Sakura Gari is a Taishou Era romantic story, ten years in the making. It centers around the 16 year old Tagami Masataka as he is aiming to find his place in life. While attempting to start prep school as a rounin he encounters Saiki Souma, the son of a distinguished noble of the Saiki Koushyaku family and becomes part of the Saiki household.
It is not easy to describe Sakura-gari, in broad terms this is a Taishou perio story about Masataka, a young man from the countryside who while preparing for an entrance exam becomes enrolled in the household of a cruel yet beautiful nobleman of British/Japanese descent, Souma. What follows is a torrid affair with plenty of nightmare fuel and deliciously twisted moments. Sakura-gari is as beautiful as it is depraved and that is saying a lot considering how it excels in being visually lavish. From the eponymous sakura tree to the highly detailed Western mansion on which most of the story takes place to the Tokyo of the Taishou period and the clothes without forgetting the torture scenes that overlap with sex more often than not: everything is lovingly rendered with great care, from the most abject to the most hauntingly tender. This is probably its greatest strength, few manga can run through a gamut of such horror and still be beautiful to behold. The entire plot hinges of this duality that is well incorporated in the cast. Here we have characters that stray far and wide from the stypical seme/uke dynamics of the BL genre. Souma may seem the typical forceful seme and Masataka the younger wide eyed uke that comes to love him despite everything, cue in a jealous girl in the shape of Sakura and we have the usual triptych assembled. Sakura-gari delves deep and goes quite beyond these conventions even while keeping the notion of convention at the forefront. Masataka's purity has a darker undertone to it, Souma's icy demeanor is justified in a rather disturbing way and Sakura subverts subversion itself. The manga knows how to pace itself, tension is added by degrees until it becomes inevitably lethal. Even after all is played out the moral ambiguity still lingers. Pulling no punches, Sakura-gari has no qualms in delivering shocking revelations that have been deftly foreshadowed. The time period is recreated with great accuracy and grounds the story to a believability that its weirdest moments would otherwise compromise. There is social commentary here but it is not pushed too far, it serves to explain characters and their motivations. It draws interesting parallels on siblings' relationship even as it shows how difficult it was to be bi-racial in Japan of those days. Actual historical events and literature of the time period add another layer of realism. At the heart of Sakura-gari is the danger of turning a person into an object of beauty, the moment that switch is done and Souma is regarded as 'The Western Doll', all abuse is permitted. It is difficult to conceive how the creator of Fruits Basket could write such a stormy manga as this, it just goes to show that only exceptional mangaka can be this versatile. Overall, Sakura-gari is a work of genius because it knows exactly how to create the greatest impact. At times depraved beyond belief it is harsh, beautiful and absolutely insane: what more can one ask for?
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