Basara 25 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
Sarasa has led her army to victory, faced down King Ukon, and won the hearts and minds of her people. Now, in the final hours of battle, her actions—and Shuri’s—will decide Japan’s ultimate fate. Sarasa began her quest in Tatara’s shadow. The time has come for her to step into the light, speak her real name, and accept her true destiny as the woman who will lead Japan into a new age of peace and freedom!

Plus two bonus stories!

I admit it: I cried. At things happy, sad, and both at once. I’ve invested three years in this series and can happily say that it was worth it. I’m not going to give any details on how things go down, so suffice it to say that the ending is very satisfying. I must’ve reread the last few pages three times to savor all that Sarasa had accomplished.

Neither of the bonus stories was silly this time around, which was a good thing, as it would’ve been a jarring juxtaposition with the main story. The first one was pretty good and was all about the White King’s miserable life. It also answered some questions about Asagi as well as revealing King Ukon’s eventual fate. The second one was about Ageha’s adolescence and was very sad. I was teary again by the end of it.

Basara is probably the best manga I have ever read. Thanks, Viz, for taking a chance on it.

Basara 24 by Yumi Tamura: A+

From the back cover:
As the war for Japan rages on, the battle reaches the Royal Castle itself. Sarasa penetrates the castle’s defenses to confront the traitorous Asagi. Shuri, wounded and crippled, pursues Sarasa even though the chase may kill him. Ageha descends into a labyrinth beneath the castle to stop a deadly mechanism designed to destroy them all. And King Ukon, now a pathetic, desperate shell of a ruler, grimly awaits Tatara’s arrival!

This was another action-packed volume, as the four most important characters found themselves in jeopardy of some kind or another. There were a few things I didn’t quite get in this volume, like what exactly Sarasa meant when she said she’d choose Asagi over Shuri, and the White King’s motives were a little unclear, but there was enough really good stuff to make up for those small problems.

I liked that I genuinely felt anxiety over the safety of Asagi and Ageha, because either of their deaths would be a poignant one, though it doesn’t seem likely that either of the two romantic leads will die. There was also a surprise revelation about Asagi’s past that was pretty cool. I look forward to seeing if it changes his outlook on life at all.

Some fun bonus material rounded out the volume, including some four-panel strips and a chapter that reimagined this series as something akin to Hana-Kimi, with Sarasa sneaking into a boys’ dorm disguised as her brother to find out who was responsible for defenestrating him. I also loved the sidebar section (in the middle of a serious chapter) where an off-camera rock comes and beans the villain who’s currently being profiled.

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.

Hana-Kimi 21 by Hisaya Nakajo: B+

From the back cover:
Love is in the air at Osaka High School—bittersweet and true, as Nakao confesses his feelings for Minami, and Noe receives a Valentine’s Day chocolate from a girl. While the whole gang goes to the bowling alley, Mizuki finds some time alone with Sano. How much longer can she pretend to be a boy? How much longer can she hide who she is… and who she loves?

Finally! Confessions! Smooching! A puppy!

The balance between romance and slice of life was well done in this volume. See, I don’t mind a few chapters where the gang hangs out and does something, as long as the story is also making progress at the same time. Therefore, the bowling bit was pretty cute, since there was romantic tension between Sano and Mizuki throughout.

I shan’t spoil how everything goes down, but Chapter 125 is the high point of the volume. The last one is also very good, but it ends on a bizarre note, with Mizuki deciding to get trained in karate completely out of the blue. I have a bad feeling that this is only so her gender can get accidentally discovered in the next volume (according to the previews), which is lame. I hate when an author forces a character to do something without any real motivation just to fit how the plot is supposed to go. Sigh.

Hana-Kimi 20 by Hisaya Nakajo: B

From the back cover:
Nakatsu’s mom is in town, and she has plans for her son: she wants him to go home after graduation to take care of the family business! Will Nakatsu give up his dreams of becoming a star soccer player? Meanwhile, another student at Osaka High School prepares to put his heart on the line. Nakao confesses his love to upperclassman Minami… but can Minami really have feelings for another boy?

