Sakuran: Blossoms Wild is a tale from the Edo Period of Japanese history. It focuses on the pleasure quarter, Yoshiwara, with our female protagonist named Kiyoha. As a child, Kiyoha was sold to a brothel, where she worked as a maid until she could rise to a prominent position of a courtesan.
This book was a re-read for me. I originally purchased it many years ago. Initially, I loved everything about the manga. But after eight years of reading and evolving, I can safely say that I don’t feel the same way about it. While I still enjoyed it, I no longer feel it’s the greatest stand-alone manga ever.
The facets that make this manga very good consists of the story. It’s presented very honestly and doesn’t shy away from exhibiting the more candid and less romanticised existence of a prostitute, even high-ranking ones. We get to see the roles that these prostitutes played in society, particularly where men are concerned. Most of the men were turning to these women as a means of retaining some air of relevancy during an era of great change. The purchased affections they received brought them more meaning and self-worth than they would find elsewhere.
Kiyoha is brilliantly flawed. She’s unrelenting in her stubborn behaviour and she never ceases harbouring her secret desire of running away. Growing up surrounded by women who were sensationally popular and wanted by all men, near and far, taught Kiyoha that loneliness and sadness will find you. There is no way to truly escape the internal agony that comes with being a courtesan. While you may appear to be draped in luxury and pleasure to everyone outside of the brothel walls, inside you were nothing more than a prisoner of circumstance and fate; you led a miserable existence filled with such severe hopelessness.
The examinations of brothel life and the significant role that women played, even as piece of property, were fascinating to me. It makes for a contemplative and riveting read, to an extent. The inconsistent illustrations and overall lacklustre execution ends up detracting a lot from the story.
Some panels are exquisitely drawn, particularly the coloured pages. Yet any scenes involving sex or nudity, take on an artisitc change to be more cartoony in nature. This undermines the serious subject matter. But I can also see this as a way to present how silly the women believed sex to be, especially in the ways that it manipulates the feelings of men. Nonetheless, it’s a bit jarring and unpleasant. The differences in character designs are also capricious. Some of the women are very easy to tell apart, but then a new chapter begins, and depending on the scenario, it’s almost impossible to tell one woman apart from the next. This occurs with young men as well.
Other minor flaws includes the romance that Kiyoha has. It is blatant insta-love induced via a sexual response by being with a guy who actually knows what the hell he’s doing. It was so unbelievable and ridiculous. There is very little plot progression outside of watching Kiyoha grow up and deal with her “love,” even that doesn’t sprout up until you’re about fifty-percent of the way finished.
Sakuran is a good manga if you are interested in a realistic depiction of the Yoshiwara pleasure district and what life was like for these women during a tumultuous time of change, but in reality, you can find books with much more flesh and merit somewhere else.
3 combs outta 5!