Mr. Towelhead takes on Sanctuary, the story of two handsome and ruthless young men who plan to conquer Japan from above (politics) and below (mafia). Sounds good and what not, but… ruthless and handsome? O.k. All images belong to Ryoichi Ikegami and are used to educate our sorry little lives into Japanese politics and yakuzaness.

Mr. Towelhead reviews:

sanctuary_poster

SANCTUARY

The manga is written by Sho Fumimura and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami, it comprises 12 volumes first released between 1990 and 1995. Its a seinen manga (18 to 30 young males with heavy topics) and western-wise genre I would say its a political/yakuza thriller. By the way, the yakuza is the Japanese mafia.

CONCEPT

The basic idea is that two young guys (the protagonists of the story) decide to radically change Japan, and to do so one of them becomes a politician and the other a mafia boss. Basically to support each other from above and below ground. And the other main concept of the story is a criticism of old people in power causing stagnation of Japan. Basically young vs. old. Although the concept sounds good it’s take a bit too lightly as, almost, every young guy in the series is “good” and every old man is “bad”.

Old is bad… I mean… obviously. Dah! :P

sanctuary_old is bad

STORY

Our protagonists embark on a journey to attain power in order to change Japan. A “simple” no-body would be unable to do so. Thus one becomes a politician with the goal to become prime minster and the other becomes a yakuza with the goal to become a don (mafia boss).

The idea and the story sound great in concept but the execution of the story lacks a bit of tension. The sections of the story dealing with politics are quite boring, and I was reading as fast as I could, because the overall story was interesting, yes. Yet I wanted to get quickly to the yakuza parts that were more interesting. However, even though the story contains some graphic images, the manga (in particular the yakuza part) was quite innocent. I mean these were the nicest yakuza I have ever read. Specially the protagonist, he was constantly saying some heroic-pose-dialogues about “What truly means to be yakuza!” but in the end he would hardly ever harm a fly.

The Yakuza from Sanctuary are no fighting tigers, but puppies cuddling and occasionally bumping into each other.

sanctuary_fight

I mean look at this scene! This is as “hot” as it gets between Yakuza…

But don’t get me wrong, every once in a blue moon the mafiosi actually do some naughty stuff. And still, the yakuza protagonist was portrayed as pure-ish and not getting his hands dirty (because being pure is very important, apparently, for Japanese heroes), even though he got tons of people murdered (mostly indirectly).

ILLUSTRATIONS & DIALOGUES

The drawing style of Ryoichi Ikegami is realistic and very neat. It won’t blow your mind but it fits the story and purpose. What is well done is the scenario. Japan of the time is portrayed to the finest detail in terms of politics and geography. Names, terms and formalities of both worlds (politics and yakuza) are also realistic.

What I HATED about the drawings (and dialogues) was not a question of style. But… Low and high angles were used too much, and in very simplistic ways. Bad guys = high angles, good guys = low angles. EVERY TIME. Boring. And EVERY SINGLE chapter (almost every one) finished with an epic-pose low angle of a character saying something “epic”. It’s like they are trying too hard to be epic.

Both protagonist are actually really cool, but those epic-pose-endings are a bit too much… and too often.

sanctuary_epic pose

There is a homoerotic vibe to the whole. Its never implied, not even allured to. But you do get the feeling the illustrator was aiming to please fan-girls and gay fans. There are a few scenes where the protagonists have sex with their respective girlfriends, but you get the awkward feeling that they aren’t really enjoying it.

So yes, the manga has some nudity, implied sex with only genitals being censored, a little bit of violence and blood. And very, very few nasty scenes. Which bares the question, why did the story need to be so soft when images weren’t?

Also, the whole story is driven by men (with one exception), and women are basically sex objects at the whim of the main characters. I don’t mean to be racist but all Japanese men are misogynic. :p Just kidding, … seriously just kidding.

VERDICT

The very first chapter has a really cool yakuza vibe to it, unfortunately the rest of the manga is very soft.

There is more yakuza aura in the first chapter than the entire manga.

sanctuary_begin

Sadly…

There was a point in the story where the protagonist tries to reorganize the yakuza into decent, educated, hard working men. That was ridiculous and unrealistic. So much so that I almost dropped the book. The last chapters of the manga step up the game, but it never gets to the point of being a tense story, even the few occasions when things could have gotten out of hand, the author plays it save and every one, good guys and bad guys each go home in one piece, happy and what not. LAME I mean… lame for a yakuza story with graphic content, right?

Mr. Towelhead is marginally pleased:

6 / 10

If you like stories of handsome young men playing politics and crime you will LOVE it. The story is quite decent, the illustrations are very well done, but there is a tragic mismatch with the, rather happy story and the fact we are dealing with hardcore politics and “ruthless” yakuza here.

P.D. Being very honest, what I was missing the whole time was a sense of danger and  a sense of realism, I know that, not every yakuza is a psychopathic murderer, but we are talking about criminals! There is no such thing as a nice gangster, let alone, a nation-wide niceness among yakuza.

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