It’s time again to review a boys’ love title from Juné Manga. Specifically, Furo Fukiya’s Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilt. The story incorporates historical, supernatural, military, and romance elements to make quite the unique read. Does Fukiya interweave all these genres effectively? Is the manga good?
It would be difficult to overstate how visually arresting this volume is. The line-work is jam-packed with details that make the world and its characters feel three-dimensional. The nature imagery is stunning, especially where skies are concerned. Emotionally evocative both when calm and when storming, these are some of the most beautiful skylines I’ve ever seen illustrated. There are also a lot of gorgeous shots of ocean waves, and again we get to see their tumultuous danger and their calmer movements. The lovely texture work throughout does a lot to help enhance the believability of the natural world depicted.
With that said, Fukiya’s eye for detail extends to virtually every other aspect of the art as well. The page layouts are very well-constructed, leading the eye along naturally while also looking dynamic and attention-grabbing from the first glance. The visual pacing is also strong, with lots of close-ups on small details that effectively skirt around implied sexual content. For example there’s the framing of characters’ backs, feet, and hands as opposed to honing in on actual penetration. (Forewarning though, this isn’t always the case: some scenes are much more blatantly smutty than others.)
There’s so much going on at all times that it would be easy for pages to look muddy or too busy, but they don’t. This is thanks largely to Fukiya’s lovely shading and effective construction of balance throughout. Even the sound effects appear tailored to the rest of the art around them, naturally matching the flow of other lines and mimicking them texturally. It also bears noting just how effective the establishing shots and transitional panels are– from beginning to end, almost every scene is emotively rendered and pleasing to look at.
Now on to the story. By and large it’s well-written and quite unique. As previously mentioned there are a lot of genres at play, but there are also large swaths of time depicted. We may skip over years of development at points, but characters’ personal trajectories still make sense and seeds of resentments are planted early on and effectively expanded upon as the plot progresses. Yoshitsune, Benkei, and Shizuka are all intriguing figures who I’d love to read more about. There are some very well-paced action scenes and the supernatural elements are used sparingly, adding flair while still allowing the human dramas to take center stage.
With that said, there are some aspects of the manga that could have been better. One consequence of so many characters and motifs being crammed in together is that we don’t get much time to sit and bask in any of them before the setting shifts dramatically. The beginning and ending chapters also aren’t as good as the bulk of the story in the middle. The volume’s ending is especially troubling. The main story concludes and is then followed up by a side story with depictions of a relationship between a young boy and an older man that’s just gross and taps into some of the boys’ love genre’s worst elements.
All in all, Contract of Cherry Blossom Guilt is a visually stunning read with a fresh mix of genre elements. The characters are thought-provoking and the overall experience is a unique one. There are some troubling aspects, particularly in the final story, but I would still recommend this volume (with a content warning and the caveat that readers know what they’re getting themselves into).