It tells the story of a spirited and strong-willed young girl sold into a brothel after the death of her parents. Throughout the work the name of the girl changes: as a maid, she's Tomeki; as a shinzo (a courtesan in training) her name is O-Rin; as a Zashiki-Mochi (a rank on her brothel) her name changes to Kiyoha; finally, as an Oiran (the highest level of courtesan), her name is Higurashi. The story details her journey through her many attempts to run away, her doomed first love, and her struggle to remain true to herself and not let herself get broken by the difficult life of a courtesan.
A live-action film adaptation was released in 2007, with a soundtrack by Shiina Ringo and Saito Neko.
Tropes found in this work include:
- All of the Other Reindeer: No matter what her name, the main character deals with bullying (some of the other girls hide her kimono), abuse (she is beaten or hit on what seems like a daily basis), and subtle tricks such as her mentor having her hair put in an unlucky style that means 'lonely night with no lover' or another courtesan tipping off her customer about her lover.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: Averted: women and men are consistently drawn with nipples and pubic hair.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Wakagiku, although it's possible she was just trying to give Kiyoha a wake-up call.
- Break the Haughty: Kiyoha's peers and superiors at the brothel try to pull this on her repeatedly, but never succeed.
- Broken Bird: Many of the young prostitutes become like this after years of servitude.
- Calling Your Orgasms: Some of the courtesans do this on purpose because the customers like it.
- Driven to Suicide: Discussed as a possible cause of O-Some's death.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Kiyoha does this after Sojiro leaves her.
- First Love: Kiyoha falls hard for a customer. It doesn't end well.
- Gory Discretion Shot: In the film, Higurashi's miscarriage begins with dramatic reactions, but cuts to the aftermath without showing the full, bloody event.
- Harmful to Minors: The average maid in a Sakuran brothel suffers frequent physical abuse from her elders and witnesses so many Primal Scenes that she quickly becomes totally desensitized to such things.
- High-Class Call Girl: The oiran in the Yoshiwara are the highest class trained in classical arts as well as seduction.
- Lie Back and Think of England: When Kiyoha is preparing to lose her virginity to Mr. Konoya, her peers advise her to just lie back and close her eyes. She snarkily replies that if she did that, he'd probably fall asleep.
- Love Hurts: "To love is hell. To be loved is hell. But without love you can't live."
- Love Makes You Crazy: One of the courtesans cuts her finger off to send as a pledge of love. Another courtesan is killed by her lover when she tries to pull a murder-suicide with him.
- Love Makes You Stupid: A common problem amongst the young courtesans is falling so much in love with one man to the point of neglecting all other customers and suffering a decline in popularity and business.
- Made a Slave: The young maid Tomeki was sold to the brothel after her parents died.
- Meaningful Rename: The heroine gets a different name each time she moves up in the courtesan ranks, which is Truth in Television for both oiran and Geisha.
- Red Light District: The Yoshiwara in which the brothel is located.
- School of Seduction: As a shinzo, O-Rin is trained in the arts of seduction.
- Stock Shoujo Bullying Tactics: The other maids hide Tomeki's kimono and she gets scolded for this.
- The Stoic: All the higher-ranking courtesans cultivate a serene, unemotional air.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Kiyoha steals a pair of pants and dresses as a man in a runaway attempt. She is brought back and tortured.