Moyoco Anno is a big name in the manga industry. Notable titles such as Sugar Sugar Rune and Happy Mania have delighted and challenged her audiences. In Sakuran, Anno gives us an intimate look into the life of an Oiran, or courtesan, during Japan’s Edo Period.
Kiyoha may have a bad attitude, but she is ranked as the third most popular girl in her current “guest house.” Sold to a brothel as a child, Kiyoha has fought relentlessly against her fate, only to be further groomed for a life in the pleasure district. The story begins with Kiyoha’s ascent to the position of lead Oiran, only to travel back in time to her childhood. Through Kiyoha’s eyes and words, we learn how a young girl might have been inducted into the life of a courtesan during this time period. First, as a maid in a guest house, Kiyoha is called Tomeki. When she begins her period, she is renamed O-Rin and becomes an apprentice. After studying music, poetry, and fine arts, she makes her debut as Kiyoha and her virginity is sold to the highest bidder.
Throughout the story, a colorful cast of secondary characters come and go, but there is no doubt that this story is Kiyoha’s. Anno gives her a very genuine voice and she is a fantastic character whose greatest strengths outshine her weakest moments. However, Sakuran remains brutally honest, and there is no way a story like this one could avoid its heartbreaking elements. While we can feel some relief that as children, maids in guest houses are not called on to perform, Kiyoha is all too aware of what her future holds.
The art is absolutely beautiful. Kiyoha is depicted elegantly, with a deep, intense gaze, while the other female characters each retain an individual look, despite similar costumes. Skillfully rendered landscapes and backgrounds add to the sense of what life must have been like during this time period in Japan.
It is important to note that Sakuran is essentially the story of a prostitute. Several sexual acts are not only implied, but depicted. None of these panels seem gratuitous in nature, but they can be extremely graphic. Sakuran is indeed a josei title and, as you would imagine, it is appropriate for an adult audience only. Depictions of murder and an implied suicide further inform the maturity level of the book.
Melancholy yet powerful, Sakuran easily rivals Memoirs of a Geisha in its depiction of the world’s oldest profession.
by Moyoco Anno
Publisher Age Rating: 18+