Basara, Vols 13-16

Whenever I pick up and read a few volumes of Basara, I’m always struck by how much story and emotion Yumi Tamura is able to pack into a few pages. I’d started rereading Basara last year, but got distracted by having too many volumes of shiny new manga. The Manga Moveable Feast seemed like a great excuse to dig up these volumes again. These volumes cover Sarasa’s journey as she escapes from prison and wages war on the desert city of Suo, only to encounter the Red King. The battle doesn’t go the way either of them planned.

Sarasa is able to escape Abashiri prison with her comrades, but she doesn’t have time to settle back and appreciate freedom again. It is time to head south and take up the struggle to determine the fate of Japan. Ageha leaves Sarasa, saying that he can’t become a crutch to make things easier for her. She has to execute her plans on her own, based on her convictions. Shuri heads to his precious desert city of Suo, but things have changed there for the worse as the administrator there Momonoi attempts to remake it in the image of Kyoto by displacing the poor and blowing up buildings. Asagi prevents a reunion between Sarasa and Shuri in a southern market, because he thinks if they each find out the truth about each other now, it would be “too dull.” Sarasa and Shuri both head to Suo with drastically different purposes.

The struggle in Suo is portrayed in mental as well as physical terms. Sarasa meets up with Hozumi, Momonoi’s son who his a non-violent artist. His girlfriend Renko runs an underground newspaper in the city. Sarasa starts unsettling the city by plastering notices that “Tatara was here” on the walls, and even flying the message from a kite. Sarasa starts to reflect a bit about what it means to be both a strong and feminine woman after spending some time with Renko. Hozumi stages his own form of protest by painting elaborate pictures on the walls of buildings slated for destruction, so people hesitate to blow them apart.

When Shuri sees the wreckage of Suo, he’s angry at what it has become. Momonoi brutalizes both Hozumi and Renko. Sarasa and Shuri both go after Momonoi for different reasons. Sarasa is nervous about being in close proximity to the Red King, the man who destroyed her village. Shuri sees that he’s not welcomed as a savior in his treasured city, and begins to reflect that his previous philosophy about a good leader inspiring fear was mistaken. Sarasa’s reinforcements come, but her plan to use Momonoi’s own explosives to cut off the palace kills the water supply for the city. The Red King’s army executes a tricky sneak attack, and the star-crossed lovers seem like they are headed towards mutual destruction. Sarasa is devastated when she realizes that she’s bring more destruction to the people of Suo. A horrible sandstorm prevents the battle from progressing further, but rather than regroup with her comrades, Sarasa runs off and finds Shuri in the chaos.

It is a little unbelievable that Sarasa and Shuri have managed to keep their identities from each other for so long, especially considering the way they both tend to show up and meet each other right around the time that Tatara and the Red King have a skirmish. It is clear now that part of reason is that they honestly don’t care, and they are both blinded by love for each other so much that they aren’t going to stop and ask inconvenient questions when they could just enjoy each other’s company. This idyll is very short, and the Red King and Tatara’s army clash the next day and Shuri and Sarasa finally get a glimpse of each other from across the battlefield.

What follows is one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the series, as Sarasa and Shuri react to this newfound knowledge in different ways. Sarasa slips into a fugue state, forcing out commands to kill the Red King, while Shuri mechanically tries to kill himself at the suggestion of his followers because his group is so clearly outnumbered by the rebel forces. Both armies flee the battle as King Ukon’s army approaches and Ageha takes Sarasa away in an attempt to bring back Tatara. Ageha thinks “Was he…that good? Why not just take me instead?” Ageha concludes that Sarasa isn’t his “woman worth dying for” and decides to leave. Sarasa ends up finding shelter with a local priest and his family, but her destiny isn’t going to let her sit back and do nothing.

Sarasa strikes up an odd friendship with Kikune, one of the White King’s spies. Sarasa and Kikune end up befriending Lady Purple, the Black King’s estranged wife. Lady Purple ends up being another type of mentor to Sarasa, but Sarasa’s emotional healing really begins when she’s reunited with her mother. In a very nurturing way, Sarasa’s mother asks her some pointed questions about the reasons why she was fighting and what she wants the future of Japan to be.

There’s some funny yet poignant exchanges happening as Asagi has rescued Shuri, who is undergoing his own emotional rehabilitation. Asagi is all but twirling his non-existent evil mustache in an attempt to get Shuri to have some sort of emotional reaction to him, but Shuri calmly accepts the prospect of being sold into slavery by his half-brother.

