The Legend of Basara is copyright Yumi Tamura, Betsucomi / Flower Comics, KSS, and VIZ manga. No infringement or disrespect of the intellectual property rights held by the owners of existing copyrights in The Legend of Basara or its derivative works is intended by this non-profit, noncommercial web page, which is for information purposes only.
Basara, which ran from 1990–1998 and won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shoujo in 1992, is set in a postapocalyptic fantasy Japan (the emphasis more on the fantasy than the apocalypse). The country has been split onto 4 regions, each ruled by a different tyrannical King: King Ukon, the Black King and overall ruler, and his children the Blue, Red, and White Kings. ~ It is prophesied that a savior will unite the sacred sword of each region and lead the people out of repression.
Why it's good
Basara is my absolute favorite non-yaoi manga. Though it's a cliche to say so, it really does have a sweeping plot and literally dozens of memorable characters, major and minor, both male and female… and among them, my favorite manga character ever: Ageha of the Blue Nobles.
Basara has so many interesting motifs – gender identity, doubling (many of the main characters have secret or dual identities), the tension between being and becoming… There's drama, passion, angst, humor, a strong yet believable heroine (and a female pirate queen!), honorable enemies, not-so honorable friends, twists, heartbreaking reveals... yeah, Basara has just about everything.
What some people don't like about it (and my response)
Don't like the "old school" art.
No, it's not the prettiest -- and it varies sometimes -- but in my opinion story quickly trumps art.
Can't keep track of the plot and huge cast of characters! And there's a map every chapter!
I felt this too on first read, but each time I re-read it – and I do – I pick up more.
The central romance is between a man and a woman! Yuck!
True, there's very little full throttle "gay" in this shoujo: for that I recommend Crimson Spell. On the other hand, there are many many close friendships that can be interpreted however you wish.
Characters I write for
Sarasa, the central character of Basara, is a teenaged girl who takes the identity of her twin brother Tatara – the "savior of the people" – when he is killed by the Red King's forces. She becomes the galvanizing center of the fledgling rebellion. (Since this is a shoujo manga, she also learns a lot about love, loss, sacrifice, and so on.) For most of the manga Ageha is her adviser and protector.
Appears in Roles and certain of the Swallowtail vignettes ("Clean Blanket").
Ageha. I have never loved a character so hard, so fast. (I don't now remember if I read the manga or saw the anime first, but the fact that he's yet another one of Kaneto Shiozawa's roles certainly doesn't hurt.) One of the last of the Blue Nobles, a desert people that was all but wiped out when Ageha was a child, he enters the manga in a dramatic way in the very first chapter when he seems to materialize out of the desert to off-handedly scold the teenaged Red King for threatening a young girl's life. He loses his left eye for his impertinence, and then walks back into the desert, refusing offers of help by saying that he'll lick his own wounds.
I wondered: Who IS this guy and what made him this way?
Description makes him sound like a stereotypical shojo biseinen: Aloof, soft-spoken ex-slave with waist length silver hair and a mandala tattoo on his back. Possessor of immense pride and resourcefulness, he becomes Sarasa's key confidant/mentor/substitute parent/man behind the scenes. He might be carrying a torch of very mixed feelings for Shido, the son of the man who enslaved him. Capable of extremely tough love ... and of complete self-sacrifice, he'll also joke that he's a bit of a masochist. His owl, Kagero, is the father of Sarasa's pet owlet Shinbashi.
One of the ways that Ageha is able to help Tatara/Sarasa is through his alter ego "Kicho," the cross-dressing star of the Madame Butterfly Dance Troupe. The dance troupe seems to travel quite freely, the performances are attended by the powerful and well-informed, and Kicho's ability to turn heads probably causes a number of those "she" comes in contact with to underestimate "her" (though most people do seem to know that Kicho is Ageha) and possibly talk more freely than they should.
