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REVIEW: Manga Review: Epic Adventure and Romance: Basara

basara1.jpgBasara 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.

Dear Readers,

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:

Basara color1 Basara color2 Basara color3

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):

Bas_samp1 Bas_samp2 Bas_samp3 Bas_samp4 Bas_samp5<-start

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?

Sincerely,

ジェーン
(Jān)

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

27 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 17:23:49

    Great review, Jan! No, I don’t want to miss this. You always find the most interesting manga titles.

  2. (Jān)
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 17:37:37

    This one’s a classic Keishon. It’s just so long I hate telling people to buy it. But libraries are great things, and I’d think they’d carry this. Heck, if they don’t, point them this way and tell them they need to.

  3. Serenanna
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 23:39:48

    ::makes a note:: I’ll have to pick this up between volumes of Naruto and Tsubasa Chronicles. I don’t know how much manga you’ve read, but I’d love to see your reviews on classics like Kare Kano, Mars, Saikano, Fruits Baskets, Hana Yori Dango, Ayashi no Ceres, Sailor Moon, X-1999, Chobits, and more. I know when I read the final volume of Saikano, I nearly cried at both the art and the story.

    Oh, geez, I think my fandom is showing . . .

  4. (Jān)
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 00:15:48

    I’ve read all of those except Sailor Moon. Yes, I’ve never read Sailor Moon, what can I say? I plan reviews of a couple of the rest though.

    I probably won’t get around to CLAMP for a long time because they’re not exactly romances, (OK Chobits is and I love it but the last time I recommended that to a friend I got internet-punched and never heard the end of the underpants episode).

    And I’m not touching Ayashi no Ceres. Wait, no, here’s my review: “DON’T READ IT!!! If you value your brain, just don’t!”

    Saikano was very powerful but I don’t know if I could bring myself to read it again. I would like to review it at some point though.

    The other four I will be doing. :)

  5. Serenanna
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 00:55:11

    Yeah, I kind of realized after reading your Fushigi Yuugi review that you weren’t the Yuu Watase type. Comparatively though, Ceres is a more mature work than FY with what she actually did, but . . . it had its moments too. What can I say, FY was one of the first fansubs I watched on VHS, in high school, so it still held a special place to me, but looking back on it now, I’ve reread or watch Escaflowne and Evangelion more than I have FY.

    I can see why you wouldn’t have read Sailor Moon as well. The only time I got to read it in English was through the old rags of Mixxzine and Smile. I tried to find the volumes they said they put out, but this was at a time when there was practically no manga on bookstore shelves, only in the comic shops. I, however, did find all 18 volumes in Japanese on the net and pluck down the cash for them and three of the five artbooks. To me, it was the best money I’ve every spent as a fan even if I couldn’t read one kanji or katakana to this day.

    If you do plan to cover Clamp if every, I would recommend Magic Knight Rayearth or Clover perhaps. Rayearth is one of their most shojo titles, and it’s really what got them popular when they first started. Clover is not so shojo, but there is a definite fairy tale and tragic quality to it.

    One title I forgot to mention was Ouran High School Host Club, but I’m gonna assume since you’ve read something as obscure as Saikano, you’ve read that too. I actually got the latest fan-scans of it, and it does get more romantic as it goes on for all it’s parodies of romance manga and anime.

    There’s also the whole sub genre of romantic music-based manga. I read La Corda D’Oro, and it was alright, but Nodame Cantabile was better in my opinion. Argh, there’s one title pinging on the back of my head too that I want to say as well, but it’s been so long since I’ve read it, and it’s so old too . . . ::headdesk::

    Oh, and I read your Princess Tutu article, and know what you mean about the differences between manga and anime sometimes. One of my favorite anime series is Mai Hime, but the manga adaptation is nothing like the anime, and not for the better. They took all the drama and romantic subplots in it and either outright cut them or mutilated them until it was almost parody of the anime. Eureka Seven and Shakugan no Shana both did that somewhat too, but not as, well, not as badly in my opinion.

    One other title I ask about is another classic, Ah! Megami-sama. I know Dark Horse had been issuing reprints of earlier volumes, so I’ve been picking it up when I can find it. So, my brother, another manga reader, and I are at odds over it. He claims it’s a harem anime just like an other (he reads Mahou Sensei Negima and Evangelion), but I’m more certain that it’s actually a relationship one of the perfect girlfriend more than anything else. So, what’s your take? Is it even romance?