Overall, these volumes server as a great emotional climax to the first half of the series. The central mystery about what would happen if Sarasa and Shuri would find out about each other has been answered, and now they have to pick up the pieces of their lives yet again. While Ageha might have given up on Sarasa, it is clear that her destiny as Tatara will not allow her to just retire into the countryside and life out the rest of her life peacefully. Shuri has his own set of trials ahead, and it will be interesting to see how both of these powerful leaders manage to build a new Japan with such strong and well-connected enemies lining up against them. One of the strengths of Basara is the way Tamura will intersperse shorter, more personal adventures into the larger struggle with the extended cast. Having Sarasa and Shuri both on their own a little bit, without their customary support systems allows them to grow more as individuals, making the battles much more human. I’m glad I set aside the time to get back with my Basara rereading program, and I’ll likely finish up rereading the rest of the series outside of this week’s manga moveable feast.

Yumi Tamura Manga Moveable Feast

I am very excited about the Yumi Tamura Manga Moveable Feast happening this week! Basara is one of my favorite manga, and I would love to see more work by Tamura translated into English. I’m planning on getting back on my Basara reread campaign that I let lapse previously, but I thought I would do a mini-roundup of some of my previous posts that covered some of her works.

Chicago – complete with cello technique critique!
Basara 1 and 2
Basara 3 and 4
Basara 5 and 6
Basara 7 and 8
Basara 9 and 10
Basara 11 and 12

I feel like I’m going to spend a portion of this week vainly wishing that someone would license Tamura’s 7 Seeds for English publication, but I will also put my slightly mournful feelings aside and dive back into Basara, which is always a rewarding reading experience.

Basara Volumes 11 and 12 by Yumi Tamura

Getting back into my great reread of Basara, I’m going to tackle Volumes 11 and 12, where Sarasa finds herself in a very unpleasant prison in Hokkaido. When she discovers Hayato’s ship abandoned with curse markings that include splashed blood and voodoo dolls, she’s dismayed that he’s gone missing. Her concern for Hayato is taken over with her excitement when she discovers that the Red King is still alive “So I can kill him…with my own two hands!” Sarasa promptly decides to visit the Kazuno people who kidnapped her friend, hoping to get him back and recruit more allies she can use in her battle against the Red King. The Kazuno have an elaborate set of traps which Sarasa wins through with her usual resilience and personal integrity, but it isn’t enough to prevent her from being thrown into a horrible prison with Ageha and Asagi. One of the prison guards looks suspiciously like Shuri, and it turns out that the self proclaimed “King of the Northern Seas” aka “Wind Owl” is Shuri’s cousin.

When Ageha is away from Sarasa being secretive and snarky it is easy to forget just how much he cares for Sarasa and his role as Tatara. As soon as they wind up in prison he makes protecting Sarasa’s secret his first priority, offering up his body as a distraction so no one will suspect that Tatara is a girl. Sarasa is overcome with emotion at Ageha’s sacrifice and wonders if there’s anything she can do to make things better. Ageha tells her that he knew she was the child of destiny the first time he saw her in the desert, and if she can focus on rebuilding their country he’ll be happy. Even Asagi is now on watch to protect Sarasa in prison, but when she’s used as a canary in a prison mine, she’s taken away by the “King of the Northern Seas.” Seeing Sarasa and Ageha endure a horrible situation together after being parted for so long showed the strength of their relationship, and as horrible as Asagi would like to think he is, he’s gradually being changed just by being exposed to Tatara as well.

It is PRISON BREAK TIME in Volume 12! One of the ways that Tamura is such a pro in the way she presents this sprawling adventure with a large cast is that each character gets a moment that provides some insight into their personality, motivations, or relationships. When Shuri’s cousin discovers that Tatara is a woman, he immediately starts groping her, leading her to reflect that the terror she’s experiencing “reminds me of all the terror that women go through…reminds me that I’m a woman…even while I’m trying to live as a man!” Ageha rescues her, but not before they’re doused with icy water, and Sarasa takes care of him tenderly. Sarasa is beginning to wonder if Shuri is the Red King after her encounter with Wind Owl, but the ever sneaky Asagi assures her that they look nothing alike. Sarasa manages to find Hayato, and he undergoes his own trial as he fights against the drugs he’s been dosed with to warn Sarasa about the dangers that lie ahead in the prison. Asagi spends most of his time in prison commenting about how much he dislikes the events he’s experienced. One of my favorite moments occurred when Sarasa was distracted after learning the histories of the prison guards. She’s distracted and lost in her own thoughts, so Ageha promptly sweeps her off her feet and gives her a dramatic kiss before asking her what she needs as a leader. As always it is a combination of Sarasa’s confidence and insight and the help of her friends that lead her out of the prison. Old Kaku turns out to have been the only successful escapee from the prison, and he, Nakajin, and Asagi’s spy Muratake work to help as well. After the political intrigue and tropical idyll everyone experienced in Okinawa, the prison in the North provides a great contrast to the earlier story arc. This volume ends on a cliffhanger (literally) and I haven’t read these middle volumes of Basara recently at all, so I’m eagerly looking forward to the next volume!

