Volume 3 of Saito Chiho’s manga adaptation of the Heian classic, Torikaebaya (とりかえ・ばや ) ended with Tsuwabuki discovering – we think – Sarasojuu’s secret. Volume 4 begins with the meddling and slimy homosexual Shikibukyou no Miya, slimily inviting them both to an evening of poetry reading and song singing. Sarasojuu collapses and, mindful of the secret he thinks he knows about Sarasojuu, Tsuwabuki jumps to protect his friend, carrying Sarasojuu away to his room. Unable to help himself, he looks under Sarasojuu’s clothes and his suspicion is confirmed. Tsuwabuki tells Sarasojuu that he’s glad she’s a woman, he’s had feelings for her all along and they make love.
After leaving Tsuwabuki’s apartment, Sarasojuu falls into a funk that lasts for days. Sarasojuu can’t tell anyone what happened and is feeling very alone and sick about gender, sex and life.
A call to appear before the Emperor changes Sarasojuu’s attitude. Once again determined to live the life of a man, Sarasojuu appears before the Mikado and they discuss a massive engineering project – rerouting a river. The Mikado assigns Sarasojuu as project lead, and calls to Sarasojuu, asking about Suiren. The Mikado confirms that he’d like Suiren to be one of his women. Sarasojuu visits Suiren, who truthfully claims a distaste for men, but the Mikado makes it moot by appearing. Suiren runs away and Sarasojuu pretends to be Suiren, but the Mikado appears to see through the trick. Suiren’s case is taken up by the Onna Touguu, for whom Suiren serves as handmaiden, who pleads with the Mikado to not have to lose Suiren from her side.
Things are super awkward between Tsuwabuki and Sarasojuu, until Sarasojuu invites him to visit what they both know is his child. Sarasojuu concocts a plan to give Tsuwabuki and Shinohime alone time, and spends that time again tortured over what life there is for someone neither truly man or woman.
We turn away from this self-reflection and for one brief moment, see Sarasojuu rising to heights of skill as chief engineer of the river project. We see Sarasojuu’s leadership qualities, and the easy way Sarasojuu interacts with the men. For one moment, we see a happy Sarasojuu. But, upon visiting family, Sarasojuu is called to visit Shinohime, who is pregnant again and has morning sickness. Sarasojuu also becomes nauseous and is suddenly, horribly, shocked to think that she may be pregnant with Tsuwabuki’s child, as well.
At the end of volume 3, I wasn’t yet sure whether this would be a comedy or a tragedy. Now, it looks like it’ll be a tragedy.I’m not surprised, but a girl can hope, can’t she?
We haven’t spent much time with Suiren, as a court woman’s life was much more sedate than a man’s in the Heian-kyo, but I imagine that Suiren often has similar doubts to Sarasojuu’s. There is a very sincere, very stark difference in men’s and women’s lives in this story. That both siblings have lived as their chosen gender this long is a good thing, but one just can’t see it ending well.
As always, the art is gorgeous. And Saito-sensei is not ignoring the issues of gender and sex conflicting, even with the confines of the story setting. Sarasojuu’s internal conflict reads very realistically to me. I constantly have to remind myself to breathe as I read this manga.
Art – 9
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Service – 3
LGBTQ – 6
Overall – 9
I’m really hoping there’s a happy ending out there, even if I can’t see how that would possibly happen. Breathe.
Volume 5 is already available! I must read it asap.