SHK: Reflections on Aoba and the Established Couple of the Series

Original Post found here

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[art taken from Arina Tanemura’s blog]

Sakura Hime Kaden Ch. 1-2 Reactions: Reflections on Aoba and the Established Couple of the Series 

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUND FOR ALL OF CHAPTER TWO EVERYWHERE. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ALL OF CHAPTER TWO

Introduction: Reactions to SHK Ch. 2

So, after wandering forums and various blogs, etc to tap onto what others thought of this chapter, I found that loads of people were horribly disappointed by the ending. The reaction to Aoba’s actions ranged from being disappointed to wanting to strangle him in his sleep. And the hate was even worse towards Oumi, while with most willing to acknowledge that they noticed her hate towards demons. But I digress, I’m not particularly interested in discussing Oumi’s actions here. Moving on.

Some I found are disappointed with the series for Arina Tanemura failing on the romantic cuteness by delivering us Drama up in the end. Some are bouncing with anticipation and excitement for the next chapter because OMG IS SAKURA GONNA LIVE OR NOT?!!? And some are reserving judgement on what to think of Aoba and other questionable characters for later, having faith that Arina Tanemura will definitely redeem all characters by the end of the series. And quite a few I see are hoping for a triangle with the crown prince or at least some other dude so that they won’t have to contemplate Sakura x Aoba for a while, because they aren’t quite ready to forgive Aoba just yet. 

You guys, I’m gonna be honest. When I saw what Aoba did at the end, it made this rather lacklustre chapter hit completely off the charts for me. I was amazed, astounded, then understood. And then I loved Arina Tanemura for what she has done here. I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was never this big of a shock this early in any of her series before and it’s so perfect and twists all perceived conceptions the reader may have developed before Tanemura-sama revealed more of Aoba’s character at the end. 

Plus, Aoba, whom I saw as just a teasing flirt and the beginning of the series, has now shown a total new perspective on his character and, in the process, completely stolen my heart. The relationship between him and Sakura fucked up entirely, and I can’t wait to see more.

But, before I get too ahead of myself, allow me to explain.

Chapter 1 Recap: Where Sakura and Aoba Stand

Okay, let’s have a flashback to Chapter 1. The first page had a most interesting little monologue with Aoba’s narration: “All this time, I’ve looked at you. I’ve hated you, hated you, hated you all this time. All this time, I’ve looked at you.” Then we get into a most promising splash chapter page, wherein the tagline said “More than love or passion!” But then we get to read the actual chapter, and it looks very blah-ish shoujo cutesy romance, with what seemed to be the stereotypical angst due to miscommunication (read: Aoba’s letters and never having visited) found in our usual shoujo romance. Nothing terribly wrong with that, but not half as exciting or intriguing as the hate dynamic I got a glimpse of at the very first page. 

Still, by the end of the chapter, I was pretty pleased with our leading stars, Sakura and Aoba—as individual characters, that is. I saw in Sakura a young girl who’s a bit new to the world yet completely sincere in her fondness for those around her, a girl with a big heart and a sweet smile. Plus, she was very independent in the sense that she wanted things for herself, personal goals and dreams and can be determined in the face of pressure and dangerous situations. She was quick-thinking with her use of the Bloody Cherry Blossoms Sword when the sword wouldn’t obey her, and facing head on at the sight of her rather negative life letter, instead of deflating and losing confidence in herself when things aren’t looking bright. She’s sweet, a smidge naïve, independent, smart and willing to face the future, and I love her for that.

Now, Aoba, he was a rather sneaky little fellow, what with his disguise in what I assume to allow him to see the real Sakura without letting her know who he is. He’s a great big tease with Sakura, mocking her and treating her as a child. I’ll admit, that too is cute in its own way. If we see this from the usual romantic perspective, he’s drawn to the girl and teases her mercilessly to get her attention. Yet this façade of perverted flirt is only used with Sakura. We didn’t catch much of a glimpse of how Aoba is with others, so he comes off as funny with his teasing ways yet slightly mysterious ‘cause we don’t know him very well. (What are his intentions for not revealing his true identity? Why does he say that he hates her in the first page? Why did he never come to visit her before? Why did he want to get married now?) Disguising himself also adds to the mysterious quality. And we can also tell that Aoba isn’t quite showing his real self in this chapter with that one scene, when he said “I’m nervous with this sort of thing.” ‘cause it implies that since he’s nervous he’s be hiding something, or faking his act around Sakura. (Or we could take it as he was nervous around Sakura, but I find the other possibilities far more interesting.) He was and by the end of Chapter 1 I was intrigued enough by this male lead to want to see more of him.

