March 16, 2010

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Basara Volume 3

Written by Yumi Tamura
Illustrated by Yumi Tamura
Viz

Sarasa tries to adapt her plans for carrying out her brother's legacy after the shocking blow dealt to it at the end of the second volume. But can even her determination save her in the face of yet another danger--pirates?

Meanwhile, the Red King plots Tatara's demise and uses every resource at his disposal to stop this threat before it gets worse. As he tries to keep his lands intact and safe from foreign invasion, another problem presents itself. Can this new threat be worse than Tarara?

I'd been enjoying this series well enough so far, but it's with this book that I'm hooked. Tamura has crafted a story that is compelling and suspenseful, and those dual hooks really dug into me as a reader over the course of this volume.

As this volume progresses, Sarasa is doubting herself less and less, which shows strong progression as a character. She is ready to risk herself to save the lives of others, as she has in the past. But now, there is a strength we haven't seen before that allows Sarasa to win almost on sheer willpower alone. This is not a shojo heroine in distress--this is a main character with a mission and after all she goes through here, it seems like she might pull it off, after all.

As Sarasa becomes more confident, the Red King grows structurally weaker, making him more of a sympathetic character. The power of the two must be a zero sum game for this story to work, and I think Tamura understands that. Thus we see him overplaying his hand here, and I think we're only just at the beginning of the fallout from his overestimation of his own strength.

It doesn't hurt that in the process of making these adjustments to our two main characters that we get to see a bit more into the life of the supporting cast. Shido's unflinching pride matches well with the Red King, making him the perfect underling. As we understand the Red King's relationship to him, through the eyes of his wife, the entire picture gets better. Similarly, giving Sarasa a female role model in the leader of the pirates not only expands her as a character, but gives us another interesting person to focus on. It's a win-win situation for both the reader and the story as a whole.

One of the things I didn't like about the first two volumes was the slim cast. With this volume, it looks like we're fleshing things out more, and I think that's a good thing. Now that we have more players, there's a chance to learn a bit more about Ageha, Hayato, Kaku, and whoever else Tamura wishes to feature, just by having them interact with each other. I hope this trend continues.

As far as the plot development goes, it's hard to argue with the inclusion of pirates, as they make everything better. I know there was a ship on the cover, but I didn't really think about adding the scourge of the seven seas into the mix. It's a nice touch that we have a world that's got both pirates and a desert in it. I also like the way the foreign powers are still mysterious, despite getting to meet them briefly. There's plenty of time to explore them later, but getting a taste of what's out there--literally--is part of what sold me on this series.

I also appreciate that Tamura is playing fair with the reader in terms of the adventures Sarasa has and the potential problems of the way the Red King has structured his power. The former faces long odds, but they are not set up as impossible. Thus, if she wins, I won't feel like the author had to go outside the bounds of the story to make it work.

Similarly, the Red King's power base is shown to be as shifting as the sand he's built it on, if he is not careful. While we know he is capable of keeping it all together--the ending scene is proof enough of this--it would not be unreasonable to expect him to fall, either. On the other hand, if he does win, there's plenty of evidence to show why. I really like how Tamura strikes this balance for our opposing sides. It's a tug of war that the reader wants to see come to a resolution. I know it's going to keep me reading it!

Given that this is a shojo title, it's interesting to me to see how Tamura handles the romances we find here. Sarasa is a girl playing the role of a man, and her only interest is in someone who she can arguably never have. They flirt by proxy, putting the romantic link well under the story itself, at least for now. Sarasa must be careful not to forget her role, and I think we'll see that being a problem for her as time goes on. Our other couple, Shido and his bride, are separated by war, and perhaps the love of another, which again dilutes its power. There's a devotion of Zaki to Chacha, but that, too, is muted. I'll be curious to see if that trend continues, making this a story about putting duty ahead of love, or if we'll drift into more familiar territory as time goes on.

This trade had a lot of action in it, featuring battles and fights, which I thought Tamura handled well from an artistic perspective. Despite so many actions and explosions, I never had any issues with following the story. The faces of her characters express a wide range of emotions,and I liked the way the pirates were made to look different from the other humans we've met so far. I don't think Tamura will ever wow me as an artist, but I her storytelling style is clear, and that's important to me.

I can see why Basara is so well loved by those who have already read it. Getting future volumes may prove tricky, but I hope to be able to keep reading. It's a great story that's starting to use all of the ideas set up in the first few volumes to give us a tale of loss, revenge, and trying to claim that which may not be possible. If you can find this series somewhere, definitely give it a look!