When we last left Chiho Saito-sensei’s beautiful and tragic retelling of the Heian classic tale, Torikaebaya (とりかえ・ばや ), I was having a crisis. It’s so damn beautiful, I want to keep reading, but it’s so damn heart-wrenching, it’s hard to keep reading.
Volume 5 ended with Sarasojuu running from the capital, pregnant with Tsuwabuki’s child, devastated that she can no longer live her chosen life. Suiren, overcome by love for Toguu-sama, gives in to desire and kisses her.
As Volume 6 opens, I keep wondering if there are any more boots to drop…and, of course, there are.
Suiren has been called up to the Emperor’s residence to be one of his women. This precipitates a decision that Suiren can never go back and change. Refusing the Emperor’s call, Suiren confesses that he is a man to Toguu-sama. He leaves her service, and returns home, to become the man his sister was. Passing is merely a matter of not interacting because, although Suiren and Sarasojuu are identical in looks, Suiren has none of Sarasojuu’s skills at horseback riding or other pursuits.
Suiren, disguised as Sarasojuu, overhears a rumor of Tsuwabuki’s second woman being pregnant, guesses what has happened and heads off to find Sarasojuu.
Sarasojuu, having been taken in by Tsuwabuki, is now called Sara-hime, and is pining away, as the baby’s birth grows near. Conversely, Tsuwabuki is beside himself with joy, having both the women he loves and their children in his home. Sara is not on board with this, and poor, poor Shi-no-hime, who had no idea who this other woman was, until her son calls Sara “father”. Shi-no-hime, who has been unconscious for much of the volume swoons once again. Of everyone, I feel the most pity for her, a woman drawn into someone else’s story with no good way out.
Sara’s baby is stillborn and, naturally, she blames herself.
Suiren finds Sara, at last, as she is just about to drown herself. Suiren tries to convince Sara to return to the capital and resume their lives as before, even though he himself is not sure he can ever return to the life he’s left.
I am less distraught this volume, as I carefully fed myself a few pages at a time, knowing that this story was going to offer no respite. Parsing out mere pages of exquisitely gorgeous, emotionally agonizing story, meant that I was able to get through it without trouble. I’m desperately flailing in mind, as I read every fresh hell, to come up with ideas for a non-horrible ending. So far I am failing. And the one ending I foresee that will give the characters the happy end they deserve will have to be a very annoying tengu ex machina. ^_^;
Art – 9
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Service – 1
LGBTQ – 6
Overall – 9
Saito-sensei’s art has always been exquisite and here, she reaches her pinnacle. It’s so perfect a tale for her style.