Basara Volumes 9 and 10

Basara Volume 9

As the ninth volume opens, Sarasa finds herself just where she wanted to be – with Nagi’s mentor Doctor Basho. Rescued after a shipwreck, she overheard an assassination plot as she was regaining consciousness on the beach. Unaware that Sarasa is so near, Shuri meets with Okinawa’s democratically elected president Asato. His thoughts are full of military strategy and contempt for the island which appears to be unprotected to the point of almost provoking attack. When he questions the president about his plans if Japan attacks, he replies that he doesn’t want to turn his country into a battleground and prefers to avoid fighting. Nakajin takes Sarasa around to see if she can hear the voice of the person directing the assassination. She recognizes the plotter as Nakajin’s older brother and main rival to the president Unten!

One of the most consistent things about Basara is every so often seeing the flashes of brilliant insanity that make Sarasa/Tatara such an inspiring leader. In this case the dramatic scene occurs at a bullfight ceremony where despite the fact that she’s blind she climbs the rigging above the ring and yells a warning to the president. Shuri foils the assassination attempt with a well placed coconut and yells a warning himself. Sarasa hears his voice and calls for him, ripping of her eye bandages as she stands in the middle of a herd of rampaging bulls. I’m not sure how lovers could be reunited in a more dramatic fashion. Seeing Shuri and Sarasa reunite after dodging bulls and assassins was very satisfying. What follows is a brief idyll, and Sarasa and Shuri contemplate their experiences in a way that shows how they are so far apart as people even though they love each other. Shuri has decided that he’s tired of having everything handed to him and even though he has nothing after being kicked out of his city, he’s going to achieve his ultimate goal of ruling the world with his own power. The lessons about work that Doctor Basho were trying to teach him have some unintended effects. Sarasa sees the peaceful democracy in Okinawa and vows to use it as the template for the new Japan she hopes to build as Tatara.

Basara Volume 10

The reunion between the lovers is brief, as they are separated quickly. Shuri shows flashes of his usual military brilliance as he defends Okinawa from Japan’s fleet. Sarasa has her Byakko sword back, and she calls upon Tatara as she goes to defend President Asano. Things are more complex then they appear to be on the island nation, as the true nature between the breach between Unten and Asano is revealed. Sarasa is worried that Unten and Nakajin will end up killing each other. Shuri fights a piratical battle on the sea, with some surprise allies from the Japanese army and a fireworks display from the nearby foreign fleet.

Shuri’s quick thinking and tactical brilliance show that he’s just as inspiring a leader as Tatara. While Sarasa takes action based on her emotions, Shuri makes the educated bets of a high stakes gambler. The fate of Unten and Nakajin might foreshadow an ending for Sarasa and Shuri. Sarasa shares some heartfelt conversations with Unten, who challenges her about trusting her followers with her secret. A new chapter begins for Sarasa and Shuri. She leaves to go back to Japan, leaving Shuri to fume that he has no way to get in touch with her. The end of this volume concludes with new trust between Sarasa and her followers, and new dangers as she has to find out what happened to Hayato.

Thinking back about the series so far, it is really amazing how much Tamura has been able to pack into ten volumes. Shuri’s suffered what would be an enormous setback and is in the process of starting to put his empire back again. Despite Sarasa’s meandering journey, she’s put together a group of devoted followers and is beginning to grasp what becoming the leader of a rebellion really means beyond just following along with other people’s expectations of the “Boy of Destiny.” Sarasa and Shuri are apart but they both now have the support of new friends, and it is easy to understand and sympathize with the motivations from each side as they slowly move forwards to a place where they’ll have no choice but to confront each other as King and Rebel.

