Basara 23 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
War will determine who wins control of Japan—but the bonds of love and loyalty will decide the nation’s future. As the battle reaches its climax, will Shuri pursue his destiny as king or trust Sarasa’s dream of democracy? When placed on the throne of Kyoto, will Asagi turn on Sarasa? And when Sarasa is forced to choose between her love for Shuri and her loyalty to her comrades, can she make the right decision?

While the last volume left me stunned at its conclusion, this one made me a bit sniffly in its opening chapter. So much was conveyed in Shuri’s eyes as he realized that Tatara was defending him against Hagiwara’s forces.

A great deal of import happened in this volume. I really liked the flashbacks to earlier volumes when the characters are facing something momentous; it reinforced the epic scope of the work. I also loved that some of Tatara’s oldest allies had serious issues with the outcome of the battle, and were still wanting to exact revenge upon the Red King. And I loved that Asagi emerged as an unconsidered complication—no neat and tidy ending, even though our two protagonists were no longer fighting each other.

In addition to the story goodness, there were also more fun bits. As if just for me, there were a couple of side panels starring Motomichi! There was also a great panel where Nakijin and Nachi both thought of pineapples as they espied the other’s hair. It’s possible that gag has been used before, but it still amused me.

Basara 22 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
As war breaks out in Kyoto, Taro races to warn Sarasa about Project Pomegranate, a secret plan launched by Hagiwara. But a traitor has betrayed Taro to the Yaro-Gumi, Kyoto’s feared elite police force. With the truth of Project Pomegranate still a mystery, the forces of Sarasa and the Red King ride into battle against one another, not realizing that in doing so, they play into Hagiwara’s hands!

*Stunned silence.*

Wow. I have not been so surprised by anything I’ve read in a long time. I think my heart literally went “thud” in the last chapter of this volume.

Aside from delivering a truly extraordinary shock, the story also manages to touch upon each of the subplots launched a couple of volumes ago. Taro’s comes to a close, and there’s more of Asagi and his angst. The biggest deal, though, is that it’s finally revealed what Shuri’s been up to in taking over the royal army forces. This last isn’t completely unexpected, but is still cool. There’s much more than this, as well, including characters taking risks for their friends, moments of personal sacrifice, and scenes of affectionate camaraderie.

I also really enjoyed the art in this volume. There was a real sense of the breadth of the battlefield and the various skirmishes. Tamura also draws some of the cutest babies. I don’t even like babies, but manga babies always manage to amuse me, especially drooling Motomichi.

Basara 21 by Yumi Tamura: A

From the back cover:
Allies from all over are gathering at Tatara’s base camp in preparation for a massive assault. meanwhile, Shuri has a plan to establish his authority in Kyoto and deplete his rivals’ funds. On a reconnaissance mission, Taro finds information crucial to the war effort. All the while, a battle between Tatara and Shuri is imminent!

Political maneuvering abounds! It’s all done well, though, and I like that, in addition to their conflict against each other, Shuri and Tatara are both being targeted by a scheming nobleman. The battle starts here, but doesn’t truly get underway just yet. The real story is the nobleman’s trap going into action. I really like how Taro’s mistress and his treatment of her fit into the story, too.

Shuri’s intentions are still a mystery, and he also assigns a task to one of his underlings to do if he should die in battle, though its nature isn’t revealed. Sarasa has truly taken on the Tatara persona and seems much more at ease in command than at any time I can recall. She has grown confident in the leadership role and put her personal turmoil aside for the cause. What an awesome shoujo heroine.

One thing I didn’t mention last time is that Viz is now including a character list at the beginning of each volume that’s very helpful. Also good are the little maps included along the way showing you where the main characters are in relation to each other (even though there was a mistake on one of these).

