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.
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.
Sanctuary is a manga about two Japanese young men who grew up in tumultuous Cambodia, due to their parents being doctors. When they return to their home country they vow to forge a sanctuary, an ideal nation, in Japan. One of them becomes a yakuza boss and the other a politician. Together they will shake the world. Sound good? It did to me, but I was ultimately disappointed.
The two main characters are indistinguishable from each other in terms of personality. They are strong (and manly) charismatic geniuses who are perfect in every single way. One of them takes over a political party with a single
short speech that was basically just him saying "fuck yeah, Japan.” He never really states too many policies, and we don't know what he really stands for, he just yells about change and the future. The other character is a yakuza that deals manliness rather than narcotics. A hitman sent to kill the yakuza guy was so influenced by his manliness that he did a complete 180 and he turned on his bosses. Dude's that good.
The themes are heavy handed and usually do not go beyond "old people suck" and "old people are not manly." This idea popped up more times than I can count. I'm not exaggerating, this is the biggest theme of the manga. I have no idea why this mangaka hates the elderly so much, but he could at least be subtle about it. He doesn't have to be like "hey grandpa, fuck you!!!" while waving his middle finger in the face of the over-60 population. Perhaps subtlety isn't manly enough.
One plot point is that the yakuza start getting a high school education and they want to make their syndicate a legitimate corporation. This alone should kill any kind of realism the manga tries to conjure up, with the art or otherwise. Most of the plot points made no sense, really. Politics is never that simple. It's never that easy for someone to rise to power. A complete reworking of the government never happens that quickly. A main antagonist of the series actually gets the chance to rise to power, but turns it down, which was a complete contradiction of everything we knew about his character before that. I have no idea how this change in his character took place and it’s not proper development. In the end, the manga wasn't resolved by intelligence or passion, it was resolved with an old guy deciding that young people were better suited for the job. Sheesh, I get that the young vs old thing is huge in Japanese culture and, by extension, politics, but it was just far too overdone.
The action, although sparse, was also unrealistic. At one point in the manga a man is fatally shot, but manages to get up, find a crowd of people, find a camera, and have a short monologue about who he is, who shot him, and how he's changed as a person due to the yakuza guy's manliness. Why didn't the guy who shot him finish him off? Why would he let the guy he shot hobble away? Who knows. He had a perfect opportunity, but it's never explained. I felt like this killed most of my enjoyment of the manga, because I've had enough of political thrillers and crime dramas that are completely unrealistic. The writing for this manga is often on par with the show Law and Order and that's one of the worst insults I can give.
The non-gun related violence (most of it) almost always consisted of somebody breaking a bottle over somebody else’s head. These people were always completely fine, which is incredibly unrealistic, but the dozens of bottle breaking incidents also make me wonder whether this mangaka has any creativity at all. Is there any other way to beat people? This manga isn’t about action, but if there has to be action scenes, they could at least make them a bit less boring and a bit more realistic.
Organized crime was glorified to a ridiculous degree. The manga hammered in the greatness of true yakuza over and over again, and when these true yakuza rape women it isn't really anything to split hairs over. The two main characters don’t have to bother with that though, as all women want them anyways.
Women are all objects in the world of sanctuary. Nothing more. They all just serve as fucktoys for the supremely masculine cast of characters. They all just need a nice dicking. Political opponents? Dicking. Police officer? Dicking. Employee? Dicking. There are only two recurring female characters, and they both abandon the duties entailed by their respective careers, just to get one of the main characters' dicks. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Did I mention how manly this manga is?
Sanctuary is extraordinarily superficial. The good guys are handsome (and manly) and the bad guys are ugly (and unmanly.) To me, this only accents the black and white morality, lessening the quality of the manga. I thought it would be interesting that the main characters are Japanese who grew up in Cambodia, but all of the Cambodians are portrayed as disgusting and funny looking. Sometimes they barely even looked human, and they were all portrayed as savages. There is a huge nationalistic sentiment to this manga in general, and it does its best to shit on everything that isn’t Japanese.
All of the characters' expressions are wooden and contrived (as the characters themselves are,) and they are recycled throughout the manga as the characters spout the cheesiest bullshit I've ever heard in my life. I swear to god the yakuza guy did that little upturn smile thing hundreds of times. Everyone had a couple of stock expressions and that was pretty much it.
This manga had many superficial aspects that tried desperately to conceal it, but at the core of Sanctuary is the wish-fulfillment found at the core of most harem manga. It's a much different take on wish-fulfillment, and I give it some credit for that, but it is poor writing nonetheless. I was also offended by the depiction of women and the depiction of Cambodians. Manga may not be the place to demand political correctness, but flat characters are a byproduct of these depictions and it really interferes with enjoyment of the manga anyway.
I enjoyed some aspects of this manga, but even when I did, it was mindless entertainment. Nothing with black and white morality can be a good political thriller or a good crime drama. I gave it a 3, rather than a 2 because it had potential, but it was ultimately a major disappointment. I wish I could say it was mediocre, but that would be too high of praise. I would say you should steer clear of it. If you hate it then there's no point, and if you like it then, congratulations, it's tricked you into becoming a misogynist. No good can come of it either way. Considering this, my score is a generous one.
