Akira Houjou and Chiaki Asami are childhood friends who have experienced hell and lived to tell about it. They arrive in Japan to attend school, and soon witness the corruption and apathy of the country's population. Enraged, Akira and Asami vow to create a new Japan; a sanctuary with a new form of politics, devoid of corruption, where people are empowered to participate in the politics and future of their country. To accomplish this, Houjou and Asami aim to conquer Japan through two dramatically different routes: the Japanese Diet and the Yakuza. Decided by a game of rock-paper-scissors, Houjou ventures to seize control of the underworld while Asami pursues the position of Prime Minister.
Sanctuary is a dark, political thriller that tells the story of these two friends as they attempt to change Japan from the inside out and create their sanctuary.
Sanctuary was published in English by VIZ Media, first in comic book format under the VIZ Premiere Comics imprint for a total of 46 issues, split into 5 parts, running from January 1993 to March 1997. VIZ Media then compiled the chapters into nine volumes, published between May 1995 and February 5, 1998.
The English release was nominated for the 1995 Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material.
Just reading the synopsis of Sanctuary manga was enough to spark a interest in me; being deeply interested in politics, I was ecstatic to find a political thriller manga. I thought this might be a gateway for me to explore and know more about the Japanese politics. I arrived at this manga as it was compared to Code Geass and was recommended to the former's fans. That itself was enough for me to hold this manga at a high place and I was totally excited to devour 108 chapters with all its political strategies and mind games that go along with it. But, boy
was I wrong. Coming straight to point all I could say that its a terrible piece of manga.
The story is as the MAL synopsis says Hojo and Asami are childhood friends and refugees from Cambodia. They come to Japan and feel sorry for people's dull lives. They feel that Japan is not really living and the politics of the country is in shambles. They feel that people must be more invested in the country's politics and thus scheme to change the Japanese politics from inside. To do this Asami becomes a politician and Hojo becomes a yakuza. This done so that they control both the black and white and also Asami gets secret backing from Hojo. Thus, the manga begun with two parallel story of a politician and a yakuza which converged somewhere down the line. This was just a short summary and here only I could point all the flaws that the story has.
First and foremost the protagonist who have not set a foot in Japan in years , take a foot in and declare that people here don't know how to live. The basis of their conclusion is that they see people going to office. This is what literally happens, Chiaki and Asami see people going to office and see that they are unhappy and thus declare that change is required. I have never seen anyone looking happy while going to office early in the morning in all the traffic with all the traffic. If this decided happiness I could never call anyone happy. Glad they saw them go to office on a Monday morning. I think they would have become some sort of god men if they saw the same people partying like animals on a Saturday night. This itself was an idiotic start though I let it slide as I felt that both the protagonists were kids at that time and kids think of weird things. Moving on, throughout the story it is told that Japan politics is in shambles without giving any proof supporting their statement. The sole reason for this statement is that the older and existing politicians are not manly and gutsy enough. Politics is a slow moving activity, Every bill and law must pass through different houses. There is drafting, presenting, voting, editing, voting again, etc. and this goes on. A politician doesn't wake up in the morning and decides to change the Constitution. This happens in manga as the first thing Asami proposes to do is to change the freaking Constitution without having any idea on what changes to implement or what to remove. All he knows is that its not manly enough (WHAT?). The arguments supporting the fact that Japan's politics is doing well includes a good GDP, better relations with foreign countries including USA, job growth, etc. Thus, changing something that works is stupid and Asami proposes to do just that. Again, Japan is a democratic form of Government where people chose their representatives and party with highest elected members forms the government and the PM is chosen from it. Most of the south and east Asian and European countries follow the same system. You would think that this does not have any major flaws , but behold Asami finds a flaw it it too. He propose Presidential form of Government and quite frankly that's what elected Trump, so there's that. Thus, the political story that the manga tries to write is totally in shambles unlike the Constitution it tried to change. The primary reason for it is the author's shallow understanding of the county's politics.
