara.
Viz started releasing Basara in 2003, and as a result some volumes are out of print or hard to find. But this is one of those series that is well worth collecting, because even though it is long at 27 volumes, this is one of the few series that I think actually deserves all that space. Tamura creates an epic adventure story with star-crossed lovers, cross-dressing, fierce battles, and political revolution in a post apocalyptic Japan. Even though this series is on the long side so much happens in each volume. I never felt like I was reading filler stories or being subjected to recursive battle scenes when reading this manga.
Basara Volume 1 by Yumi Tamura
Like the best adventure stories, Basara starts by introducing the heroine in the context of her home and family and then systematically strips everything away, forcing her to rise to the occasion and assert her true self. Sarasa was born with a twin brother named Tatara, and at their birth a prophet proclaimed “This is a child of destiny…one who will grow to lead the people and be the light in the sky of our nation’s future.” The people in Sarasa’s village are a rebellious group in a post-apocalyptic Japan that has been broken up into areas ruled by petty feudal kings. Everyone assumes that Tatara will be the leader of the next revolution, and Sarasa is shunted aside since she’s a girl. She’s introduced to the reader first as a young spirited tomboy who is acutely aware of the differences between the way she and her brother are treated. She’s heedless of her own safety, heading out to the desert when everyone celebrates her brother’s birthday and ignores her. She makes the mistake of crossing a column of troops headed by the cruel Red King and her life is saved only when a desert nomad named Ageha insinuates himself into the situation, losing an eye in the process. When Sarasa gets back to her village she finds out that the Red King’s army has struck there, killing her childhood friend who identified himself as Tatara in order to save the real “Boy of Destiny.”
The Red Army returns to the village again, and this time Sarasa’s brother is killed. She’s paralyzed with fear but remembers that her brother asked her to protect the villagers if he was gone. She cuts her hair, yells that her sister is dead and orders the villagers to follow her in order to save their own lives. While Sarasa’s ingenuity allows her to rescue her village’s sacred sword from the Red Army, her next attempt at battle fails and she’s cut off from her people. Determined to rally more people to her brother’s cause, Sarasa strikes out towards another rebel village. The Red King is shown throughout the volume with his face slightly obscured. He’s covered by a helmet or his face is partially shadowed or cut off by the borders of a panel. He’s a pragmatic ruler determined to hold on to his territory despite the manipulations of his family. Sarasa meets an arrogant and rich young man named Shuri when she’s visiting a hot springs, and they feel an instant attraction to each other. When Sarasa sees Shuri for the first time, it is also the first time the reader has seen the entire face of the Red King.
Basara Volume 2 by Yumi Tamura
The second volume of Basara shows Sarasa preparing herself to be a rebel leader and not having much time for the young man she keeps running into as she follows the path of the Red King on her way to Sakurajima to locate allies. She visits the city where the Red King lives and is struck by the riches there in contrast to the way her people live. She falls in with a group of traveling show people, who are anchored by a glamorous woman with a bejeweled eyepatch who happens to be Ageha in disguise. Ageha exhibits a sort of watchful antagonism to Sarasa. He’s suspicious that Tatara really is the boy of destiny who will bring revolution to the land, but he’s occasionally helpful. Sarasa as Tatara disguises herself as a dancing girl and slips out of the city into even greater danger in the form of a decrepit tunnel that leads to Kyushu. In the tunnel Sarasa faces a classic hero’s test where she can only call upon herself to get out of a dangerous situation, and she succeeds in reaching the other side, but not before she manages to finally bond with her late brother’s horse Yato. She also has a fateful encounter with a prisoner trapped in the tunnel who gives her valuable information about the rebel village she’s questing for.
Sarasa begins to understand the political nature of rebel leadership when she meets a young boy claiming to be Tatara who is rallying people to rebel against their local lord. It turns out he’s being blackmailed to identify potential rabble rousers in his region. Sarasa is shrewd, keeping quiet about who she is until she has a full grasp of the situation. The boy Hayato ends up attaching himself to Tatara as his new right hand man. In just a couple volumes Tamura has introduced characters on both sides of the Red King/Tatara war and managed to make each side sympathetic for different reasons. Shuri is shown growing up as a young boy with a sociopath for a father who brands his own son with a slave’s mark. Shuri is about to dispatch his cousin Shido to go after Tatara, but Shido is leaving his fiancee behind when he goes on his mission. Shuri and Shido see Ageha (the former slave of Shido’s family) tortured in an attempt to give up Tatara’s location.
Tamura’s art style might take a bit of getting used to. Her men have a tendency towards triangle face, with eyes that sometimes look like horizontal slits. But she varies her character designs quite a bit, making it easy for the reader to keep track of the cast of Basara even though it seems to expand with every volume. Sarasa has covered a lot of ground in the first two volumes of Basara in both her physical and internal journey. Tamura is moving all the pieces together to tell an epic story, and I’m entertained all over again when I’m rereading this series.