Early in the series, before we see Kicho perform for the first time, Ageha and Sarasa go swimming. When Ageha removes his eyepatch, Sarasa tells him how sorry she is that he lost his eye because of her. His response is "Something that is imperfect can be more beautiful than something that is perfect." (That is also, when Sarasa sees Ageha without his shirt, that she learns that he's an ex-slave.) Later in that scene, Ageha refers to Sarasa as "my woman" – and though he seems to be joking at that point, by a later point in the manga it's clear that his feelings for her have become very deep. (When someone says, "Don't tell me you're in love with Sarasa/Tatara," Ageha's response is, "Okay, I won't tell you.")
Ageha's backstory is revealed slowly over several volumes – we don't get all of it until the manga is almost over. I'm telling you this because … well, my stories will spoil that aspect of surprise for you, as I generally use every scrap of Ageha backstory I can find. If you want his backstory sort of … chronologically, then read the two Chrysalisstories first – though the first one is told from the viewpoint of Ageha as an adult, it covers his childhood (as does the "Tenderness" vignette in Swallowtail.) Both drew on material from volume 16 of the manga. Restraint, which is set during Ageha's interrogation by Shido, has references to events that happened when he was 16; it's drawn from the side story in vol 23. Finally, That Sleep …is set during the Abashiri Prison arc of vols 11-13. It has no flashbacks, but knowing Ageha's backstory and psyche before you go into it should give the story extra depth.
(As I write all this, I realize that Ageha is … kind of a Gary Stu. But I can live with that.)
Appears in all my Basara stories.
Shirasu, who first appears in manga volume 11, says he's a fisherman imprisoned in Abashiri prison for years because of some unspecified defiance of the Black King. Shirasu has become the de facto leader of Cell Block A, and so Ageha offers to sleep with him if he'll ensure "Tatara's" safety. (Shirasu keeps the secret that "Tatara" is female.)
Shirasu often speaks in hackneyed proverbs and catchphrases, but he's no dummy: he has an extensive information network within the prison (making him handy for exposition) and it's clear he's been methodically working on a way to escape the inescapable prison. He appears to become attached to Ageha quite quickly (and who wouldn't?), even asking him, "Was your mind on me at all the entire time we were – ?" to which Ageha replies, "Of course. I like men with droopy eyes."
At the end of the arc, Shirasu expresses enthusiasm for getting back to "the real world, with real women." When some of the other prisoners react in surprise he says, "When there are women, I'll always take women," but adds, "Ageha is an exception."
Appears in That Sleep Which is the End of Each Day's Life and the Swallowtail vignette "Clean Blanket".
Shido, who is 26 (he says that he and Ageha are the same age, but that's not confirmed) was the son of the man who kept Ageha – known then simply as "Slave Number 31." Shido can be very gentle – he showed unusual compassion for his father's slaves, especially Ageha – but on the battlefield is absolutely ruthless. He's completely loyal to his younger cousin Shuri, the Red King, and will do whatever it takes to help Shuri. (Shido seems to be one of the few who see through Shuri's surface flaws to the idealistic and noble goals he holds deep down.)
Appears in Restraintand the Swallowtail vignette "Tenderness."
Shido's father (whose name I'm not sure was ever mentioned), has only a few pages in side stories in volumes 16 and 23. (The contents of the spoiler-text that follows are potentially triggering for abuse. Highlight to read.) (skip) He systematically beat and raped the child slave Ageha )known as "Number 31") for an unknown number of years, then tossed Ageha out into the desert to die when he saw him leaning over to give a chaste kiss to a sleeping Shido.
Appears in Chrysalis I, Chrysalis II,and the Swallowtailvignette "Tenderness."
Because of a prophecy that he would kill his father, Shuri, son of King Ukon, was branded a slave and banished in childhood. He was raised in the household of his cousin Shido. He is the same age as Sarasa, and is Tatara's primary enemy for most of the manga.
So far he doesn't actually appear, but he's on everyone's mind.
Where to get it
Although the 27 volumes of the print edition have slowly been going out of print, Basara has recently been made available digitally by VIZ. You can read the entire first volume free here.
There aren't many Basara websites in English. Fortunately, the one that's out there is great. Jump right to the major characters page, m'kay? - it covers a few of the many wonderful characters I haven't mentioned here – and click through to see the supporting and minor characters pages (and even then, many aren't covered!) Basara on wikipedia
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written 19 September 2010; edited 6 Jan 2014