Sanctuary tells the story of two men who escaped the killing fields of Cambodia as children into Japan to try build a safe haven for themselves. Except wait, they’re not actual Cambodian children. They’re handsome young Japanese children trapped in Cambodia because their parents were doctors. Don’t want to be like those smelly Cambodians with their funny coloured skin and wonky teeth. Asami, the glasses-wearing handsome young fellow, gets into politics to try build them their ‘Sanctuary’, while Hojo, the spectacle-less but still incredibly handsome young fellow, joins the yakuza to help Asami from behind. But not actually from behind because that would be gay
and we’re too busy making love to hot babes to be gay.
So begins the tale of glorification of organised crime and laughably immature approach to politics. The yakuza is where men with honour fight for their turf. They don’t get involved with drugs or protection money. We just catch out people who are being unfaithful to their wives. And then we fuck their wives. Because we are so irresistible what with all this power and fancy suits we have. Meanwhile getting elected to a political office is easy. All you need to do is yell really loudly about how Japan needs CHANGE and the people inside are WRONG and we’re young and handsome and never mind that we literally have no policies whatsoever, we’re DIFFERENT and that will get us elected…actually maybe that’s not so far from the truth.
All right fine, I’ll drop the spitting sarcasm for a second. Sanctuary is sort of a cross between Legend of the Galactic Heroes, James Bond and The Godfather. The main appeal of the manga comes from the mind games and twists as Asami and Hojo try to claw their way to the top of their respective fields. The political battle is mostly about getting the right people on your side, uncovering scandals and proving your mettle when it really counts. The yakuza story is largely the same except with more killing. Getting people on your side, forming alliances and making speeches and shows of force to get the right people to follow you. Sanctuary is at its most fun when it embraces its more over-the-top characters and dramatic facial expressions. My favourite is the mind games between Asami and the big boss politician dude Isaoka, because there’s so much hand-wringing over every action and each twist is greeted by someone bursting into a room yelling “OMG OMG OMG DID U C WUT ASAMI/ISAOKA DID!?!?”.
The artstyle goes for a very photo-realistic approach with an incredible attention to detail on shading. Don’t let this trick you into thinking this makes the artwork great though. Because the manga is all politics, each chapter is usually just pages and pages of talking heads, with the occasional shot of someone opening a door or wielding a gun dramatically, or maybe some hot lady sucking one of the yakuza’s dicks because that happens an awful lot. After a while you start to notice that the facial expressions the characters pull don’t change a whole lot. Hojo in particular has this one pose of his head facing slightly downwards with a upturned corner of his mouth and a ‘come hither’ look on his face that I swear must be his exact same pose with exact same smile and exact same ‘come hither’ look in roughly 20% of his scenes. The art style does actually suit the story, with its masculine features enhanced and bedroom eyes, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of variety.
And then there’s the treatment of women. Whenever you see a woman, it’s because they’re prostitutes, or a sexy lady one of the main characters have picked up, or models the politicians are having sex with, or ladies the yakuza are raping. There are a grand total of 2 named female characters. One is the police officer who is supposed to be tracking Hojo but unfortunately Hojo is just so totemo sexushii desu~ that she abandons her job for him. The other is a female politician from America who’s over to tell Japan to drop their high import tax on American cars. Asami and his politician buddies are discussing how to deal with her, and one of them suggests giving her a good dicking and that solve everything because that’s how you deal with all women. And then THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT ASAMI DOES! He woos the American politician, has sex with her, and then she drops her demands and leaves the country because the sex was just that good.
The treatment of women is so baffling that it starts to create plot holes. If the police are really trying to get these yakuza on some charge, why don’t any of the women they rape press charges? Asami is trying to get the younger population to pay attention to politics, citing that they’re not connected because the diet is only full of old men. He’s gets half of the problem solved by being a young man, but what about the ‘men’ part of ‘old men’? Women consist of half of the voting public and yet nobody considers that maybe having a young woman running would get the younger female generation to pay attention? It’s here that I realised what the trick was: Sanctuary does not consider women as people. Once you realise that, everything falls into place. Girls to fuck are just part of the glorified yakuza lifestyle, along with good food, nice suits and fast cars. Women are simply not part of the political equation, and if they are you just need to give them a right hard shag amirite guys!
I read all of Sanctuary so I guess I did enjoy it on some level. The political mind games and plot twists were very entertaining in their own right, particularly because the story kept the pace fairly quick. Plus the politics got a bit better as the story went on. The policies became less ridiculous and more plausible, and when something ridiculous was suggested it was treated with the right amount of shock in-story. But it is a male power fantasy through and through. It’s the most sexist thing I have ever read, getting the otherwise completely dormant feminist side of me to go “ah come on now, this is just silly”. It also manages to cover plenty of other offensive bases like racism and glorification of violence. All those other wish-fulfilment harem, magical girlfriend, maid, super power, giant robot, chuunibyou fantasies shrivel in the wake of the amount of wish-fulfilment Sanctuary provides.
What can I say about Sanctuary that the 10 rating doesn't do for me?
This manga, is quite simply, a masterpiece. It's very rare that you will come across a piece of media that can be called that, but still to this day, Sanctuary holds that hefty crown still.
Written by Sho Fumimura, better known as Buronson, the creator of Fist of the North Star and other famous works, and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. The two have collaberated many times since then with things like Heat and the still ongoing Lord. They do have a fondness for one word titles don't they?
I'll try not to spoil any
of the story, but suffices to say it's a wonderful crime drama/political thriller that deals with complex characters and wonderfully charismatic leads.
If you want to broaden your horizens further than the typical shonen fixation on Nakama and enter into the deep and murky world of Seinen manga, this story is the perfect beginners step. I promise that you won't regret it.