I'm also soooo behind on my manga reviews, but this should make up for it a little bit.
Author: Rinko Ueda
Title: Tail of the Moon
Release period: 2006-2009
Publisher: VIZ Media
Reading level: FICTION – JUVENILE: Historical, Romance, Adventure
Pages: around 200 pages in each volume
Availability: Should be available with big sellers
Sometimes it seems like Usagi is hopeless. Sure, she's good with healing herbs, but she's the granddaughter of the leader of a prestigious ninja village and she's such a klutz that she's never made it out of the kiddie class. Finally frustrated with Usagi's lack of progress, her grandfather sends her to marry a local lord and have lots of ninja babies. But the lord has no interest in her or her child bearing potential! After years of goofing around, Usagi is finally determined to reach her goals--she's going to become a ninja and capture her true love's heart!
Historical shoujo manga, and what I mean here is, with minimum fantasy elements and realistic as possible, isn’t in any way rare, but such manga seldom gets translated into English. I can at the top of my head name Kaze Hikaru (Japan), Red River (Anatolia), A Bride’s Story (Central Asia), Emma (England) and that’s it (there are of course more, but I just can’t remember any others). What makes the situation sadder is that historical shoujo manga isn’t as popular as it should be (how many people actually read or even know the four manga I just mentioned?). One reason for the low demand would be, I gather, the fact that the setting is Japan and, thus, it is foreign for a Western reader to fully understand or know anything about the details of Japanese history, but most (non fantasy) historical shoujo is in fact set somewhere in Europe, other or is very European in style, for example somewhat going to the last group, is Rinko Ueda’s other manga Stepping on Roses, which, unfortunately, is extremely soap opera-ish and melodramatic for my taste, but also, surprisingly, seems to be quite well read and well received compared to other historical shoujo. This is all, of course, understandable, but I for one wouldn’t protest if more shoujo with the background like Tail of the Moon’s could get green-lit.
The story basically follows the life of an amateur ninja (or kunoichi for female ninja) Usagi, who is pretty hopeless for most of the series and quite unbearable at times, though she is, as it turns out, a skilled medicine maker and catnip for guy (the small, cute and innocent act seems to really be raking it up). Her mission set by her grandfather is to have the children of a young, talented and respectable ninja leader Hattori Hanzo. Needless to say, there is a clash, because he’s simply way out of her league. Between rivals for the attention of either side (a really frequent and annoying shoujo cliché), turbulent political times, dangerous ninja missions, side stories, assassination plots, your usual couple miscommunication troubles, Usagi’s failure at being a successful kunoichi, etc, the couple of course falls in love.
This is a very action-packed and fast-paced manga with something happening all the time. But as with Stepping on Roses, I feel that there is too much drama at times, which comes at you with full force one incident/person/topic after another without any real breaks. For example, one guy is introduced and vying for Usagi’s attention, after things get more or less settled, someone else becomes a rival to Hanzo. I do, however, think that this manga excels at balancing the action and romance, not forgetting the latter amidst all the trouble and constant hindrances for our couple. The manga doesn’t forget that it’s essentially still drawn for girls despite the setting, so the love story part is strong and constantly at least on the semi-foreground. Also, in spite of Usagi falling for Hanzo quite quick and for seemingly shallow reasons, the actual coming together and the course of the romance is somewhat of a slow burn. There is always something coming between them and rather than it being annoying and stalling, I appreciated the wait and the further development these obstacles enabled their budding relationship.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Usagi, even though, she didn’t turn out to be as useless and as klutzy a troublemaker as I concluded during the first volumes. She had her charming sides, but her type of heroine, the innocent girl who everyone falls for, who is whiney, often messes everything up, being more of a burden who needs things done and saved often, and who is just bothersome with her bright eyes and naïve attitude, is not someone whose adventures I fully enjoy following. Still, she was an eager learner and volume after volume she became less of a strain to others and in the end I almost respected her, almost.
Hanzo was supposed to be all manly, brave, talented, serious and a true leader, but what made him actually attractive was his minor dorky side. There were several adorably funny snippets where he is shy, surprised, blushing, innocent, jealous, etc. Those glimpses were what made him more than a cardboard hunky hero. Amongst the various side characters I definitely have to mention Memezo, Usagi's little "brother," who was simply ridiculously squishy, cute, huggable, so hardworking and a small grownup (even more mature than Usagi at times). I especially loved his time and care for all his animal pals.
While the manga is fun and wacky and goes from one crazy situation to another, as I mentioned before, it might be somewhat difficult for Western readers to fully grasp the manga, especially due to the real life historical side. The story takes place during the Warring States period in Japan and thus, there are several historical figures from the infamous Oda Nobunaga to the supportive and kind Tokugawa Ieyasu to the hero Hattori Hanzo himself also having the same name as an actual famous ninja from that time, making appearances or even appearing as minor and major characters to the plot. I’m quite sure regular readers of shojou manga have no idea who and what all these important people, places and happenings are. Then again, not knowing that, for example, that the man whom Usagi helps is Akechi Mitsuhide, an actual person who once existed, doesn’t necessarily hinder in understanding what’s going on and, thus, it doesn’t leave any gaps for the reader. The extra knowledge would enricher the reading experience, but it isn’t vital.
The emphasis of the art of this manga is mostly on drawing the characters and the background is quite simplistic and not primary in any way. The faces of the characters are detailed, especially for the males, and boy are most of them drawn oh-so pretty looking. The author has this specific look to her men, so I’m quite confident that I can spot her work from a huge bunch. As a fault, I can conclude that, when taking away the hairstyle, the characters look very much the same (but this is nothing new in manga). From the amount of dialogue and different panels on pages, the manga falls somewhere in the middle, with some pages being cluttered with text and various action, but others being quite bare with one panel taking up the whole page. There was, however, quite a bit of humour, colourful and quirky characterization moments, all quite irrelevant of course, in smaller dialogue clouds and panels amongst the main storyline ones or in those panels in smaller size, that could easily be overlooked, but I found many of them hilarious. They were also somewhat responsible for making Hanzo so adorably dorky with his comments and outbursts.
If you like historical, action-packed, on the longer side (with 15 volumes) and with romance full of hindrances manga with a naïve and bothersome heroine, who does improve her ways by a mile and you can follow her in this progress, then this series is for you!
More covers from the manga: