Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u), by Rinko Ueda, is a perfect reader test taste for the 15 volume series proper. Ueda weaves humor, danger, fun, silliness and romance in almost equal parts, and in order to enjoy the story one has to embrace the unexpected shifts in tone that I argue never feel forced or manipulative.
Stealing (or if we are being kind, borrowing?) a review strategy from fellow blogger, Michelle Smith, I'll let the back cover text speak for the plot of the book itself:
Kaguya doesn't remember who she is or why she has a huge scar on her back. Six months ago, she was found injured and unconscious in a field of bamboo. Now she works as a housekeeper and babysitter at a brothel, living her new life simply as "Kaguya."
Kaguya's real identity is entwined with two men--Hanzou, a handsome bodyguard of Okazaki Castle, and Hanzo, a leader of the ninja village of Iga. Between amnesia and mistaken identity, no one knows for sure what kind of person Kaguya is. Only her distinctive scar will lead her to the truth...
I know, an amnesia plot, right?! Well, so what. Ueda manages to take classic manipulative shojo plots and somehow make them palatable. Back when I was more snobby about shojo manga, I rejected Tail of the Moon because it did seem so...incredibly silly, I guess. After all, it is a historical tale set in the Tensho Era (1579), but honestly, a lot of liberties have been taken with historical accuracy. For the most part, I had a hard time reconciling the fact that everyone and their sister could elect to train to be ninjas, and yet were still expected to pop out half a dozen children at the same time. Well, strange gender politics aside, I found that Ueda's take on mix and matching traditional romance conventions was surprisingly appealing.
You can't take the plots or the creator's attempts to portray an historical era in Tail of the Moon too seriously -- it really is meant to be an engrossing pop romance. Take the prequel, for example: Sara ends up as a servant at a brothel without the first clue how or why she got there. Only a huge scar on her back acts as a hint of her real identity and darker past, and, of course, makes her too "ugly" to work as prostitute. She ends up falling in love with the town flirt, Hanzou...who just happens to be the man who gave her that scar in battle. Now, not only do we have an amnesia plot to contend with, we also have star crossed lovers! No cliche is left unturned and I think once you embrace the cliches, you learn to just go along for the ride and enjoy the story as pure, funny, and in its own way, highly romantic, fluff.
Review Copy provided by Viz Media.