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.
Sanctuary is a seinen manga involving Crimes, Syndicates, Yakuza, Politicians, Domination, Parties, sex, rape, Corruption, Wars, etc. Sanctuary can be called Manga version of Godfather or Mafia or Scarface. The story progresses focusing more on Yakuza side and then on Politics side. Since i am still reading and at chap 24 yet was able to take place in my top ten with just 20 chaps. The story is progressing with a flow without any fluctuations nor it
wavers me for a second.
Synopsis - Akira Hojo 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, Hojo and Asami aim to conquer Japan through two dramatically different routes: the Japanese Diet and the Yazuka. Decided by a game of rock-paper-scissors, Hojo 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.
Story - 8.5/10 The Plot contains Political and Yakuza crime, both polar opposites into one. The two friends trying to take over Japan in both side which contains enourmous power, thus being able to seize japan. Its a very unique and rare type of seinen manga. There are quite Plot twists that somehow you wouldn't expect, thus its unpredictability is a plus point. The Dark story involving seizing power doesn't come for free, thus there is lot of struggle and losses involved. It has showcased and well showed the surroundings and atmosphere of both Underworld and polical word.
Art - 7.5/10 The art is very maturish and realistic as you can see. The art has very dark and Gloomy background that accommodates the plot of the manga. The Characters are well-drawn and each has unique facial, though sometimes it was hard to differentiate but you will get used to it.
Characters - 8/10 The characters in the story are very unique and each has different personality that suits the character designs.
Akira Hojo - An ambitious young man working his way up through the ranks of the Yakuza. His goal: to radically reform Japan from the bottom up.
Chiaki Asami - A freshman politician determined to oust the elder statesmen currently in power.
Kyoko Ishihara - The new female deputy chief police inspector that looks into Hojo's criminal activities.
Reiji Tashiro - Right Hand man of Hojo and Loyal to him.
Tokai - Violent yakuza of the Sagara group. Admirer and sometimes pesterer of fellow yakuza Akira Hojo.Likes to have sex with random women in toilets. Mostly non-consensual.
Norimoto Isaoka - Corrupt Liberal Democratic Party (L.D.P.) secretary general who hates Asami.
Overall - 8/10 Thus i say this manga is truly for seinen manga lovers and who likes dark stories.
[ Infos taken from http://myanimelist.net/manga/1461/Sanctuary/]
“There is one key to protecting the throne. And that is not to misjudge the ambition of the young.”
This is a political strategic mind-battle manga dappled with intrigue, violence and provoking messages to the reader. It doesn’t mean this series is something overwhelming and stilted, though. The scope is indeed epic: from one’s dignity and pride to ideological inconsistencies and the world peace, - however downright realistic.
Just the right size and pace. No dragging on the plot development. Once the tempo is set in the beginning, it proceeds till the very end. Smooth storyline makes it really easy to read and comprehend.
Art is simply amazing.
depth of manga. On political level Sanctuary covers two worlds at once – the yakuza underworld and politics environment. It depicts their similarities and differences to the fullest. Politics/politicians go around behind the curtains, and at the same time, yakuza people respect pride, dignity and truth. And though these are the lower and the upper worlds, they co-exist and entwine with each other. On the social level Sanctuary covers contemporary problems of youth nonchalance, lack of ambitions, and stagnation of older generations. Describing all you can get a glimpse of in this manga can go on for a couple of pages.
Scope. Once again I have to emphasize that Sanctuary has a wide range of aspects implemented and balanced properly in it: a dream, friendship, love; violence, lust, fear; dignity, loyalty, trust; ideological conflicts, corruption, manipulation, change of generations, etc. In the end all those serve as a background for the two men struggling to reach their goal.
They cry and pretty often it’s out of place and mood. Though maybe it has connection to the next disadvantage listed.
Some may find art lacking in facial expression dpt.. Although, the portrait art is mind-blowing, it is somewhat static. Maybe, the artist decided to use crying so that, at least, characters’ suffering emotions could be distinguished.
Weak representation of female characters in the manga. The female characters in this manga are simply useless and one can keep wondering, the whole purpose of introducing them in the first place. They contribute neither to the plot development, nor do their personas possess any distinctive features.
for all its flash art and sweeping narrative arcs, sanctuary is a ham-fisted manga companion to ayn rand. engrossing enough, but don't take its juvenile neoliberal theories seriously, please.
also, the depiction of women is absolutely shocking. i see a lot of guys here giving this series a 10 and calling it 'beautiful' and all that. really? there are maybe three solid female voices in the whole series, and they're all putty in the hands of the main characters from the moment they meet them, seemingly for no reason. for instance, in the very first volume, in practically their very first meeting, the deputy chief of
police abandons her duties as a cop because she fancies the (criminal) protagonist so much. this is absolutely ridiculous, and it's embarrassing to see guys totally ignore this glaring issue.
