At the beginning of the XX century, the relationship between England and Japan was strained. England wanted to extend its influence over Japan, and Japan wasn't willing to let any other culture pass its borders. Koto, though, a Japanese girl, didn't care if the people she meets have almond shaped eyes or not, or if they wear a kimono or a western dress. Actually, she is fascinated by this foreign way of life that brings so many innovations into Japan. More than anything else, it's the clothing that seems to grab her attention, as she wants to become a tailor and create dresses for women of every culture.
Unfortunately though, she's a woman, so she knows her dream will end as soon as she gets married. She will have to start acting like a noble and a respectable woman would. In fact, she is betrothed to Masaomi Kidoin, the second born of one of the most important and oldest families of Japan. The day she's told she will marry Masaomi, Koto attends a ball at the British Embassy and meets Sagitto, a half English and half Indian spy that captures her imagination and heart. But can their love story have a happy ending when the British and the Japanese are tracking down Sagitto because they want him dead, and Koto is forced to live a life that doesn't fit her?
(Source: Storm in Heaven)
Volume 3: Ken to Mademoiselle
Volume 4: Honeymoon Typhoon, Pandora no Hako (Pandora's Box)
Most people are probably familiar with this series because of Chiho Saito's association with Revolutionary Girl Utena, and though some characters have obviously similarities to Utena this manga manages to be something else and have an overall different message.
The art can be a joy to look at in the dancing scenes, and though character designs tend not to deviate too much from one base a few like Sajit genuinely stand out from the Japanese. Men tend to look similar (resulting in occasional situations of being unsure of who is who) but the women manage to remain distinctive. Another area that shines is the detail to
clothing, and a few of Koto's dresses clearly show the attention to detail that went into their design. The panels are laid out clearly and logically, so the manga reads smoothly with relatively little backtracking.
In terms of plot, this is the classic Star Crossed Lovers who are kept apart by time. However, without giving away too much, they manage to subvert the usual formula of the two people from different worlds. The series takes an unexpected turn twice, but both times it manages to resolve the hanging threads without feeling too forced or rushed. There is also some potent political commentary on interracial relations, though Chiho Saito is known for pushing the limits of what is considered orthodox, and this series is no different.
Building off of that, the characters are another strong point. Koto, the main heroine, is simultaneously strong and human, and despite being torn between love and her obligation to her family she spends relatively little time angsting over it. She's like Utena in some ways, but is undoubtedly a woman who likes being a woman, and this almost makes some of her accomplishments mean more. I wish we'd seen a bit more of Sajit's motivations, but what we do so manages to make him endearing and give him flaws at the same time. The main love rival is initially built up as villainous and callous, but near the end he gets some genuinely touching development. We even end up feeling sorry for the stock bitchy sister in the end.
Overall, this is an enjoyable shojo manga that manages to stay true to the genre and yet try something different. Fans of Utena will likely get a kick out of seeing some prototype characters in a different setting and enjoy more of Saito's understated but beautiful art.