So, that leaves me at the end of Chapter 1 admiring Sakura very much and finding Aoba very interesting. I was not totally sold on Sakura and Aoba being together, but I was willing to keep watching them interact in later chapters and allowing Arina Tanemura to convince me slowly and surely that they fit. 

Now, let’s look at Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 Recap: Initial thoughts on Aoba x Sakura while reading the first 40 pages and squee for the Aoba Revelation

To be honest, up before the last few pages of ~*drama*~, I found myself rolling my eyes at Aoba x Sakura, something that I didn’t do in Chapter 1 at all. In Chapter 1, Sakura and Aoba had a very straight forward cat and dog relationship, wherein they didn’t get along very well, with Aoba constantly mocking her and treating her like a child, and Sakura infuriated over the fact that her rank as Princess isn’t being respected and having no desire to get along with the messenger who was going to deliver her to the man she hated. I liked this dynamic, and was hoping for more mistrust scenes over Aoba’s trickery of disguising himself as the messenger. 

But then, in Chapter 2, it looked like it was wandering into the usual shoujo troupe of ‘I say that I hate you, but I love you actually!’, and eye-rolling angst over what was apparently nothing worth angst-ing over, with the dose of, quote on quote, “cute scenes” between Aoba x Sakura over their talk, with Sakura explaining her hate for him and Aoba explaining the supposed reason why he never came to see him. And honestly? The reason Aoba gave to Sakura for not seeing her was stereotypical and lame. What’s this garbage about wanting to prove himself and make himself an admirable person before wanting to see your fiancée? Did he really think that if he became all buff and manly and awe her with his bow and arrow skills, everything in their relationship would just work out and be rainbows and sparkles from here on out?! I was appalled, this wasn’t the Aoba I thought he was, and my impression of this couple grew worse when he said stuff about always going to visit her, and seeing Sakura looking like she’ll accept this lame excuse and then started twitching in despair at the kiss scene. 

It’s just, that scene, it felt so wrong, going against all my initial impressions of where this relationship was going. I mean, I understood that Sakura was being idealistic in wanting love, and at the thought that she might possibly have it in her marriage with Aoba filled her to the brim with hope. But I really wanted Arina Tanemura to explore how Sakura’s mistrust in Aoba would affect their relationship, and I wanted her to go into more depth of Aoba’s shadowy past actions towards Sakura. (The whole hate thing and the never visiting her thing) By making Sakura begin to trust Aoba so easily just shattered those hopes completely. As for Aoba, the easy answer Aoba gave was so dumb, so different from what I thought I understood in Aoba, and it just didn’t click with me. It wasn’t the actual act of the kiss that shocked me, since Aoba seemed perfectly down with the flirting-with-girls thing. (Note: his announcement of their marriage night being that very day.) It was the words he said. I just kept on staring at those pages, the ones with him saying he wanted to make himself the perfect man for her and I was like, ‘Really?! Are you sh*ting me here?!’ It was way, way too easy, and so different from his narration on the first page of the first chapter, and the self-assured, mocking, flirting Aoba we got a glimpse of, that I just couldn’t believe it. Then I actually went and considered taking this scene at face value, and I wanted to bash my head against a desk even more. Because if all things are handy dandy now between Sakura and Aoba and Arina Tanemura isn’t even going to explore the feelings of hate and mistrust they hold for each other, then this would just be your usual shoujo romance, with them having scenes of flirting and enough fluff to choke on, and only complicated by stupid misunderstandings (He didn’t eat lunch with me, why?! Is he cheating on me!? Etc) for the rest of the series and I seriously can’t stomach that. 

And then, and then, THE GLORIOUS LAST FEW PAGES OF CHAPTER TWO SET THINGS RIGHT AGAIN. NO, WAIT, IT MADE THINGS EVEN BETTER THAN I EXPECTED.

Just when I lost hope that Arina Tanemura was going to ever follow up on the whole hating and “more than love or passion” thing, SHE PULLS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER AT THE VERY LAST SECOND. Aoba finally makes sense to me. It reconciles with what was shown at the very first page of this series. He resents her for taking away what he believes is his right to be heir to the throne, and seeks ways to get rid of her. Or so he says for now. Arina Tanemura probably has another reason lurking around to be discovered. (Note: do not doubt resentfulness, just maybe the seeking ways to get rid of her isn’t all what it appears to be.) 