The next is the Hojo's yakuza story line. This gave some respite from the terrible political story. Albeit, it would be wrong to expect anything good from this segment too. Hojo, cleverly plots his way to top of the Yakuza gang. Ordinarily, as Hojo's job was to just finance Asami and do the dirty work for him the story should have been limited. Thus, the author deliberately kept on introducing other uncooperative members, stronger gangs, older members who defected, and even Russian, Thai and Chinese gangsters (WHY?) Every plot line in this segment made a full circle and made it seem like the the story line was completely unnecessary, nothing was gained and nothing was taken off. The only thing that made this bearable as compared to Asami's story was the fact that not much of inherent knowledge was required to write it. The Yakuza despite being part of organized crime are quite disoriented. Thus, even though research is needed to write this it does not have to be intensive. This gives a certain flexibility and the author as exploited the same, as Hojo's story basically is pretty short and boring if it would have continued according to their plan. Though, as Hojo is one of the two protagonists his screen time could not be cut. Thus, the authors introduced unnecessary rivals, small story lines, half assed backstory showing the generosity of Hojo, and in the end brought Hojo as one of the person to contest the election. This move was made to accomplish three things, namely, Hojo to enter into politics and help Asami, Hojo to legitimize his business, Hojo to romance the police officer without her losing her job. It did one out of three things which was to allow Hojo to romance the police officer. Hojo lost and made a mockery of himself while exposing nearly all of his business to country's revenue authority and public. Hojo calculated a 15 times profit if he went legitimate. As far as I know people go illegitimate to make money and not the other way around. In all his calculation he never accounted for tax, salary and most importantly that now his business can only encompass legitimate activities. Thus, it would always be beyond me how they calculated such huge profits and how other leaders did not stop Hojo from doing this stupid shit. The biggest problem was how police and other officials never were there to stop gang warfare and other violent activities. Why were they loving and befriending gangsters? Why despite proclaiming big did not take any action against any gangsters? Why they did not have any informants or information regarding Hojo's plans? Why were they always awestruck with Hojo rather than stopping him? The questions go on but the answers are not provided. Pathetic is the only word I have to describe the story.
The next are the characters. As you can see I am not a big fan of them at all. I have read very few manga but till now these set of characters are worst among them, hand down. Every action made me cringe and call them out for their stupidity. Not only were they badly written but the character's low grasp of the situation made things far worse. The two heroes were carbon copy of each other. They were like same wine in different glasses. Both were smart, strong, good looking, righteous, great at sex, charismatic, visionary; you name it they are it. There was no flaw to them. If they felt like it they could have cured cancer and world hunger in few chapters. Their reasoning was beyond the world, the plans they made could only trap idiots, the straight forward attitude they displayed would usually place them at lowest possible place in politics, and moreover their explanation could only make idiots see the light. The only other thing that we know about the characters other than their current selves was that they were refugees from Cambodia. The characters have no depth. They have no reason to act the way they act and no answer to the question "Then What?". What would they do after their mission was done. How would Asami run the country without a plan? What would Hojo do now that even after his plan he is still a don and ultimately a criminal? What are their outs and what do they gain for this? Nothing of this sort is answered here. Thus, characters are nothing more than 1-D, card boards cut outs with a mouth. The side characters were equally dumb. They are swayed away by every other details and plans. Every little thing over whelms them and these are portrayed as the smart guys. They do not have a brain of their own, do whatever the two heroes tell them and become their puppets. If this happened due to the smarts of the heroes, it would have been different. Like how Light and Lelouch do it but this was different. Throughout the story the side characters give their reason for following the two protagonists. They just say that it is interesting to watch Hojo/Asami's progress. Like WHAT? What about their own careers? What about their own motivations? What about their own dreams and fears? As expected the author does not delve there. All they are stupid people who get convinced by hero's plans faster than speed of light. They do not ask questions or oppose the hero. Excellent politician material. 10/10 would vote them.
Coming to female characters. By god can there be any more shittier representation. They act like females in Hentai series. No matter what their position, status, age, all they want is sex. The police has sex with the Yakuza, the foreign envoy has sex with no name politician, waitresses have sex with yakuzas during their job, a college student has sex with the politician, all the elderly are permanently covered knee deep in pussy. Why, because they like it and the female has no say. All of them have been represented as weak creatures whose only purpose in life is to long for a man's love and penis.
The villain Isaoka was only one who was partially believable character. At least, his plans were viable and he had resources to do them. Although, the unlimited resources he has could only be found nowhere. The way the manga has portrayed the working and relation ship of banks and politicians is beyond laughable. Despite showing him as a ruthless character, he time and again lets Asami join his party and steal some of the members. You might think that someone smart as him might learn, but that's where you are wrong kiddo. Though, despite all that he was the only character that I liked, felt was somewhat believable and had the best plans and reactions to tough situations.