Basara Volumes 7 and 8

Basara Volume 7

So the undercover Blue King Asagi’s manipulations are successful and Sarasa sets off to liberate her mother from the grip of the Red King’s General Kazan. As they travel on their ship, Tatara’s band encounters an unusual hunter – a young man who is taking on a whale all by himself armed only with a harpoon and a small sailboat. Asagi attempts to play the spoiler when they head into town, announcing Tatara’s presence in an arrogant and threatening manner. Sarasa yells at him, saying that isn’t the way they do things. The young whaler Nachi serves as the band’s guide, taking them on a meandering trip to meet his village that involves quite a bit of road reconstruction on the part of Tatara’s people. Tatara tries to gain the support of Nachi and his leader Hijiri. Chacha and Zaki head out to scout the situation and see something unexpected – Tatara’s mother refusing to leave the General even though she has the opportunity to do so. She comments to Kazan, “I cannot leave your side. Not until I witness your death.” Chacha vows to hide the potential complicity of his mother from Tatara. Up against impossible odds, Sarasa isn’t sure how she can succeed, but Hijiri promises to bring more allies if Tatara is able to successfully demonstrate his leadership.

At the same time, Shuri is traveling towards Kazan’s hideout, determined to punish his general for his insolence. As soon as Sarasa’s mother sees her, her internal thoughts highlight just how much her daughter has changed. She thinks “She’s only 15! She’s just a little girl!” and the General is determined to grab Tatara’s head as a trophy. Chacha confronts the General, thinking that the situation is her fault for not being more forthcoming with Tatara after her scouting mission. Sarasa is ironically saved by Shuri’s attack, but her eyes are injured and she throws herself into a burning building to rescue Chacha and Zaki. Hijiri tells Tatara that Zaki is risking his life for his leader, “Be proud of him boy! You have good followers.” Sarasa’s response is that no one is worth the sacrifice of a life and she blindly jumps on her horse to rescue Zaki. Hijiri decides that he’s figured out the secret to Tatara’s success as a revolutionary, “They don’t come to you looking for guidance…they just can’t bear to stand back and watch as you run ahead on unsteady feet bawling your eyes out.”

Basara Volume 8

The 8th volume of this series shows Sarasa and Shuri brought down incredibly low, but they’re about to head towards one of my favorite places in Basara, the Democratic Island of Okinawa. Sarasa has been blinded, and she doesn’t even have the consolation of her mother to help her with her illness. Sarasa’s mother confirms with Kaku that the prophecy identified Sarasa as the Child of Destiny all along. She decides to leave, saying “If I see her…if I hold her in my arms…I might undo… everything, turn her back into her mother’s girl.” Sarasa’s in a almost depressed fugue-like state as she deals with her injury and the burdens of leadership. Her people deal with the aftermath of battle in their own ways. Asagi, knowing Sarasa and Shuri’s secret, decides to scare her by holding her down and kissing her. Sarasa asks Nagi to make her eyes better sooner, and he points out that she has other senses she can now sharpen. Plots in the Red King’s city leave Shuri deposed and alone, dependent for the first time on the random kindness of his subjects who support him while the nobility turns on him. Even when being attacked, Shuri’s quick insight allows him to penetrate the truth behind the plot that is removing him from the throne, as he quickly grasps that one of his last trustworthy advisers has been turned only because his mother has been held captive. The scenes of Sarasa and Shuri facing their worst fears are juxtaposed with each other, showing how they deal with adversity in different ways.

Shuri escapes the city he’s worked so hard to build and ends up on the boat of Dr. Basho, the mentor of Sarasa’s trusted adviser Nagi. Shuri’s imperious mannerisms don’t tend to go over well with Basho’s apprentice Yuna and he soon finds himself doing the unthinkable – swabbing the decks. Sarasa is traveling towards Okinawa to meet Dr. Basho too, in the hopes that he’ll be able to assist with restoring her eyesight. Shuri realizes that for the first time he has no one to rely on but himself, and Sarasa tries to make the best of her own situation by exercising her other senses and visiting her people. Shuri sees Okinawa as a poorly-defended island paradise, noting that he’d have no trouble taking it over if he were still king. Sarasa is washed up on shore, and is rescued by another of Dr. Basho’s associates. Will the two lovers meet again in the next volume? Are there mysterious and complex geopolitical undercurrents tainting what appears to be a simple island paradise? Do you even have to ask?