Basara by Yumi Tamura. Published by Viz. Retail: $9.99. Rated T+ for older teens (frank sex and violence. The sex isn’t graphic but the violence can be.) 25/27 volumes published, complete in Japan.
Some long running romance manga series are drawing to a close this month, and all deserve mention here.This column is for the first, Basara, a shoujo manga classic that is Romance in both the old and new senses of the word.
Basara is a sweeping saga of 27 volumes, the tale of the death and birth of a nation, epic in length and scope.It’s also an involved love story that is as heart-rending as anything you’ll read (but *hint* it is a romance manga when all is said and done).The main story ends in volume 25, which is just out this month.The last two volumes are side stories.
The gist of the story is thatJapanhas had an apocalypse that’s sent society back into more primitive times, and it’s now ruled by a dissolute king and his four wicked sons.One of these is Shuri, the Red King, a hard and sometimes cruel young man; it’s been foretold that he’ll kill his father so he’s been banished to rule the wastelands in the South.There’s a small village in his territory where a “child of destiny” is born.His name is Tatara, and he’s the people’s messiah of sorts, supposed to lead them in a revolt to reclaim their country.But when Tatara is killed in a raid by the Red King, his twin sister Sarasa vows revenge and to see her brother’s vision through, so she takes his identity and begins to build the revolution.
Sarasa carries an incredibly heavy burden, and spends her few spare moments at a nearby oasis where she meets Shuri in another guise, and they eventually fall deeply in love and promise to marry.Neither knows who the other is, and this is where all the trouble starts.Shuri is constantly battling himself over the harshness necessary in his job as king, his position as the son of his none too charming parents, as Sarasa’s lover, and as Tatara’s sworn enemy especially after Tatara/Sarasa kills his best friend.
Sarasa too has a lot to contend with, other than the warring factions she has to bring together.There’s a war within her about her love once she finds out the truth, but she also fights to keep her self intact, which becomes increasingly difficult as her vow leads to new repercussions at every turn.She has to dive into the politics and learn to survive, and none of it’s easy as betrayal waits around every corner.
What makes Basara special to me is the huge cast of characters, all of them three-dimensional and human, most of them with interesting stories and points of view.Shuri and Sarasa’s story is the main thread, but there are countless others that are well-developed, as is the world itself, and in reading it I can’t help but become swept away and a part of it.I love both heroes and villains and agonize at every wrong decision and applaud all the right ones on both their parts, and best of all, watch them grow.Everyone here is grey.No one is right and perfect.No one is a cardboard villain.Some are more flamboyant than others, but they’re all people nonetheless.
For instance, you know how romances often say that the hero is bad, but you never see it?Not here.Shuri rules with an iron fist and makes decisions that shock you and leave you wondering how the heck this romance could possibly work out in the end.But because the characters grow and change for knowing each other, it becomes possible.
Now, are there bad points to the series?Sure there are.At 27 volumes there are going to be missteps along the way, and there are some plot lines that just bored me.Occasionally cliche reared its ugly head, sometimes the side stories were about characters just I didn’t care about.But when taken in comparison to the whole, there weren’t that many and I didn’t mind them much.
The proliferation of characters can get confusing too.At times I felt the need to keep a cheat sheet.Luckily, they all have different Flock of Seagull’s hair so they’re all easy to tell apart.
Also, some people may not like the art.I have to say the first time I saw it I thought “Eww, I don’t want to look at that for 27 volumes.”It’s very sketchy.But then it grew on me and I now find it ethereal and beautiful, contrasting with the harshness and strength of what she portrays.She draws a bit like watercoloring. From her Basara artbook:
From the manga itself (fan scans since I didn’t want to ruin my book). This is the scene right after Sarasa has seen her brother killed and she recalls his words to her. (read right to left, in sequence and on the page):
Lovely, even though they all have 80s hair.And Sarasa looks like a guy in drag, but then she would have to, to pass for her brother.Some things you just have to accept.
So should you buy this?I suggest trying it from your library or by buying a couple of volumes before you jump in.27 volumes is a huge investment.Personally, I rarely buy any manga series this long but I have bought Basara.It’s a classic story that can be read time and again.Regarding the age ranges for this, in my opinion it’s for high school and up. It contains graphic violence because it is about a war.Also, the characters have adult relationships, though they aren’t anything close to sexually graphic.But sex is there and a normal part of life.
I’ll end with a quote from a reader on Amazon named Peter Oksman who summed up my feelings on this series so much better than I, that I have to share what he said:
“It [Basara] is vividly imagined and populated with characters that you will remember for a long time. From glittering palaces to howling winds in the desert, full of primal emotions of love and revenge, villains with a tender side and conflicted heroes. It is a story of prophesy, a messianic story, and as such has a primal, direct impact – a feeling that the characters and events are part of a larger tapestry of history, that they are caught up in a flow beyond their control.”
Now really, do you want to miss that?