And now, having sent his guards after her and shooting her, the mistrust and hate scale soared into unbelievable heights. Arina Tanemura has gone beyond my expectations and I shall never doubt her in this series ever again. But once again, I digress.

Let’s look at what exactly Aoba did and how this affects the relationship between Aoba and Sakura.

Sakura’s relationship with Aoba, Speculations on Aoba himself, and What This Means for Future Sakura x Aoba Development

For Chapter 1 and most of Chapter 2, Sakura’s reasons for mistrusting and hating Aoba are pretty solid. He never visits her, he disguised himself upon actually meeting her face to face and in essence, deceived her, and he’s never shown interest in her, and treats her like a child i.e. without the respect due to her. Sakura quite rightly resents Aoba for this, and doesn’t like the thought of being engaged to someone who so clearly isn’t interested in her, and instead of what quite a lot of stock shoujo manga heroine (I’ve seen, anyhow) would do and try to “improve herself” so that Aoba might like her more, she rejects him right back and runs away in attempt to not marry him. But then, Aoba helped her on the night of the demon attack, and he gave her at least a reason for why he never showed his face, and Sakura always had hope in him, wanting to believe that this could work out and wanting to give this a chance. (See – Sakura’s reactions to letters. She’d throw them away at first, then come back to them, and read them over, searching for something that isn’t there, hoping.) She allowed herself to believe that maybe this could turn out alright partway through Chapter 2. Obviously, her hopes were betrayed, and you betcha those mistrust issues are going to come back full swing. 

Aoba’s reasons for the hate he narrated about in the beginning of Chapter 1 only become revealed at the end of Chapter 2. I don’t doubt the truth that Aoba resents Sakura’s existence. But I suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg. Having his true feelings revealed over his resentment only explains one half of the first page of this series. Along with his narration going on about how he hated her all this time, he also said that he was “looking at her all this time”. Can we interpret this as he’s unable to detach himself from her affairs, in spite of his hate and resentment? It would certainly explain what he declared to the crown prince: “Her fate and mine are connected!” He believes this, I’m sure he does, why else would Arina Tanemura put that in the chapter? And I find the glimpses of Aoba’s “sad smiles” caught by Sakura most interesting. You guys, there’s definitely more than hate (though, I repeat, I still think the hate is there) going on in here, I’m positive about this. Aoba has shown himself to be more than just your stock male lead in common shoujo manga troupes, and I’m loving it. 

Then, if Aoba hates Sakura yet is unable to be immune or detach himself from her existence, what does this mean for any future developments? Well, for one thing, Aoba and Sakura share these common feelings with each other. (Both resent the other, yet can’t be immune or detach themselves from the other person.) For another, this plays up the mistrust issues way up, to a level that I never expected, and I couldn’t be more excited by this development. This will mean that Aoba and Sakura will have to go on a ‘journey’ together, so to speak, experience things and learn how to trust each other through deeds and not just pretty words. The duality over their feelings of hate yet still having the feelings of connection/attachment to each other can be fully explored, and maybe transform into something that’s truly, as the tagline promised, “more than love or passion”. And I’m really, really excited by this possibility. 

Conclusion: Speculations on Future Chapters, and Squee-age over Aoba and the Many Possibilites of Aoba x Sakura.

I’m foreseeing the future where Sakura would, obviously, get away and Aoba hunts her down. It’s like, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne again! Except with more at stake, because they don’t even have initial trust in each other. But here is my own personal bias, as I love KKJ and would love to be able to draw more parallels with this series. I’m trying really hard to contain my excitement here, as I’ve been disappointed by Arina Tanemura for the longest time, but that kinda very obviously failed… 

All I can say is, we *must* have more Aoba and see more layers in this guy, because, dude, I haven’t been this interesting in Arina Tanemura’s lead guy in forever, and I get a feeling there’s a lot to be said about Aoba. And MORE Aoba x Sakura scenes and mistrust issues and conflicting feelings!! I want Arina Tanemura to show me more of these scenes and convince me of their falling in love process so bad, I don’t even have words to express. 

Also? I’m definitely invested in this series and sticking to the bitter end. Let’s hope this trip is worth it, eh?

* All Quotes are Lifted From the Translations by Aerandria Scans

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