Sanctuary is a tale I believe strongly in, its message, its story, all of it was beautiful.
If anything this story is like a fine hardwood richly carved by hand.
It is like the perfume that's subtle scent attracts you to it like a fly to honey.
I don't even want to justify how great a story it is because the story would have much more justice if you read it.
As inspirational as light at the end of the tunnel, this story is a golden classic if there ever was one.
And anyone reading this review who doesn't want to read it, or isn't bothered to read it; it's
like you're slapping yourself in the face because it doesn't get any better than this.
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.
„What good is a Sanctuary if I have no-one to share it with?”
Before getting into the minutiae of Sanctuary let's start with what this manga is not:
It's not a modern version of Machiavelli's „The Prince”. It does not present anything in terms of strategy or tactics within the political realm, nor does it flesh out an ideal of what politics should be like.
It's not a japanese version of The West Wing or House of Cards. It deals with politics alright, but you won't learn much about the japanese political system nor does it discuss policy. It barely grazes it.
also isn't necessarily its plot. The strength of this manga lies in its characters and its themes. As such, if you dislike either of the concepts described below in those categories, it's not worth reading.
If you're looking for something like this, you will be disappointed. With that out of the way, let's focus on the details.
The plot centers around two japanese survivors of the Cambodian massacres during the regime of Pol Pot also known as the Khmer Rouge. They return to Japan after surviving and in their high school days decide to reform Japan. One will go underground and take over the Yakuza, the other will take over politics and become Prime Minister.
The plot details their rise through the ranks of their respective organizations. You follow each of the two main characters, and sometimes a side character, but their plotlines frequently intertwine, since they not only aim for the same thing (the reform of Japan) but organized crime and politics also have frequent connections and common interests within the story.
This plot is easy to follow. As I said before this is not about tactics and strategy. Of course strategies are developed, tactics employed in their quest for power, but don't expect extensive mind games or complicated plotlines. Most tactics employed are spur of the moment decisions to tilt the table back to favor the main characters and their objectives. That does make for some weird plot developments like joining with your enemies to hurt them from within and then leaving again in the blink of an eye. However it does not make the storyline bad by any means.
As this manga only has 105 chapters, this is a rather fast paced affair.
Consequently the ending of Sanctuary is rushed. Rushed but still good. Bittersweet but still good. Still the manga would have profited from three things. First among them is a better development of the plot to make it less erratic. There is also at least one development in the plot that I personally find less than believable. The other two things that could have been improved I will outline below.
This is the heart of the matter. In my view this manga is about a specific theme, not necessarily the individual plotlines. That theme however is not the eponymous „Sanctuary”. If you've read the manga Holyland, like I have, you might expect the concept of a „Sanctuary” to be fleshed out and somewhat similar to the concept of Holyland. You would be disappointed and the manga is worse of for it. Lipservice is paid to the „Sanctuary”, it is mentioned every once in a while. We can infer what it means from the actions and speeches of the main characters. But it is never satisfyingly defined. It becomes one of those vague terms as you might have encountered in political slogans („Change we can believe in”; „Hope and Change”; „Liberty, Solidarity, Justice”)
Luckily the rest of the themes is what carries the manga. Obviously deep friendship is a major theme. The characters have been through hell together and that shows.
The core of the manga is however not really individual ambition as you might expect from a manga in which the character aim for the top of their countries. It is political, or more encompassing even, societal reform. The main characters, coming from their near-death experience, return to Japan finding the people have become complacent and lost all of their spirit and conviction. They reelect the same government again and again in the hope of preserving their cozy lives. The interest in politics is low, the desire to change is nonexistent.
This, the main characters conclude, is not life. Citizens should take an interest in their societal welfare. They should not go about their lives complacent without any ambition. It's not a new concept. But it is well done and an interesting read. At its core this manga is altruistic and hopeful, despite dangling in the underworld and dealing with the corrupt.
Another major theme is youth replacing the old. This is justified even in real life, if you ever took a look at japanese or american politics. It is not, as some suggested, hate of the old. It's the difference between clinging to the past and embracing the future, preserving everything as is or changing it to create something new.
