Jun 6, 2008
Beatnik (All reviews)
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.