Yusen Ruten's flaws aren't enough to deny that this is an excellent read from start to finish.
Title: Yusen Ruten: An Era of Red
Genre: Historical, romance
Publisher: Cross Infinite World (US)
Artist/Writer: Shino Shirosakura
Translation: Tan Li Yun Evelyn
Original Release Date: November 6, 2017
Review copy provided by Cross Infinite World
Yusen Ruten: An Era of Red escorts its readers back to 1320s Japan just before a major political upheaval. Masayoshi (formerly called Shouta) is adopted by his uncle after his parents are murdered by the shogun’s secret police. Now the heir, Masayoshi works hard to succeed his adoptive father in the turbulent times.
However, fighting the Rokuhara troops isn’t real the problem that weighs him down. Masayoshi is in love with his cousin — now sister — Saki. Saki too is overly concerned about his safety and his love life to realize she’s the object of his not-subtle-at-all affection. While the title may make the series appear to be an action story, I have to wonder if “red” at least partially refers to love and all the blushing the two leads do.
No doubt some readers will feel uncomfortable with the main couple being so closely related (blood-wise and otherwise), but I must remind them that this was a very different time period, and their father doesn’t seem to have an issue with the idea. (Most of the characters are fairly laid-back actually.) While I first thought much of the romance would just be Masayoshi thinking of Saki as he heads into battle, the ending of the first volume appears to make his feelings a bigger internal conflict than I expected. Masayoshi and Saki are easily flustered when around the other one (or if someone is teasing them), but Masayoshi worries his emotions are overtaking his control and common sense.
Before some of you sound the creeper alert, the manga is relatively tame. I say “relatively” since, well, we start off with Masayoshi’s mother being killed, Masayoshi and his troops fighting (but not to the death), and another character being sexually assaulted. Author Shirosakura doesn’t show graphic sexual situations or violence, and Masayoshi unleashed involves kissing the sleeping Saki.
As an opening volume, much is spent on set-up: Masayoshi and Saki’s family, their allies, and the state of the world. A lot of first volumes tend to be shaky, the author unsure of where to go and what they or the audience want. Fortunately, Yusen Ruten doesn’t overload the readers with character after character, and the path forward is pretty clear. After all, this is a historical manga.
But even the atmosphere of Yusen Ruten: An Era of Red seems old-fashioned. I don’t mean this in a negative way; the manga has an 80s/90s feel to it in the vein of Maison Ikkoku and the more modern Cross Game. The art is pretty simplistic and straightforward (it is a webmanga after all), the female lead is kind if somewhat naïve, Masayoshi is a kindhearted swordsman a la Kenshin, and even the sleeping kiss scene feels straight out of Sailor Moon. I’ve mentioned before how I’d like to see more classic manga in English. Despite this being an ongoing series, it scratches that same itch. For me, that was the whole reason I loved Yusen Ruten so much. It’s not edgy, it’s not full of dark or tsundere characters, it’s just a pure-hearted romantic adventure set in a violent time period.
There’s another reason why I think those of us who grew up in the Toonami era or earlier may appreciate this series more: it’s set during some sort of revolution. If you’re anything like me and your knowledge of the 1300s — let alone 1300s Japan — is severely lacking, then parts of the story will be confusing. Akuto, Rokuhara, Iga… even with the translator’s notes, I don’t fully understand why Masayoshi’s clan was hunted down. I don’t know how closely Yusen Ruten is going to follow the fall of the Kamakura shogunate, but I have a feeling readers are going to be expected to fill in the gaps. Honorifics are included, but trust me, the few translator’s notes are more important.
While Yusen Ruten: An Era of Red has its flaws, Masayoshi’s honor versus his swirling emotions is more than enough to overcome them. Just be prepared for a presentation a little different from most of the modern serialized works.