  6. (Jān)
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 01:28:09

    You know, I’ve not read Escaflowne, but I love and own the TV series. I’m not so fond of the movie. Which is the manga more like? And is it released in English? I think that would be a great series for people like me who wouldn’t dream of liking mecha. I’ve only ever liked that one and Full Metal Panic (not a fan of Eva, sorry).

    My favorite other-world shoujo though is currently Saiunkoku Monogatari, or Tales of Saiunkoku. I don’t know if we’ll ever see the manga over here though, or the rest of the anime since Geneon was doing it. :( If you haven’t watched the anime though, do.

    Sailor Moon I’m curious about but have no desire to read or watch a censored version, so I have the feeling I’m out of luck.

    I think I read Rayearth back when I was reading all their stuff, right before XXXholic came out. It didn’t leave an impression like Chobits and Tokyo Babylon though. That latter one is a bit of a romance too, isn’t it?

    Ouran High is one of my favorite manga right now. I plan to review that too. With so many people talking about The Wallflower being a fun send-up of shoujo conventions, it’s a shame that they miss something as special as Ouran. It’s more original and touching, IMO. And the anime is fantastic.

    I don’t read much music-based manga. Well, I do like the ones about rock bands. Beck is great. Kaikan Phase… sucks as a romance, but I liked the first 20 eps of the anime which take place before the heroine gets there LOL. I read the first 5 volumes of Nodame Cantibile though and never got pulled in. I’m not sure why. I love classical music too.

    My favorite specialty manga is cooking manga, but those are mostly shounen. Kitchen Princess is kind of cute though.

    Megami-sama…? I’m sorry to say I don’t know that one. Can you point me to it? I tried finding it at ANN and Baka and didn’t see it, I don’t think.

  7. Serenanna
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 01:57:53

    Ah! Megami-sama! AKA Oh! My Goddess! or Ah! My Goddess! is what you’re looking for. Quick summary, Boy miss dials the phone and ends up reaching Heaven and the Goddess Help Line. Boy receives a visit from a Goddess named Belldandy to receive one wish, gets awed by her beauty, and wishes a girl like her would be with him forever. Heaven interprets this as her being with him, forever. His Roommates don’t approve and kick them out. Her Goddess sisters don’t approve and move in to keep an eye on him, or in Uru’s case, help said boy get lucky with Belldandy. Hijicks, don’t they always, ensue. It’s put out stateside by Dark Horse. There’s two OAV’s, one movie, and two seasons of TV episodes.

    As far as Escaflowne manga, there were two different versions in Japan, a shounen one that ran for about five or more volumes, and a shoujo one that ran for two. I think the shounen one was released stateside, and that’s it. I didn’t read it but saw side by side comparisons somewhere on the net, and went ‘woah’. Like Mai Hime, the anime is it for me when it comes to Escaflowne. And I know what you mean about mecha as a few of my friends frown at me whenever I mention Evangelion. Unfortunately, I saw Gundam Wing and became a fangirl. I’m too corrupt to be saved.

    I know the title you mentioned as well, and my brother probably has it all (shhh, fansubs). Only problem is, he isn’t letting me watch anything of his until I finish Gurren Lagann and give it back. So, nothing, not even half of Romeo X Juliet until I get it done. >.<

    If you really want to get Sailor Moon, bypass the anime and go right for the manga. There are fanscans out there of it, and short of Tokyopop getting the license again (which probably won’t happen) or getting the originals in Japanese, you’re not gonna find it any other way.

    On Ouran, it was surprisingly popular when it came out a few seasons ago, and still is around LJ. The anime really left the fans begging for a second season. While I can understand the comparisons to the Wallflower, Ouran’s humor is just so much better, and the animation done by Bones is downright beautiful to watch compared to stick figures and chubby chibis. The only more beautiful anime I’ve seen of recent titles is maybe Kanon or perhaps the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi.

    Anymore, all my manga tendencies have been away from the romance and shojo titles and onto well . . . ok, I’ve been reading Naruto, Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, Ruroni Kenshin, and Inu Yasha. I’ve gone shounen. At least I haven’t succumbed to reading Dragonball.

