Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u)
Six months ago, Kaguya was found unconscious in a grove of bamboo, a huge, crescent shaped wound on her back. Unable to remember anything about herself, she is taken in by a brothel and works as a housekeeper and babysitter. One day the bodyguard of Okazaki Castle—an infamous womanizer—named Hanzou appears on the steps of the brothel looking for a night of adventure and pleasure. He takes a liking to Kaguya, and above the other prostitutes' protestations, asks for her services. She, in turn, in spite of her better judgment, is taken by Hanzou as well…but the past soon resurfaces, along with the truth behind Kaguya's mysterious scar. The burgeoning lovers may well in truth be bitter enemies. Will love overcome, or will unlovely politics and family win the day?
Well, Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u) certainly takes the cake for most appallingly awkward title for a manga this year. “Hanzo(u)”…? Really? Is this some editor's idea of a joke? Too bad it's not funny. And naturally, Viz Media takes sole responsibility—or should that be blame?—for this strange manifestation of English adaptation indecisiveness when it comes to long versus short vowels in Japanese. The original title of this standalone single volume by the veteran shoujo mangaka Rinko Ueda is the decidedly more poetic, “Tsuki no Toiki, Ai no Kizu.”
Those familiar with Tail of the Moon can probably guess what, or rather whom, “Hanzo(u)” refers to. There are, after all, two very different men named Hanzou (or Hanzo, however you prefer to romanize it) Hattori in that fifteen volume series loosely set in the Tensho Era of Feudal Japan. The first is “Kami no Hanzou,” the Hanzou of the Okazaki clan of upper Iga. The second is “Shimo no Hanzo,” the Hanzo of the Segachi clan of lower Iga. Both young men appear in this manga, but here it is the first of them, not the second, that is the heroine's main love interest.
Bear in mind that this prequel is not, unlike many so-called prequels, a side story written either during or after the serialization of Tail of the Moon proper. It does, despite its somewhat ambiguous ending which I will not spoil here, chronologically predate Usagi's adventures both in the context of the storyline and in the context of its actual creation. Thus, if given the choice, now that the entire Tail of the Moon series and its prequel have been published in English, those new to the Ueda's ninja romance would be well advised to start with Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u) before picking up the first volume of Tail of the Moon.
In fact, because the principal characters here also appear in the main series as part of the large supporting cast, you will be spoiled for pretty much all of the plot-driven surprises in the prequel. Of course, true fans will not care, and they will love to see Kaguya/Sara's first encounters with the two Hanzo(u)s in such relatively lavish detail. The manga is divided pretty much in half between her interactions with the two men: The first subplot involves a brief period where Sara loses her memory and ends up working as a servant girl at a brothel. She has been nicknamed Kaguya by the prostitutes. Hanzou shows up looking for *ahem* love and finds Kaguya. But as it turns out, they have met before, and the mysterious crescent shaped scar on her back is the key. The second subplot involves Sara, her memory returned, attempting to infiltrate the Iga village as the assumed bride for the Hanzo resident there. Her real motive, though, is to steal the secret recipe for gunpowder. If she is unsuccessful, her brother will wage war on the village. Needless to say, she thinks she is going to be getting the Hanzou she knows from her brothel days…but instead her bridegroom turns out to be the “other” Hanzo, and a political détente will be necessary if the young people wish to avoid massive bloodshed.
Overall, the story is reasonably enjoyable but not particularly brilliant or even especially heartfelt. In fact, the “Romeo and Juliet”-type love between scions of political rivals does not develop the oomph that happens later on in Tail of the Moon. In this prequel, Ueda is not quite just “going through the motions,” but all it would take is a cut rate cruise control upgrade—and she definitely would be. Fortunately, the quality of her artwork goes a long way toward making up for her lackluster tale-telling. Ueda has been long beloved for the rich detail of her illustration, and her penchant for traditional Japanese settings and dress is especially well-rewarded with such subjects as Feudal Japan. Her color art is also exquisite. The visuals mark the high point of this manga.
All in all, Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u) is best recommended for those who wish to try Tail of the Moon without the multi-volume commitment or for those who have already been sold on the entertainment merits of the Hanzo(u)s and their respective girlfriends.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Nice artwork and character designs, not to mention an appealing costume drama look.
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