The place that this manga standouts the most is the art department. Kudos, to the artist to get this done. The panels are detailed and nicely divided. Giving two pages wherever required. The characters are nicely drawn and the surroundings are detailed. The only way you could distinguish the two characters is through art and the artist has delivered his end of the deal. The areal view of the room or the setting from time to time is breath taking. The way the characters are shown and the perspective is set was beyond words. The only complaint that I had was that the 2 page art is used usually to show something exciting or at a crucial point in the story and here it was used way to often. Though, this was mostly the writers fault as he introduced stupid twists and plans whenever he felt like and the artist didn't have much of a choice. Overall, a great art and was the only thing going for this manga.
Here, is the end of my review and a tl;dr. Sanctuary had a good plot but pathetic execution and characters spoiled everything the plot had set up. Though, the manga really shown in art department. The only thing that kept me going personally was that it fell into the "so bad that it is good category" where I read/ watch a thing in entirety just to make fun of the plot developments as it comes on and to laugh at the experience of reading something bad.
Sanctuary is not reality, but it provides a medium to digest in a readable way what would realistically take a lifetime. It is a passionate and deep story about how two young men went about accomplishing their vision of bringing life back to Japan, grinding through the piles of corruption that had stagnated the nation. The other favorable reviews have talked a lot about what the manga does well so I'll refrain from that and address some faulty criticisms.
I'd like to address the criticism that the women in the story are just "fuck toys". Most of the women are, but that's because they're prostitutes, it's
quite literally their job. If not that, then it's because the women were attracted to the man. Then there are the cases of rape by a gangster (ex. Tokai). These are barbaric primitive men who are portrayed as such, Tokai even calls himself stupid. The story does not glorify these actions, it's there as a part of the story as it would be in real life with these criminal organizations.
In a story predominantly about 20th century Yakuza and the Diet it wouldn't be surprising not to have female leaders, especially since the story is mostly focused on the Yakuza. But the author does include at least two substantial female characters, a big shot politician from America Ms. Bisett and Deputy Chief Kyoko Ishihara. To call them objects would just demonstrate bias or a lack of brain cells. These were characters who weren't afraid to confront their enemies and speak their minds. Ms. Bisett does not abandon her duties as some may accuse the women in the manga of doing. When Asami needed her support the most she did nothing and stayed true to her role as "The Trade Minister of USA". Kyoko, on the other hand, does progress to fall deeper in love with Hojo and changes her attitude on arresting him, if she hadn't critics would still be unhappy that she didn't change and was a flat character.
The story is not about how old people suck. It just happens that the one's stagnating and corruption the government are old, because guess what they kept their seats for all these years by thriving in this corruption. The story is about the potential and momentum that the youth have for propelling productive change in their nation. It is against the stagnation of government by selfish politicians who care more about keeping their seats until they die of old age than doing something for the country. This is straightly apparent from the start where the politicians just use each other to gain support and climb higher for status, not for some vision for their country.
Even in the manga there are old people who are helping with pushing Japan into the new age. In general, old people are more conservative and the young are more ambitious, but that is not always the case. Hell just look at Trump and Bernie. If your take away is that young people are good and old people bad then you've read this manga with a single digit IQ. This manga is about uprooting the old systems that no longer work for it's people. In the end, it's why Norimoto Isaoka didn't take back his position and undo all the progress everyone made. Because he realized his vision for Japan was archaic and narrow compared to the "sanctuary" everyone had created.
As for criticism on how quickly things progressed. How could you rise that quickly, so unrealistic? I can see your point. But it is explained in part in the manga and towards the end there's an added reason why they must speed up their plans. You may not have seen in detail how Hojo got to where he started at the beginning of the manga but you have glimpses into his past, as well as Asami's. The important part is their journey from there to the "sanctuary" and that's what's depicted in the manga. If it is not as exhaustive or detailed as you'd like, you have to keep in mind there is only so much time to produce a chapter. It would not only be time-consuming but useless to include the mundane realities. If he were to really cover reality he would need far more time and expertise, all unnecessary for the purpose of this manga. Which was to give you a snippet of the "sanctuary". An inspiration, not a how to.
If you're thinking about reading this manga, do it. Enjoy yourself and take your time understanding each page you're reading. It'll make the ending much more impactful for you.
How long can a shallow story, about determination and manliness keep a thinking fan's interest?
Well, this particular shallow story can keep it up its whole length of 108 chapters.
It is a story about two young boys who, after surviving the horrors of Cambodia war and its aftermath, return to Japan, deem it unworthy of their ideals, and decide to “conquer” it.