  8. (Jān)
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 02:40:46

    Oh, OK, I read the first couple volumes of AMG, and some of the anime, sporadically through the series (and a movie IIRC). It struck me as harem. I haven’t seen the whole thing obviously, but it really seemed on par with Love Hina. Less manic though. Hell, a cage full of mice on cocaine would be less manic than Love Hina. XD

    LOL, I’m not a Gundam fan either. I like SF, but not the robots. Although now that I think about it Samurai 7 and Gankutsuou had mecha too, and I liked them.

    I think Funimation picked Ouran up and are supposed to start releasing this year. I hope they don’t screw it up. I’m looking forward to having the DVDs (I’m one who buys series she likes after seeing the fan versions). I think the animation in Saiunkoku is comparable to Ouran btw.

    I like shounen too. This past weekend I caught up on my Naruto and Addicted to Curry, and read more Slam Dunk, and started Eyeshield 21, and read whatever I could find of Shion no Ou (though I think that may be seinen). But I love romance the best and read lots of BL to give me something lovely to dream about. ^__^ (I also read The Demon Ororon and it depressed the heck out of me, so I needed an influx of men in love. I overdosed on Youka Nitta. Yum.)

  9. Amylee
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 12:44:12

    A Wonderful review of a great series manga as usual, Jan!!!

    I started on Basara long, long time ago, got lost somewhere around vol. 15, and then well just gave up on it. Now the great series has reached its final destination, more or less, I might jump back to where I was before. (I might have to go back to the very beginning to appreciate the work to the fullest.)I am going to re-read Red River before I do that however.

    P.S. Demon Ororon depressed the heck out of me too. The thing is that I had bought the ultimate collection Ororon for my tween daughter who immediately went ” why have you given me this manga to read, MOMMMM!What are you trying to tell me here?” Well, I still think it is a great work of art.

  10. (Jān)
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 13:01:26

    Ororon definitely had interesting art, and an interesting story. But waaaaaaaaah! (Awww, give your tween Kitchen Princess so maybe she’ll want to learn how to cook. XD Although the stuff they cook can be really weird. I guess Yakitate! might be better since all the bread in it sounds good.)

    Do jump back into Basara. I don’t recall exactly where vol 15 is in the story arc, but the ending of the story is as full and rich as the rest. You just keep learning more about the characters to make them all understandable, even the worst.

    I dropped out of Red River around vol 6-7 I think. IIRC the heroine was getting on my nerves. Does she grow any?

  11. Estara
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 13:16:31

    And as with the last Princess Tutu review, I put in a vote for a review of From Far Away (it slipped through the shoujo stack gaps, I guess) by Kyoko Hikawa. Such a great relationship (even from the male side) and a coherent fantasy plot with great side characters, too.

  12. Amylee
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 14:36:05

    Jan,
    Nope, I don’t think the heroine in Red River grows into a more interesting mature character. She gets to become the queen/consort to the hero and we get a HEA for her at the end.

  13. (Jān)
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 14:51:08

    I put in a vote for a review of From Far Away (it slipped through the shoujo stack gaps, I guess) by Kyoko Hikawa.

    LOL, the shoujo stack is several feet tall and a few columns deep. At this point a Chevy pickup could slip through the gaps. ^__^; I’ll get through it someday. Really.

    But would you believe I’ve not heard of From Far Away? I’ll pick up the first couple volumes. It sounds good. Thanks for the recommendation. :)

  14. (Jān)
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 08:05:42

    To everyone who replied here as being interested in Basara, rightstuf.com is now having a 33% off all Viz manga sale through June 20, and Viz puts out Basara, so it’s a great way to try some at a discount. :)

    Estara, I went to Borders last night and sampled From Far Away and immediately bought the first seven volumes. I was up until 3:00 am reading all of them, and am eagerly awaiting the opening of the store so I can go back and get the rest. Thank you so much for recommending this series. I love it!

  15. Lijakaca
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 12:48:58

    I second the vote for From Far Away – Kyouko Hikawa is a master storyteller and her characters are so vivid and real. The plot is a girl getting sucked into another world, but as opposed to FY – which I loved when I didn’t know any better, but now kind of detest – the heroine is totally believable, down to earth, and has trouble with things you’d expect like learning the language and customs of the other world. Also, it’s not a reverse harem – just one lovely, yummy, tortured-but-not-too-much bishounen, Isaac or Izark depending on how they romanized it.

