In Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Princess Sakura has been betrothed to Prince Ouran since she was born, but she can’t see how she could possibly love a man she has never met. The day before she is to leave, the priestess Byakuya reminds her that she is never to look at the full moon, but as she runs away she gazes at the night sky. A demon attacks her, looking for her ancestor Princess Kaguya. Sakura discovers that she is the inheritor of the Cherry Blossom Sword, and is the only one that can defeat these man-eating creatures.
Sakura Hime Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura
Arina Tanemura is a veteran shojo manga artist (Full Moon O Sageshite, Gentleman’s Alliance), but at the beginning of chapter one this seems to hurt her more than help. She takes a paint-by-numbers approach to the story that I can imagine she did in her sleep. I’ve seen the cute heroine and cheeky male lead in just about every shojo manga I’ve ever picked up, and Sakura’s desperate situation, along with her adorable sidekick, feel all too familiar.
This could also be why Sakura Hime moves at such a brisk pace, skimming over little things like character development and world-building. However, this actually works in the sense that shojo fans have seen much of this before, so Tanemura gives herself little chance to bore her readers with explanations of recycled character types.
The quick pace also allows the manga to hit its most surprising and exciting turn halfway through the first volume. Sakura comes under attack, and it’s not the sinister man we might have expected, but someone whom she’s come to trust. This twist is sudden, but this early betrayal gives Sakura Hime an emotional charge that sticks you in the heroine’s corner as you wonder how she’ll ever get a happy ending out of this.
The series also has a decent amount of action as Sakura uses her new found powers to fight Youko – man-eating demons. These monsters, while holding different appearances, have a boring monster-of-the-week feel, and are so bland that I had to flip back through the pages to remember what each one looked like. Battles are disappointingly quick, despite Sakura’s inability to make her magical sword obey her, but as Sakura’s personal danger increases we can hope for more satisfying fights.
No one can say that Arina Tanemura isn’t a skilled artist. Costumes are intricate, and backgrounds are highly detailed. But that is also where her flaws show, as backgrounds are filled with so many flowers and trees and swirling cherry blossoms as to make scenes confusing. In all the detail and shading characters get lost and lose focus on the page, not a good thing when the reader is trying to follow a fight scene.
Character designs are also very well done, though they look similar to people we’ve seen in her other manga. Tanemura also takes the “big-eyed heroine” idea too far, as Sakura’s plate-sized eyes take up a third of her face. And when ninja-girl Kohaku comes into the story, the only thing helping me tell them apart is their hairstyles.
Characters start this volume barred in by stereotypes, and the fights are disappointingly limited. But with the interesting turn in the plot the characters gain an extra chance for growth, as Sakura has to prove not just her love but her humanity. Even with its obvious shortcomings, Sakura Hime might prove itself to be a shojo manga worth sticking around for.
ISBN: 9781421538822 • MSRP: $9.99 • VIZ Media • 182 pages • Released April 5 2011
A review copy was provided by the publisher.