Erica Friedman is the founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing--she is devoted to bringing fans of yuri together. Erica reviews yuri and shoujo-ai manga and anime as well as other comics with lesbian themes at her blog Okazu. She can also be found on Twitter @Yuricon.
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"In your wanderings, can you look for this for me?"
That was the message I received on Facebook from a friend. She's asked for me to look for random things in Japan before this message, but when I looked at the "this" I was shocked - she wanted me to look for a manga? She has no interest in manga. None whatsoever.
"I like the art," was her reply to my question. Oh well, now *that* made sense. My friend is an artist - an exceptionally talented one, I might add. Okay, no problem, I'll look for the book. It was clearly Anno Moyocco's art, but I otherwise knew nothing about it. I missed out on the Happy Mania! mania when Tokyopop printed it, and although I'd certainly encountered her work in some of the Josei manga magazines I read, I'd never been a fan.
The manga, as it turned out, was well out of print. I never expected to find it for her. One day I wandered into a used manga store, turned the corner and there it was, one of the Kodansha deluxe editions, old, but still with gorgeous paper, with colored edges. I flipped through it, bought it and gave it to her without anymore thought to the contents. Anno's art was not for me.
And then, out of the blue, Vertical licensed Sakuran. So I contacted my friend with the news, expecting her to say she wasn't interested in the book in English. I guess I just expected her interest to end with the art, loopy as it appeared to be. But, to my surprise, she said she was interested, so I got her volume 1. And with her permission, I read it before I gave to her.
I loved it. The character was amazing, the story harsh and unsympathetic (all things I had come to expect from Anno.) But about halfway into the book there's a series of color pages, in which the color washes away leaving only blues. It was, for me, a moment of blinding recognition of Anno's mastery.
A few years ago, I did a lecture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art about the Ghost in the Shell: Innocence movie. At that time they were running an exhibit of Utagawa art. It was at this exhibit I learned about Prussian Blue and Ultramarine, two colors that completely changed Japanese art forever. (Incidentally, these colors helped inform my understanding of Murakami Haruki's art which was also on exhibit at the BMA, and of Nakamura Ching's GUNJO, the title of which means "ultramarine.")
So there, as the color leeches out of the color pages, we are left staring at a what has to be seen as shockingly good late 19th century print. In a flash, Anno's style made perfect sense to me. As I read the cold, calculating instructions on how to perform successful oral sex on a man, I became a fan.
I'm having a hard time summing up my feelings about Sakuran, so I turned to my friend who is completely responsible for this review. She nailed it.
"I enjoyed her nonstop and often inexplicable anger and her near-sociopathic disregard for everyone around her. On the other hand, I often wondered why she didn't just walk out of there and go out on a world-conquering spree on her own. She certainly seemed to have enough bad-assery and blind force of will to make such a move, but I guess traditional Japanese class distinctions were too overwhelming. I also really, really liked her appalling table manners; particularly in that oh-so-proper Japanese setting."
Yes, that was it. It was her anger that appealed to me most. That white-hot rage against the universe and all the people in it. Recently I was involved in a discussion about how tediously psychopaths were written these days in fan media. Kiyoha's genuine hatred for every single person around her read more realistically to me than anything I'd seen in ages.
Skilled execution, combined with ferocious misanthropy. No wonder I love this book. Thanks, Meryl, for turning me into an Anno fan.