Watase branches out

Sometimes information comes your way that forces you to set aside your best-laid plans, you know? I had thought about doing a Friday piece rounding up feedback from last week’s call-out for Kodansha requests, but a comment from JennyN (or “the French Connection,” as I like to think of her) has put that on hold:

“Three volumes in French translation so far, and quite unlike anything else she’s ever done. For one thing it’s straight-out yaoi, and for another it has a historical rather than fantasy setting – Japan immediately after WWI i.e. the Taisho period which is also the setting for the “real-world” episodes of FUSHIGI YUGI LEGEND OF GEMBU. (I’d guess that this is something of a personal fascination for Watase, just as 19th-century Germany and Austria seem to be for Yuu Higuri).”

The “she” in this case is Yuu Watase, the wildly popular shôjo manga-ka who has also dabbled in shônen. But seriously, Watase is doing yaoi? Watase, who always seems to include some unnerving psycho-sexual undertones in even her fluffiest romantic comedies? Who wouldn’t at least be curious about that?

So what do we know about Sakura-Gari? Its three volumes were serialized in Shogakukan’s josei magazine, Rinka, and it’s being published in French by Tonkam. Here’s my attempt at a translation of the French volume descriptions. Volume one:

“Masataka Tagami goes up to the capital to succeed, he enters into the service of the Saiki family to finance his studies. While becoming the family’s majordomo, Masataka will plunge in the middle of the schemes of this strange family whose beautiful eldest son exerts an irresistible attraction on all those around him!”

Volume two:

“Since the incident of the library, Masakata is tortured and reluctant to leave the Saiki residence. But he learns that his brother is involved in debt to gangsters. He reluctantly accepts the bargain that Soma proposes to him: if Masakata remains near him and agrees to become his plaything, Soma will give him the money Masakata needs.”

Volume three:

“After the tragic events visited upon Masataka, Soma is gripped with remorse. He will do anything to avenge his friend and to try to make Masataka forget his painful past. Of course, the pile of bodies around the Saiki family sparking suspicions among the police force, but that matters little to Sora…”

Okay, so it sounds like fairly standard, coercion-friendly period smut, but it’s Watase doing full-on same-sex romance. Someone needs to get on this right away.

18 Responses to Watase branches out

  1. Yes, it’s full-on-same-sex romance.
    And no, it’s not a standard period smut.

    This is a dark story, with a lot of suspense, some rape and a lot of drama. A pretty serious and well staged train-wreck.Aside from that, it’s not very sexually explicit but there is a lot of violence.

    I do not like Watase Yuu’s shoujos but I quite enjoyed this manga; it is very different from what she has done so far. There is nothing that can be considered cute in this story.

  2. miz says:

    Definitely would agree that it is a dark story. It was never translated when I looked through it, so I gave it back to my friend. So far I know she owns the series though.

    I agree with being surprised by Watase Yuu even doing a dark yaoi. I am not fond of her shoujo as well.

    • I tried to suggest it to DMP but somehow I doubt they would license it soon, unless it was the 801 line; there is not only rape but also incest here.

      It is dark but truly beautiful.

  3. judi(togainunochi) says:

    All I can say is “Wah!”, we should get this. Sounds perfect for 801. Campaign anyone??

  4. Danielle Leigh says:

    Yeah, I would say there’s nothing “standard” here. I bought the first volume in Japanese way back on a 2008 trip to LA and even the Japanese volume is just beautifully put together (hard-cover, larger size than standard manga).

    Where to begin…the characters are tortured, but not in even a vaguely “oh I recognize this from a thousand other ‘dark’ yaoi fantasies.” And that’s because this book is not a fantasy but a nightmare. Rape is depicted as a terrible thing but it’s also shown how terrible it is when someone you trust, admire and even love, rapes you. The “plaything” comment on the French cover annoys the crap out of me because it makes it seem like the abuse in the book is supposed to be “sexy.” And maybe it does walk that line at certain points…but it comes hand in hand with the loss of innocence, and not just sexual innocence.

    This is an amazing work and the only Watase I’d really liked outside of Genbu. I can’t imagine we’ll ever see it here — dark yaoi is okay here if it’s “stupid” but god forbid we see emotional complexity in how over-used yaoi tropes are deployed in manga to a new and startling effect.

  5. JRB says:

    It’s a Shogakukan license, which seems to be an insurmountable problem for non-Viz publishers which don’t have Matt Thorn on their side. I’m a bit surprised that the French edition is being published by Tonkam rather than Asuka, considering that Asuka is co-owned by Shogakukan and has a healthy yaoi arm with a number of equally dark titles.

  6. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    Wow, I had absolutely no idea about this. Considering Fushigi Yuugi was one of my gateway drugs into anime/manga (even though I progressively lost interest in Watase’s subsequent work with each thing I read), I absolutely *need* this. “Dark”, “complex” yaoi? I’m sold. (For some reason the comments here almost make me think of Hagio’s Cruel God Reigns, though the comparison probably isn’t really apt).

    I know what to add to my list the next time I order some French manga. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

      Interestingly, there seem to be hardcover and paperback editions of the French translation (the paperbacks coming out a half year or so later–vol 3 isn’t out till Feb in paperback). The paperback ones being about half the price on amazon.fr

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I said the exact same thing! I mean, it’s probably Yuu Watase’s attempt at A Cruel God Reigns, which is no guarantee that it will be anywhere near as artistically successful or complex as Moto Hagio’s, but that’s setting the bar really, really high, and it sounds like Watase acquitted herself beautifully.

  7. judi(togainunochi) says:

    If I order through Amazon.fr it will cost $58.04 for vol.1,2. I think I will have to wait awhile. That’s a little pricey for me at this time. =(

  8. JennyN says:

    >>(or “the French Connection,” as I like to think of her)<<

    …and my self-image whizzes into orbit, coming back to earth as an Audrey Hepburn clone sitting outside a Left Bank cafe in oversize sunglasses and a black leather jacket, breaking out a pack of Gaulois while waiting for my contact from the Quai d'Orsay! Seriously, David, I think that's the nicest thing (or at least the most ego-enhancing thing) anyone's ever said of me.

    Oh, and glad you like the sound of SAKURA-GARI. For anyone thinking of acquiring the French edition, the hardback clearly attempts to reproduce the Japanese with a beautifully printed cover and internal colour pages – would definitely be one to keep.

    Must be off now – leaving for an unknown destination via the Gare du Nord…

    • davidpwelsh says:

      See, this is exactly how I see you… head scarf, oversize sunglasses, and Givenchy, sliding a perfect-bound edition of Rose of Versailles into your shoulder bag on the train platform as you dodge the agents of bad taste and join Cary Grant for greyhounds in the club car.

  9. HelenS says:

    There is also a German version out, but only two volumes so far.

  10. Nikki says:

    Hmm Watase attempting a Cruel God Reigns? A bit like that, but it certainly is completely different from anything Watase has done before, and her art in this one is gorgeous… It’s like she leveled up just to do sakura gari.

    I must say, reading it, i felt like i was reading a Yukio Mishima… only its a manga!

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