Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura
As things wind down with Princess Yuri and her pursuit of Aoba, they heat up with the revelation of Aoba's secret. Sakura now realizes that it is up to her to protect the ones she loves rather than just sit back and be protected, and with reports that Enju and Rurijo are back in town, it looks like this was a lesson learned just in time...
For every magical girl, there comes a moment when she must realize that she has to rise above herself. Whether that moment comes when she finally makes a wish, realizes her past, or accepts who she truly is, it is a powerful one and arguably the most important step on her journey. That particular road has been a bit meandering in the case of Arina Tanemura's Princess Sakura, as she learned of her powers early on and seemed to be competently fighting alongside her teammates previous to this point. With the revelation of Aoba's secret, however, she comes to see that as the magical girl it is up to her to be the one on the front lines, not just helping her friends, but hopefully keeping them from harm as well. This moment has been nine volumes in coming, and since there aren't that many books left (the series ends at twelve), one could argue that it needed rather more pomp than it gets. However the important thing here is that Sakura has had the revelation and with news that Enju and Rurijo are back, this can only be a good thing.
Sakura herself is actually the least visible character in this volume of Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura. She takes the lead role in the first chapter and parts of the third, but ultimately the first half of the book belongs to Aoba and the second to Hayate. Aoba finally reveals his vulnerability, both physical and emotional, here, and if nothing else it serves to make him a more interesting character than he has heretofore been, taking him out of the role of “cookie cutter shoujo male lead” to someone we actually want to root for. Previously as readers our only interest in Aoba's well being was because Sakura cares for him; now we also have an emotional stake in his fate. However he, too, pales in comparison to the later chapters about Hayate. Up until now, Hayate has been played for comic relief – mistakenly turned into a frog by Kohaku, he nonetheless pines over her in a humorous fashion and is drawn as a funny looking pseudo-frog wearing a scarf. Tanemura has done some more serious things with him on the one day a month when he can resume his human life, but by and large he's been a third-tier character, on par with Chocola in Time Stranger Kyoko. In this volume's final two chapters, however, we get to see him as a person, and his interactions with others make not only him more human, but does the same for those he speaks with as well. Because of this, volume nine has one of the strongest cliffhanger closings of the series thus far, making us wish that the single month that separated this volume's release from its sequel in Japan was also the case here.
Generally speaking, Arina Tanemura's freetalks can be on the rambling and slightly annoying side, but this volume's provides a little unintentional humor with Tanemura proclaiming she prefers drawing this or that character because their designs do not call for screentone. (“Lady, you did it to yourself,” the sarcastic reader may say.) This volume does in fact contain copious amounts of gray space in various patterns and designs, which should not bother those familiar with Tanemura's style, although in a few cases they do distract from the lovely whiplash lines of her artwork. The book's most powerful scene makes excellent use of the aforementioned line style with a female character breaking the surface of the water; Ariel only wishes she looked so graceful. Regretfully there is one terribly misshaped leg in another scene that detracts from the overall charm of Tanemura's artwork, but overall fans of her extravagant, flowery style should not be disappointed.
As is the norm for recent Tanemura volumes, two pages of four panel funnies are included with the added bonus that they are actually funny. There are no short stories this time and two pages drawn by assistants round out the volume's content. Overall it manages to be a very good read with the stakes getting higher for those Sakura loves and a very real new threat to contend with surfacing at the last minute. Old villains return in new guises to keep the story moving along, and when that is added to Sakura's moment of realization, things are shaping up for a very exciting final three volumes.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Lovely use of lines, focus on Aoba and Hayate helps move the story forward in more than one way. Return of old villains is promising.
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