Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura Volume 2 | By Arina Tanemura | Published by VIZ Media | Rated: T, Ages 13+
“Faint hearts never won fair maidens.”
This statement works in the case of both lead characters in Arina Tanemura’s Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura. Aoba, a prince in the Japanese imperial court, is betrothed to Sakura, a princess of the moon (run with me here). But Sakura is now in danger of becoming a Youko (demon), and Aoba is charged with killing her. When last we left our leads, Sakura had to flee Aoba and his courtiers who were trying to kill her. After being betrayed by her retainer, Oumi, Sakura found sanctuary with Kohaku, a female ninja in the employ of Aoba’s family, and had finally confronted Aoba after being lured into a trap by him.
Well, things certainly have improved since last I wrote about this manga. A lot of the problems from the first volume have been addressed, if not corrected.
First up, the court intrigue hinted at now comes to the fore with not one or two but three groups with their own agendas working in the court. First is Aoba, who now is completely conflicted over his love for Sakura. She’s the enemy but she’s not at the same time. He has to kill her because of her exposure to the Youko. She is a demon so his course is clear. But when Lord Fujimarusaki (Aoba’s brother) offers a deal that allows Sakura to live in exchange for killing a local Youko that has been concerning the Togu (guy in charge) and his advisors, Aoba is stuck. Now that the reason for hating her has been put on hold, Aoba finds himself trying to fight his own brother for possession of her love.
Lord Fujimarusaki states his affection for Sakura both to her and to Aoba. But he also sees how important Sakura has become since Aoba rejected her. Suitors hoping for nothing more than political influence will try to gain her hand. So Fujimarusaki moves first. But is he doing this for noble reasons? Aoba doesn’t know, but doesn’t tip his hand.
Finally, an awesome new character has been introduced who has insiders in the Royal court working for them. This new character is definitively not human, has no trouble sacrificing others for the goal, and gets the cliffhanger moment at the end. Brilliant timing, and I hope this character will be staying around as more than just a villain of the week.
Poor Sakura’s position first gets better and then worse. After being betrayed by Oumi and then by Aoba, everything would be easier if she simply gave in and became a complete Youko. But her temperament (and I suspect her love for Aoba) is keeping her anchored, though I enjoy the fact that she, too, can’t get past either Aoba or his betrayal. They have a heated argument in this volume and you can see her wanting to tell him something—to tell him everything that she has in her heart and mind. But the fact is that he …I don’t know, has to be seen in a certain way with the court. Or perhaps she’s scared to tell him everything and risk losing him. Hmm, interesting bind to be in.
Also we finally learn why Oumi betrayed Sakura. On one hand, it’s predictable, and on the other it’s heartbreaking. Oumi isn’t strictly a bad person and she technically has good reasons for doing what she did. Still, no misguided person’s fall from grace stops at a single mistake, and sadly Oumi’s arc gets worse in tone. Sakura herself confronts the issue with Oumi at the same time, and Tanemura handles it well. If nothing else, the author seems to know where she’s going in this volume and sets up an excellent final act with tragedy, pathos, and heart.
My personal favourite moment in the volume comes when Sakura protects Aoba from a snake attack. Aoba thinks she did it for self-serving reasons but Sakura did it for the right reasons in her own mind. In doing so, it’s revealed that these near fatal wounds she receives are not as painless as people believe. When Aoba realises he’s hurt Sakura more than he imagined, he tries to console her as she sleeps. It’s a nice, poignant moment and it’s handled with care and no overload of emotion.
I think I’m still reading this story because of the setting in ancient Japan. This doesn’t allow for outward displays of affection, so everything is supposed to be low-key. Despite this, Tanemura lifts the constant downer material with great comedic spats between the characters. If they were in a modern setting, this story wouldn’t appeal all that much to me. It’s bubbly and effervescent but not overbearing. If I could single out anything, I’d say that there isn’t too much action going on for the most part. But not every apple has to be rosy red so I’m asking too much of the book. I’m still hanging in for a crack at volume three.