I actually enjoyed this volume far more than I expected to, since Nakatsu’s mother stuck around for about half of it. There was absolutely no risk of Nakatsu actually giving up his dreams, so this was really just filler, but it did serve some purposes. Firstly, we got to see Nakatsu as a kid and learn about some silly stuff he did, which was amusing. Secondly, though, Sano noted Nakatsu and Mizuki spending time together, and finally asked what’s up, thereby learning of Nakatsu’s love confession.

Despite the anticipation the blurb tries to manufacture, there was also absolutely no chance that Minami was going to return Nanao’s feelings. What was interesting, though, was that Nanao was fully aware of this, but didn’t want to lose his last opportunity to let Minami know how he felt, even if he knew he’d be rejected. I really liked the actual scene of the confession, and how sad Minami looked to have to respond as he did; it was my favorite chapter in the volume.

So… hopefully Nanao’s example will inspire Mizuki to do something soon. Sano already dropped one hint that he knows she’s a girl, and there’s only three volumes left!

Hana-Kimi 19 by Hisaya Nakajo: C

From the back cover:
This is what it’s all been building up to… Shin, Izumi, and Kagurazaka* compete against one another in the high jump! Then, Sekime gets his own moment in the spotlight when his classmates see him with a strange girl. But if we’re talking “strange,” she doesn’t even begin to compare to the woman who comes onto campus and sweeps an embarrassed Nakatsu off his feet… Nakatsu’s mother!

* Name spelled incorrectly on actual cover.

Meh. I didn’t like this volume very much.

The first couple of chapters weren’t bad. They wrapped up the track meet arc and included some cute moments between the Sano brothers and also some nice art during the meet itself. I could’ve done without Shin having feelings for Mizuki, though.

The third chapter, however, sucks! The rehash of the “Mizuki is anxious about her future” plot certainly wasn’t exciting, but the worst was when Nakajo decided to have her characters spout random anti-drinking and anti-smoking messages with no IC basis for doing so. The next chapter didn’t improve much, with Sekime inspiring some girl to have surgery because he decided to follow his dream of being a long distance runner. I am not making this up.

The last two chapters also weren’t very good, since Nakatsu’s mother is annoying, and all of a sudden there was the possibility he’ll be compelled to go back to Osaka which nobody in their right mind should believe will actually happen. Zero drama there, folks.

About the only thing of significance to happen was that Mizuki acknowledged that pretty soon she’ll have to go back to being a girl. And Nakatsu grew frustrated with watching Sano and Mizuki not acting on their feelings, so maybe he’ll do something in the future to help them get together. Let’s hope so.

Hana-Kimi 18 by Hisaya Nakajo: B-

From the back cover:
Under his father’s disapproving eyes, Sano faces his own brother in a high-jump competition! Then, a schoolwide treasure hunt turns into a grudge match between Kayashima and his self-proclaimed rival, Modoru the onmyouji, a traditional Japanese occultist. Will psychic powers or black magic prevail? But Modoru has something else on his side: the power of cuteness!

That has to be one of the least promising blurbs in the history of mankind. (Incidentally, the “power of cuteness” turned out to be two ferret-like spirit creatures, which was at least better than Modoru himself attempting to influence things by his own cuteness.)

The structure of this volume was annoying, with the first two and final two chapters dealing with ongoing plot stuff (Nakatsu’s confession to Mizuki and Sano’s family issues) and the middle three being occupied by a completely pointless treasure hunt that was clearly only there just to delay the resolution to the cliffhanger ending from chapter 99 (will Sano go visit his dad in the hospital?). I’m not even sure whether it was supposed to take place before or after the other stuff. I do like Kayashima, though; I’d probably read a manga just about him.

Anyway, the volume picks up immediately where the last left off, and I liked how Mizuki handled Nakatsu’s confession. I worried she’d decide to go out with him for a few volumes, or that Sano would conveniently observe them and misunderstandings would ensue, but neither of these things happened. She rejected him and spent the rest of the relevant bits of the volume trying not to feel uncomfortable around him.

The bit in which she propels a family reconciliation also didn’t happen as expected. She nudges Sano to visit his father when an ulcer sends him to the hospital, and cutely waits just inside the dorm until his return, but doesn’t take as active a part as I expected and would’ve been rather annoyed by.

The plot stuff was good, and the volume as a whole would’ve received a better grade had this main story been allowed to unfold uninterrupted by filler.