    I hope they license her backlist as well, she has so many great short stories and small series!

  16. (Jān)
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 16:57:43

    Lijakaca, I didn’t realize this was the mangaka for Chizumi and Fujiomi, and Mirian! I loved those when I first read them. No wonder I liked this so much. I’d best go looking for the rest of her stuff. ^_^

  17. Estara
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 17:26:15

    Estara, I went to Borders last night and sampled From Far Away and immediately bought the first seven volumes. I was up until 3:00 am reading all of them, and am eagerly awaiting the opening of the store so I can go back and get the rest. Thank you so much for recommending this series. I love it!

    Wohoo! And here I was just searching through my archives to entice you into the story even faster.

    If you’d like some of her scanlations (those I have are a Western Romance and two school romances – very much 80ies style), drop me a line. Her heros and heroines do look alike but she has a very unique way with the side characters, comedy and drama and so far everything I’ve read has had a satisfying start, middle and end – which isn’t the norm in shoujo books, I find. I wish they’d license more. *sigh*

  18. Estara
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 17:28:56

    Heh, if you already have Chizumi & Fujiomi and Miriam, you already own two of the scanlated manga of hers I have (Ivyscan is veeeeeeeeery slowly translating her newest. Finally a heroine with black hair ^^)

  19. (Jān)
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 21:28:15

    Thanks Estara! I was able to find the rest of her stuff that people have worked on. I have these now, either whole or in part:

    Chizumi & Fujiomi
    Chotto Friday
    Hoshi no Harmony
    Miriam
    Onnanoko Wa Yoyu
    Otogi Moyou Ayanishiki

    I know a lot of people don’t like the look of 80s shoujo, but I just love it.

  20. Estara
    Jan 18, 2008 @ 00:29:12

    Heh. I haven’t got Hoshi no Harmony or Onnanoko Wa Yoyu. Where did you find them? Please send me an e-mail if you’d rather not post the links here. The email address should be visible if you klick on my comment in the WordPress editing bit.

    From Far Away finished around 2000 I think, but the others are very 80ies indeed. She hasn’t changed her style much for the newest series, but I’ve always liked it. Swan, on the other hand, as 70ies shoujo, is an acquired taste, which I have acquired ^^.

  21. Lijakaca
    Jan 18, 2008 @ 11:43:01

    IIRC, From Far Away is 13 volumes in total. I remember she had to take a break during the series because of a hand injury, oh the agony of waiting for it to finish! ^_^ I like her new one too, but it feels like it’s being released…so…slowly…lol. OK, I’ll stop my fangirling now and go check out that Rightstuf sale, Viz IMO does the best manga translations available now.

  22. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Everybody’s talkin’ manga
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 06:46:50

    [...] at Warren Peace Sings the Blues. Carlo Santos critiques vol. 1 of Aria at ANN. Jan reviews Basara, which is drawing to a close, at Dear Author. Emily checks out two Japanese-only titles, Love Triple [...]

  23. qshoe1989
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 13:58:55

    Oooooh. I do love me some Basara. Such a good series… Thinking about covering Please Save My Earth too? =)

  24. (Jān)
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 15:24:31

    Thinking about covering Please Save My Earth too? =)

    It’s on my TBR pile, figuratively speaking. :) I’ve read the first couple volumes but haven’t bought more. That’s going to have to be a library borrowing since I can’t afford all those right now. :)

  25. Pirkaf
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 07:36:49

    Please Save My Earth is a great manga. I like Basara, too, but PSME is one of my favourite manga series ever.

  26. NITA
    May 29, 2008 @ 04:03:37

    BASARA GA DAI SUKI. I LOVE BASARA.

  27. glee music
    Dec 05, 2010 @ 23:28:37

    Excellent stuff from you, man. Ive read your stuff before and youre just too awesome. I like what youve got here, adore what youre saying along with the way you say it. You make it entertaining and also you nonetheless manage to keep it smart. I cant wait to read a lot more from you. This is really a fantastic blog.

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