Sakura Gari by Yuu WataseWhat I liked about it: The story and art are fantastic.
What I did not like about it: The ending. Too many questions.
Sakura Gari (or "Cherry Blossom Hunting" if you prefer) is by Yuu Watase, and that should tell you how good it is. She's at the top of the list of shojo creators, along with InuYasha's Rumiko Takahashi and Sailor Moon's Naoko Takeuchi. I love her art, she makes her males look appealing and strong, and her females smart and resilient.
The story revolves around Masataka, a student trying to find room and board in the city while he studies for university entrance exams. He ends up taken in by the Saiki family, particularly the young master Souma. Souma starts to develop feelings for Masataka, but hits a brick wall when Masataka finds out that Souma sleeps with just about anything that moves. Fearful that he might lose Masataka, Souma snaps and rapes him. The story continues from there, going into Souma's life and troubles and his efforts to keep Masataka by his side.
That being said, going from Watase's fairy tale-like Fushigi Yugi to Sakura Gari is quite a shock. Sakura Gari is a BL title after all. This was the first male-male manga I ever read, and looking back on it, I can say it is one of the tamest. There is quite a bit of rape throughout the three volumes, but you never see anything more than breasts or buttocks (which you can see in any shojo manga). Judging from the kanji, the series is marketed towards the older shojo crowd instead of the josei housewife audience. Simple kanji like "place" and "love" are given the helper text, so you know they're trying to get some junior high girls reading this.
I am a fan of all love, be it between same or opposite sex couples. The romance here is mostly between the male characters, but you get a sense that the characters are above sexual orientation. Souma is shown to sleep with men and women alike, and Masataka comes off as disinterested in romance.
The characterization really makes the story appealing. Tragic events are given logical origins, and there are real world psychological factors behind each character's actions. For example, we find out rather quickly that Souma is half-European, and his treatment as both an outsider and an object of beauty really gets to him. Watase really worked on this, I can tell.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and my problem lies with the ending. We don't get a satisfying conclusion. If an ending raises multiple questions, then I consider it sloppy. It's just like the end of Model. What happened? You threw that curve and just stopped? Did he hit it or miss, we need to know these things!
Unfortunately for most people, the series has not been brought to America and thus can't be read with a clean conscience. I had to buy the Japanese volumes through an Asian bookstore, though I'm glad I did because they are the nicest manga release I've ever owned. Hardcover, large size, and beautiful color lead-ins. You would think Digital Manga would jump all over this series, since they could get more sales for their June line. But I guess it's just too mature for the "yaoi fangirl" they cater to.
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