The hellish conditions the two boys survived account for the forging of their iron will, but not for the charisma and their suaveness. And the mangaka emphasizes that aspect of them the most. Also their motivation for rising to the top is
a bit rickety; they hated the image of Japan they witnessed after they returned from Cambodia: Listless Japanese living niche lives, so they decide to rule the worlds of politics and Yakuza in order to recreate Japan in their own, hard-boiled image. It is not a bad premise, but it can not rid itself completely from the smell of cheese.
So the story foundations are shaky, but we can easily let it slide, since most of the time Sanctuary reads like Jojo with suits; the characters are making cool poses in their cool clothes while spewing manly one-liners. That art directions should not come as a surprise since the story is written by the father of posing, Yoshiyuki Okamura, AKA Buronson, the man who made Hokuto no Ken.
Additionally, the story manages to maintain its grip on our interest by alternating between the escapades of Akira, who tries to become a Yakuza boss, and Asami, who tries to become the Prime Minister of Japan. Of course, their aggressive pursuit of the top provides an abundance of adversaries; champions of the establishment, or ambitious hot-shots like them, who manage to test their mettle in a variety of situations.
At this point you have a good idea about how the manga reads. The “battles” have enough blood and intrigue to ensure entertainment, but as the manga progresses the realism factor drops. That lack of realism becomes annoying during the end of the manga, when the plans of our two debonair boys grow in scale and reach macroeconomic levels and the resolution of the conflicts becomes more and more far-fetched.
In general, the flashy package that is Sanctuary manages to hide its shallowness pretty well, aided by the spectacular drawings of Ryoichi Ikegami, and delivers an entertaining story, which has its thought-provoking and inspirational moments. If you ever enjoyed one Shounen work, you will find something here for you. 7.0/10.
Written by Sho Fumimura (aka Buronson) and drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami, Sanctuary is an engrossing epic that validates manga as a medium, it defines it; transcends it. In short it deserves the title of masterpiece.
Hojo and Asami seek to change Japan, to rock it to its very core. They share a dark past, and both have vowed to stick to the path they chose together, to keep rising up the ranks of society in order to make the changes needed to create a new Japan. One lives the life of a yakuza; the other the life of politics. What this manga
follows is the path of these two extraordinary men as they machinate and manoeuvre their way up to the top of their respective fields, and it’s magnificent.
The story reads like a Takashi Miike or Takeshi Kitano film put on page. It’s a political thriller, a yakuza crime flick; it’s ambitious in every way. Its a rare breed, a mature manga. Mature for its depiction of adults making realistic choices amid difficult situations. Mature is relatable characteristics and personalities in a familiar-looking world. Mature doesn’t mean swords slicing limbs, it doesn’t mean aliens raping humans; it doesn’t mean super powers destroying puppies. Mature is dealing with topics and themes in a realistic manner, it means restraint, subtlety. Yes there is violence and nudity in this manga, but they are the result of adults with real motives, real conflicts; real human reactions to actions. Every single character in this story has a real consistent personality and reason for why they do the things they do.
The story twists and turns unpredictably as the two characters navigate their way through their respective worlds, continually coming across roadblocks and blindsides, whether it’s in the form of political scheming or yakuza thugs with attitude. Hojo and Asami continually have to figure out inspired solutions to ever-increasingly difficult problems, and their separate journeys are regularly mirrored with each other, and sometimes interweaved dramatically. Fumimura's saga is so full of depth its mind boggling. With dozens and dozens of storylines and hundreds of characters all plotting against each other, Sanctuary is addictive and compelling stuff that stays in your mind long after you've finished the last satisfying chapter.
The political issues at stake and focused on in this manga can also be of great interest to non-Japanese readers. Americans, for example, know all too well that unless you're a democrat or republican you have no chance at gaining power of the White House. More recently in the 21st century we've seen crusty old Japanese Prime Ministers resign one after another. The two main characters of Sanctuary seek to usurp the current system of Japan; that of politics being controlled by old men who oversee a system that will never allow anyone under 40 to gain any real power, and to even clean up the yakuza gangs constantly at war with each other, and their ambition is as great as everything else within these 105 chapters.
The quality of writing is at the level of novelist James Clavell in terms of handling a great number of characters and conflicts. The quality of the art is like a defiant middle finger at the state of mainstream manga plagued by cutesy crap and unending Super Deformed faces ruining every chapter. Women in this manga are actually drawn like women. Every set-up has a pay-off. Every chapter ends with you wanting more.
Sanctuary is a sanctuary from mainstream manga. If you want to be entertained from a work that never speaks down to you and demands you keep up with its pace while dealing with topics and themes that are relevant; then find this manga, read it, and spread the word. Turns out there’s a sanctuary out there for all of us.