Oten no mon (The Southern Gate)
A historical suspense set in the ancient capital of Kyoto during the early Heian period. SUGAWARA no Michizane, known today as the god of learning, teams up with ARIWARA no Narihira, the legendary Heian lover who is said to be the model for The Tale of Genji hero HIKARU Genji, to solve bizarre incidents plaguing the capital. Michizane’s intellect and Narihira’s wits combine to resolve one mystery after another, ranging from the serial disappearance of court ladies to troubles surrounding the renowned beauty Princess Tamamushi. All of this is brought to life through exquisite brushwork and characters based on historical personages. The plots, too, reference actual events, such as the love affair between Narihira and imperial consort FUJIWARA no Takako, and the apolitical Michizane’s reluctant embroilment in the court intrigues of FUJIWARA Yoshifusa and other members of the powerful FUJIWARA clan.
When I first started reading this manga in serial form, I anticipated a pleasant little “Heian-era Sherlock Holmes” premise featuring a cute, moody-boy version of SUGAWARA no Michizane. But no! As I got further into the narrative, it felt as if the author had decided to plunge headlong into the turmoil of the Otenmon Incident, an event familiar to historians but not to most readers. Roused to do a little research myself, I learned that in real life, playboy ARIWARA no Narihira was indeed a pal of young Michizane, 20 years his junior, and that they made the rounds of the pleasure quarters together. Michizane’s unhappy life is colorized by all manner of supernatural phenomena, but the way the manga has him conquer these superstitions with his powers of reason is fabulous. With artwork and historical perspective both second to none, this is a prizeworthy masterpiece. (MINAMOTO Taro)