Art/Story: Yumi Tamura
Basara is a fascinating title, filled with action, adventure, warfare, and even Jungian archetypes. Epic in scope and scale, this is one series that should satisfy even the most finicky of manga readers. The back story is as follows: in the near future, an apocalypse of sorts has reduced Japan to a collection of warring kingdoms, ruled over by a tyrannical emperor. One of these sub-kings is Shuri, the Red King, who rules with absolute authority and hopes to replace, by war or accident, his hated and feared father someday in order to rule more wisely. His intentions may be good, but in the course of solidifying his rule, he destroys a village where a prophesied Child of Destiny was born, in the hopes of heading a rebellion off before it happens.
As with all tragedies, however, such activity merely gives rise to the rebel leader in question, this time in the person of Sarasa, who takes up her brother's mantle of Child of Destiny and vows to destroy the Red King and his father at all cost. Uncertain but defiant and courageous, Sarasa must step into the shoes of a male and lead her people to a new life.
In this volume, Sarasa continues solidifying her power base with an eye toward taking down the Red King. She is saddled with the twisted Asagi, who is, unbeknownst to her, the Blue King she believes to be destroyed. Furthermore, Asagi is clever, and figures out the true identify of both Sarasa's beloved Shuri and of Shuri's girlfriend Sarasa; in other words, he knows that Tatara is really a girl, Sarasa, and that Shuri is really the Red King. How he will use this information remains to be seen, but he intends Sarasa and Shuri both harm. Meanwhile, Shuri in his role as Red King confronts Kazan about hiding Tatara's mother, and more is revealed about Kazan's feelings and his intentions.
The characterizations are one of the greatest strengths of this solid and satisfying title. Even secondary, rarely seen characters, such as Kazan and Cha-cha, are beautifully complete and round. Tatara's mother, for example, shows in a handful of frames that she is a completely different woman than Cha-cha. In addition, while Sarasa is good-hearted, she is no clichÃ© shojo heroine. She faces war and battle with aplomb, if very human fear; after all, courage isn't not being afraid, it's facing those fears, and Sarasa has to face her fears every day, responsible as she is for an army and a revolution. Even with regard to the star-crossed love affair, resolutions are never as simple as we would hope; the Red King and the rebel Tatara simply couldn't live happily ever after.
The art is clean, and the slightly angular, abstracted style befits the subject and plot perfectly. A prettier, rounder style, a la Yu Watase, or the highly detailed, almost ritualistic look of CLAMP would be totally wrong. Tamura shows exactly what is necessary and no more, and the result is affecting and visually appealing.
If you are anything like me, you will end this book as I did, frantic for resolution and anxious for the rest of the series. Fans of manga in general or of adventure books should enjoy this one, as well as fans of Tamura's other hit series, Chicago. Anyone who can handle the violence, which is neither gratuitous nor graphically depicted, should appreciate this one, as it truly is one of the best manga titles published in America to date.
Previously: Review of Vol. 1.