Yumi Tamura’s ‘Basara’ – Epic, Kick Ass, Lady Action Goodness.

Be forewarned, this post is basically going to consist of my manga nerdy self salivating over how good I find this series. Because it’s just so good. Completely impartial review… yeah, anywho…

Basara is an epically epic Science Fiction/ Fantasy shojo (comic aimed for girls in Japan) manga by Yumi Tamura, which spans 27 volumes. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where Japanese society now resembles that of a feudal one. It centres on 15 year old Sarasa who has grown up in the shadow of her brother, Tatara, who is prophesised to be the “boy of destiny”. However, Sarasa is soon thrust into the spotlight when The Red Army led by the Red King attacks her village, causing death and destruction and the beheading her brother. Sarasa immediately takes action, she cuts off her hair, dons her brother’s clothes and declares that she is Tatara and that it was Sarasa who had been murdered. Sarasa in the guise of Tatara vows to avenge the destruction of her village of Byakko by murdering The Red King. Sasara sets out on her journey, accumulating friends and those who will fight alongside her along the way. Soon after, Sarasa in her female form meets a man called Shuri by some hot springs and they fall in love. However, unbeknownst to each other, Sarasa is Tatara seeking vengeance and Shuri is actually the Red King who has caused so much destruction. This cruel twist adds another element of drama to a story filled chock full of drama, destruction and violence.

What first grabbed me about the story is the strength of the characters, particularly the female ones. They are diverse and well developed, and each possesses their own personal struggles and issues. There are women who are mothers, women who are warriors, princesses, pirates and also mere ordinary peasants. At times it could rival Game of Thrones in its depiction of the atrocities of war what with implications of incest, murder and rape. However the issue of rape isn’t one that is dealt with lightly, Sarasa isn’t one to sit back and accept it when the weak are getting abused by those in power. Of course, Sarasa isn’t perfect. There are points in the story when the weight of what it means to be Tatara overwhelms her and she breaks down. She often wishes she could run away from the responsibility she carries and just become an ordinary girl. It’s moments like these that make the series so compelling. The binary of good vs evil that is set up at the very beginning is slowly eradicated as the story progresses. There are no amoral, stereotypical villain types who want to destroy and pillage for no reason. Each character is fleshed out to such an extent that sometimes even the most despicable behaviour can seem relateable. Each character is human, nobody is perfect, everybody has flaws.

Another positive aspect of the story is that Sarasa’s gender never really becomes an issue. Throughout the story she tells herself that she can only do what she is doing because she is in the guise of a man; however the reader knows better than that. It is thanks to the help of those around her and her own sheer strength of will that allows her to keep doing what she has to do. Furthermore there are several instances where Sarasa is in her female form and behaves in just as strong a manner as she does when she is Tatara. There are also several female characters who do not need to cast off their femininity in order to be respected or to become strong.  Like many other stories of a similar nature, the male to female ratio is still is vastly geared towards male, nevertheless the few females taking part in the action certainly prove themselves able to hold their own. And despite Sarasa’s own self doubt, it is implied from the beginning that it she who is in fact the child of destiny, not her brother. Huzzah!

All that said, it isn’t perfect. The story’s treatment of homosexual characters could be seen as slightly problematic, and many would probably see the eventual ending as perhaps a little too optimistic and ultimately unrealistic (though the  tiny morsel of romance that still resides within my shrivelled up heart would be inclined to disagree). Also, the artwork could be deemed a bit old fashioned and ugly by those more accustomed to a more polished, modern style of manga (or just not accustomed to manga art at all) but I quite like it. As I said before I’m not impartial, I’m a big fan of the story so perhaps this whole piece reeks of viewing it through rose tinted feminist justice warrior glasses. However that doesn’t negate the fact that Basara is exciting, thought provoking and a hell of a lot of fun.

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