Someone argued the two main characters are indistinguishable from each other. They are both survivors of a horrific regime.They're both intelligent, reasonably handsome and have an abundance of determination and willpower. That is true without a doubt. But if you use that as criticism, you have, in my opinion, missed the point.
The whole manga wouldn't have worked if the characters had been different at their core. The very premise of it is that a) they have been shaped through their common experience in Cambodia and b) that they decided who would take which path (Yakuza or Politician) through Rock-Paper-Scissor, essentially through chance. Not to mention coming up with the plan to reform Japan in the first place. They are essentially (for plot purposes) the same soul in two bodies. If they had competing ideals ala Naruto and Sasuke the premise as well as the ultimate point of the manga would have been lost.
The other politicians all have their own interests and desires, same as the other Yakuza. They're fleshed out as much as their respective roles require. Sometimes a trope is repeated, but that nearly always makes sense for the setting and/or the plot.
The only ones coming out of this manga badly represented are the police. They're clueless or deliberate bystanders at their best moments, fomenting gang violence at their worst and ultimately only there, because otherwise the reader would ask „Why is there no law enforcement in this manga?” Well, this manga shows that just because police is there, the law isn't necessarily enforced.
The most outrageous character without a doubt will be dealt with in an extra segment that is probably unique to this manga.
Full disclaimer. I am not interested in gender politics. I believe women should be treated equally to men, but that is it. I don't generally care about how women are portrayed in media products. I don't subscribe to the idea that how a gender, a religion, a political group is portrayed in your random entertainment product has anything to do with how we view or treat them in society. Anime and Manga especially do not suffer from this. This is an entertainment product so vast (and infinite) that anyone can find something to their taste. Be it an action driven shonen, a psychological seinen, a fluffy shojo or a touching josei. As much as we say that those are demographics and not genres they very often share so many themes, plot devices and tropes, that this argument often becomes irrelevant.
That being said, Sanctuary is sexist. I do not believe it to be a deliberate choice of the mangaka. He didn't want to promote sexism nor was it part of the setting. It might have been a product of its time in that way, although the early 90s weren't remotely as sexist as this manga.
Let's return to the character I left out in the characters section: This guy is a brute. He kills, maims and rapes his way through the manga. I actually counted his exploits somewhat. There were different versions of Sanctuary published. One went for 9 volumes, another for 12 and one for 14. If you slice it into 14 volumes the character rapes at least one women in every of the first 8 of them. By volume 9 the rest of the cast has caught on to this and a restaurant actually offers a girl to him to prevent him from raping some random woman in the bathroom. Slice it anyway you want it, this is supremely sexist. The character also has alot of consensual sex throughout the manga, so it isn't like he's a psychopath drawn to rape either.
There is virtually no woman portrayed as a strong, independent female (whatever that means). All of them are in various stages of gagging for a male. The police inspector without a doubt takes the cake for various reasons. Characters also engage in sex with prostitutes every couple of chapters (this is not a charge of sexism, but should be mentioned while we're on the topic anyway). This goes beyond your average seinen or shonen with its reliance on only token females of little importance.
If there is anything that is (nearly) beyond reproach in Sanctuary, it's the art.
It's realistic and well done even though the style looks a little dated to me. It fits the story well and Hojo's (the Yakuza mc) character design specifically reminds me of the portrayal of organized crime in American movies (think of The Godfather, Casino and Goodfellas). Isaoka is the embodiment of the old politician. Despite my criticism of the sexism inherent in this manga, the sex scenes, the naked bodies (male and female) are well drawn. Every character has his own unique design, that fits him and his position well and you won't ever confuse one with the other.
Particularly praiseworthy is the portrayal of Cambodia during the regime. Mounts of corpses and skulls have never been portrayed that beautifully in manga (and yes, I'm aware how sickening that is. It should be).
Enjoyment and conclusion:
I've debated for a long time how to deal with the sexism issue in my rating. If you're really touchy on the subject, you might invert my rating (you'll give it a 3 instead of my 8) or it might at least bring down your enjoyment and rating of it. Not so for me. It is noticeable. It is not pretty. But ultimately it is not the point nor done with ill intend. I've decided not to let it influence my rating at all.
This manga is enjoyable for the journey of those two great characters to power. It's enjoyable for the themes it touches on. It's enjoyable for the unbreakable friendship, the iron will, the ambition, the positive mindset. It has a great supporting cast, a formidable antagonist and highquality art.
Interested in stories about organized crime and/or politics? Despite some weaknesses, some themes not fully developed, Sanctuary is well worth the time.