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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Li'l Mell! 
21st-Jun-2006 02:28 am
Right here:


Mr. Rosa is totally cute, just as I pictured him. Nice work, Neil.

Also, today I inagurate my new semiregular feature: Shaenon's Overlooked Manga Festival!

In each installment, I'm going to ramble on about a manga that I feel is unfairly overlooked by American readers. My tastes being what they are, most of these will probably be relatively old manga, especially classic shojo (girls') manga. I am such a sucker for it.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING: I work for Viz, and most of the titles I discuss will be Viz manga. I know Viz's line better than the output of any other manga publisher, and I also have a pretty good idea of which Viz manga are not getting the love they deserve. Eventually I'll probably get into titles from other publishers, like the awesome '70s shojo manga published by DC/CMX. But most of the titles I cover will be Viz manga, and, frankly, more than a few will be titles I've personally worked on.

Like this bad boy:

Basara is one of the manga you can mention to a lot of the Japanese-born women at the Viz office and get a warm, nostalgic smile. (Banana Fish is another, only even more so.) It was immensely popular in Japan during its run in the early '90s, and with good reason. It's got everything: action, adventure, romance, beautiful men, rugged women, a little historical fiction, a touch of sci-fi, sweeping vistas of pretty much every description, cunning plots, legendary swords, and a cute animal sidekick. An owl, to be precise.

One of the things that drives me nuts about shojo manga is the preponderence of weak, passive heroines. You know, the ones who sob and apologize and stand around letting things happen to them for about ten volumes before they grow a spine. Yumi Tamura definitely does not craft protagonists in the inert, rape-fantasy damsel-in-distress mold. A Tamura heroine is pretty much constantly leaping astride some form of awesome transportation--a motorcycle, a skateboard, a powerful stallion that only allows her to mount him--and riding off to right wrongs and upset the status quo. Sarasa, the heroine of Basara, is the epitome of Tamura badassitude. The manga is set in a vaguely-defined postapocalyptic future in which Japan has returned to a primitive feudal state and the land is governed by the four sons of King Ukon. Sarasa's twin brother, Tatara, is marked as the "boy of destiny" with the power to lead Japan to peace, freedom, and not living in medieval filth all the time. Unfortunately, Tatara is killed in battle by the forces of the Red King, one of the aforementioned four princes. Obviously, Sarasa has only one choice: cut her hair, dress in drag, pretend to be Tatara, and save Japan in his place.

Oh, but there's more. In the course of her journey, Sarasa falls in love with a young man named Shuri, not realizing that...wait for it...he's actually the Red King! Too bad "Tatara" and the Red King, in their official capacities, have made solemn vows to murder each other, huh? It's pretty much the most improbable romantic twist imaginable, but it's also totally rad, especially as the series continues and the when-the-hell-will-they-figure-it-out tension keeps escalating. I don't want to spoil anything, but rest assured that when the other shoe finally drops, some bad shit goes down.

Tamura's artwork is fantastic. I imagine a lot of American readers are turned off by the oh-so-90s style: it's an explosion of huge eyes and huger hair. But, dated or not, it's damn good. A lot of the pages are your standard lovely, expressive shojo layouts, but there are also some action shots that pop like a mother:

Damn, that top panel is like a Frank Miller wet dream. Incidentally, the chick leaping into the page is a deadly spy/assassin who's also a mad-genius inventor. Now that you've read that sentence, you have to read this manga. (And let me just note that, whereas an American comic book would probably consider one ass-kicking female character more than enough, Basara has a bunch of them, in all kinds of flavors. There's also a pirate captain whose boyfriend is her loyal first mate, and honestly, who can't get behind that?)

So you've got nice action-y layouts, and then you've got quiet, contemplative moments like this:

That woman can hella draw. Her color work is amazing, too. The Basara artbooks are a treat to pore over, and all of the manga covers are elaborate wraparound images. One of my not-so-secret fantasies is to be able to draw well enough that I can just spend all my time doing elaborate full-color pictures of my characters engaged in activities that may or may not have anything to do with the actual comic. It looks like so much fun.

My man Jason Thompson is not quite as enamored of Basara as I am, possibly because he was never a thirteen-year-old girl (he just wishes he was). He points out that the plot vascillates wildly between grittily realistic action and outlandish shojo melodrama. I am forced to concede that this is the case. It's also true that the 27-volume series drags in a couple of spots. If you get to the part where the gang is stuck in the underground prison, please know that it WILL end. But for the most part I love the way the plot takes its time to build, patiently following Sarasa from her rocky start with a ragged band of rebels to the point where she can command a massive army culled from every corner of Japan. Plus she has an arch-nemesis for a boyfriend and a nifty pet owl.

Anyway. Basara: great art, great story, pet owl, shojo classic. Totally worth your time and reading pleasure.

21st-Jun-2006 10:21 am (UTC)
"My man Jason Thompson is not quite as enamored of Basara as I am, possibly because he was never a thirteen-year-old girl (he just wishes he was)."

You have thus SLAIN me.