Basara 20 by Yumi Tamura: A

From the back cover:
A curfew law has been passed by Kyoto to suppress the rebellion. Sarasa’s ally Ageha seeks to destroy King Ukon’s senior officials, while Asagi, the real Blue King, gains Sarasa’s trust and leads a daring assault. But while Sarasa and her forces are gaining ground, their enemies’ secret plan could turn the tide against them!

What an exciting volume! Tamura launches about five different subplots and manages all effectively. No story gets slighted, and I like that Tatara is kept abreast of happenings in the storylines for other characters. It also seems to be the beginning of the final arc, so all of the allies accumulated along the way reappear (albeit a little cheesily) and Sarasa resolves to maintain her Tatara guise to the fullest so that any indecision she feels about facing the Red King won’t imperil those whose lives she is responsible for.

I particularly enjoy the subplot for Asagi, who is caught between the sister who raised him (wanting him to lure Sarasa into a trap) and the boisterous camaraderie of Sarasa’s forces, which gives him something he has sorely lacked all his life. Interesting too is Shuri’s decision to become King Ukon’s successor and take command of the Royal Army. I’m sure he’s not gone evil, but it seems that he and Sarasa are each determined to pursue change in their own way and, to remain true to those following them, might end up trying to kill each other before this is over. Awesome stuff.

Basara 19 by Yumi Tamura: B+

From the back cover:
Sarasa is engaged in a naval battle with the Royal fleet, but dolphin suicide torpedoes are being deployed against her Shikoku allies to devastating effect. Hiiragi’s assassins infiltrate Sarasa’s Suzaku flagship as she and her crew are pushed to extremes. (Spoilery sentence omitted.)

If you’re like me, you got about half a sentence through that and went, “… Dolphin… suicide torpedoes?!” Alas, it was just as dumb as it seems. It wasn’t the only slightly lame plot device, either. I think in a few spots Tamura-sensei must’ve just needed something to happen and contrived to make it so, no matter how clunky the result.

Quite a few important or significant things happened in this volume. I only hope I’m able to remember them when volume 20 comes around, as I continue to be fuzzy on details of things that happened only a volume or so ago. It doesn’t help that sometimes things happen so suddenly that one is kind of puzzling how it got to that point so quickly.

Shuri doesn’t appear much, and when he did, it made me realize how much I’ve missed seeing him. He and Sarasa need to reunite soon, durnit, but I like how Tamura handles some of the complications of that event arising.

Basara 18 by Yumi Tamura: A-

From the back cover:
Born under a prophecy that will liberate and unite Japan, Sarasa has had to take her brother Tatara’s place as the “Boy of Destiny.” Fighting for the oppressed, Sarasa journeys across Japan to gain allies and defeat her enemies—all while keeping her identity a secret!

While in Kyoto, Shuri runs into his beloved sister, the Great Sister of White, as well as his old teacher and rival, Hiiragi. Sarasa continues to form alliances and gain strength. Although Sarasa and Shuri are apart, they remain close in each other’s hearts. Meanwhile, someone wants Shuri dead—but who?

I really love this series, and a lot of important stuff happens plot-wise in this volume. I think all of the main players are at least glimpsed, but I find myself forgetting who the peripheral ones are. Like, oh that dude with the reporter and the desert nomad looks familiar. But who the heck is it?! This isn’t the story’s fault, though. Just my faulty memory unable to remember stuff from the past.

Shuri is more the star here, orchestrating some important things that were cleverly executed (reminding me of The Queen of Attolia, actually) and demonstrating again his growth as he realizes what makes a true leader. The timeline is a little confusing, though. The way it’s drawn makes it appear as if Shuri and Tatara are doing things concurrently, but actually, it seems Shuri’s events are happening a few days before Tatara’s are, although Tatara’s segments seem to be shown first. It all works out in the end, though.

The pivotal events in this volume seem to set the stage for some big snowballing in the final volumes. I’m curious to see how it all comes down, and even more looking forward to a reread straight through all the volumes in the hopes that I’ll be better able to remember everything!