Now I do kind of want to read it, it appeals to what I totally wanted to read when I was in highschool.
21st-Jun-2006 04:29 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that's one of the big reasons I like it. I keep commenting that if this had been around in English when I was a kid, I would have ended up even more of a nerd than I am today. It's like an exact portrait of the inside of my head just before puberty.
21st-Jun-2006 12:16 pm (UTC)
Unrelated to Basara, this has gotta be Sergio's worst idea so far.
21st-Jun-2006 04:30 pm (UTC)

Yeah...If he's had a worse one in the twenty-odd years we haven't seen him, I don't want to know about it.
17th-Oct-2008 06:30 am (UTC)
Vazquez has not so much as sat on the Magic bench, and it doesn’t appear that he ever will. 12. Best: Nick Collison Worst: Robert Swift Seattle becomes the first team to have 2 of the worst picks (this is also their 2nd “best” pick).
21st-Jun-2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
This and Sgt. Frog make me curse the fact that I haveto save more money than I'm spending.
17th-Oct-2008 05:03 am (UTC)
 It meant more to her to save sixpence than toearn a pound.  So long as she could think of a way of dockingDorothy's dinner of another potato, or getting her exercise books ahalfpenny a dozen cheaper, or shoving an unauthorized half guineaon to one of the 'good payers'' bills, she was happy after herfashion.
21st-Jun-2006 07:49 pm (UTC)
Freak! A recent coworker of mine had the last name Tatara. And, because I am me, I always thought of him as Tatara-chan (though I never told him to his face).
18th-Dec-2006 07:15 am (UTC)
hmmm, i hated the art style at first but it really does grow on you. I agree that this will probably be my favorite manga and will be my first manga i will collect in its american published format. I usually tend to buy the japanese tankoubons and can make out some stuff on it. I agree with your statement on some of her work looking like frank miller on shoujo. (lol) Simply put though, this manga is by far one of the great classics of shoujo. Its good enough to have both men and women read it. =)

P.S. btw can i suggest something, wish you guys would have a book jacket for the mangas. i take care of my books (every type) but sometimes the corners get all bent out of shape and it wouldnt be that much of a problem if there was a book jacket to cover the bent corners. well just a note.
12th-Jun-2007 05:12 am (UTC)
Im a random wanderer. I wandered across your blog looking for Basara pics to make a good icon. Ive finally caught up on my whole collecvtion of it. It has to be one of my favorite manga (along with Bleach, Ippo and Irresponsible captain tylor [anime]). I love this manga and it makes me happy to run across others too since it (along with other less popular but EXCELLENT stuff like Ippo and Tylor) seems to not have a very large fan base *sigh*
17th-Aug-2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
Volume 24 should be out now....
14th-Oct-2007 02:24 am (UTC)
Randomly wandering in (and finding an old post) but Basara has been my favorite manga since I was intrigued enough by the anime to import copies of the Japanese manga around 7 or 8 years ago. While I was a relative newbie to anime and manga at the time, it still remains one of my favorite, simply because it's far more realistic than most shoujo manga and doesn't have the sterotypical wimpy female character. And I like the contrast between the melodrama and the realistic action -- like it or not, life is full of both of them. It's the only anime/manga I've loved enough to create a website for (I should really update the silly thing, since I haven't touched it for years).

It's a pity so many people are unwilling to give it a chance because they don't like the art. I wasn't terribly fond of it at first but it grew on me until I really loved it -- and the artbooks are amazing.

I'm such a Basara fangirl. If only Viz would publish 7 Seeds . . .
4th-Nov-2007 01:58 am (UTC)
Basara... I was illegal and d/led the first 20 volumes. Now to my dismay, the project was licensed before the group finished it, and I'll have to search for 21-27 out in the real world. I must say, this work was amazing. I could stare at the art all day. It's more than just beautiful, it's so intricate (but not in the delicate way, it's a rough sort of beauty), and there are little details everywhere that are so easy to miss, but so important.

On a side note, I thought that 7 Seeds was being published by someone...
4th-Nov-2007 02:09 am (UTC)
Not in the U.S. at least, unless it's just not been announced yet. There's a company in Singapore that publishes manga in English, so it's possible that they've released it.

And unlike what they've done with some other series (they seem to habitually edit their shonen titles), Viz has treated Basara quite well. No editing and the translation has been fairly well done (from what I can tell). Buy it and support it! :)
16th-Nov-2007 11:41 pm (UTC)
I was just going to comment about 7 Seeds! It's my favorite current manga. There are some mangaka who have one plot that they really love to redo over and over. With Hiwatari Saki it's reincarnation, with Tamura Yumi it's post-apocalyptic stories. And seriously, both of them have my permission to keep writing as many stories on those themes as they want! I loved Basara, but I love 7 Seeds even more. I just wish the publication schedule weren't so agonisingly slow. I am used to reading mostly Jump stuff, which gets tankoubon four times a year, so the twice-a-year schedule of 7 Seeds is killing me. (I suppose I could just break down and buy the monthlies, but I prefer tankoubon, even if it means a longer wait.)

I don't read English-language manga, but I'm so excited that Basara is being published in English because I want it to reach a wider audience. I really hope someone brings out 7 Seeds for the same reason.
7th-Feb-2008 11:09 pm (UTC) - Ageha
Dude, you forgot to mention there's a hot cross dressing dude that's really tall and ripped but is more beautiful and feminine than all the other girls and he has a MONDO OWL. Yes. But Basara is the bestest ever!
1st-Sep-2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
I stopped buying Basara do to being a poor college student. Now that I'm out of college and have money, they're all out of print. Arrrggghhh. I was able to get them all but volumes 19 and 20... And I had stopped at volume 18. There's no way I'm buying hundreds of dollars for it either.. *sigh*
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