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Manga / Sanctuary

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Sanctuary is a Seinen, half Government Procedural and half Criminal Procedural with Yakuza written by Sho Fumimura (a.k.a. Buronson of Fist of the North Star) and drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman, Mai, the Psychic Girl, and Spider-Man: The Manga), originally published from 1990 to 1995.

Akira Hojo is a charming, dashing, and ruthless thirty-something leader of a small Yakuza society with his eyes on the top and the ambition and skill to climb the ladder as quickly as he can. Chiaki Asami is the trusted advisor of a member of the Japanese Diet who takes advantage of opportunity to steal his superior's seat and use it to launch a campaign to reform Japanese politics. Little do most know that the Asami's opportunity was arranged by the actions of Hojo.

Hojo and Asami were children of Japanese expatriates in Cambodia in 1975 — the year the extremist Khmer Rouge seized power and tried to roll Cambodian society back to an agrarian "Year Zero", killing anyone who was too intellectual or who got in their way. The pair became Fire-Forged Friends and developed a talent for ruthless practicality in order to both survive Khmer Rouge work camps and eventually escape back to Japan. Disturbed by the peaceful, decadent, and listless state of the Japan they returned to, they agreed that they needed to reshape society into something that they could consider a "sanctuary". Their plan; one of them drops out of high school and joins the Yakuza, providing under-the-table funding and dirty works to support the other as he rises to the top of the political world. (The two played scissors-rock-paper to decide their roles.)

The manga was published in English by Viz Media starting in 1995; they also released translations of the anime OVA and the Japanese live-action film adaptations.

Not to be confused with the live-action TV series of the same name on Syfy.

Sanctuary and its adaptations contain the following tropes:

  • All Elections Are Serious Business: Played straight, with the election of new representative in a freshly disbanded Diet. Any party with a good chunk of the seats would turn into one of the most powerful parties in Japan.
  • Appeal to Novelty: The manga is very critical of the old politicians of Japan, with the main characters stating that they make the country stagnate and that a forty-years old minister would be already revolutionary. Hojo notably points out to the old boss of the Kobe Sannoh Association that old men develop a defensive instinct of preserving what is instead of seizing the future.
  • Armies Are Evil: Discussed and exploited by Asami and other politicians. As a publicity coup, his group proposes to amend the 9th amendment of Japan's constitution, stirring opposing views who think that Japan is a peaceful nation who mustn't have an army. In reality, the proposition is the first step in Asami's plan to increase the public interest in politics and he wants to make a referendum which would circumvent the parties at the diet.
  • Assassination Attempt: The main cast is subject to multiple assassination attempts because they are involved with the yakuza and stir things up, making them a lot of enemies. Early in the story Chiaki is stabbed by one of Akira's men although the attempt is staged to garner sympathy and Akira is shot by Wong.
  • Awkward Kiss: Whenever Tokai feels particularly impressed by Hojo, the guy tries to congratulate him with a big ol' smooch on the cheek or even the mouth, embarrassing Hojo to no end. It's about the only time Hojo feels close to losing his cool.
  • Back to School: One of Hojo's endgame goals for the yakuzas is for them to all get an education. Knowing that deep down the yakuzas have humble goals but not the education to achieve them legally, he tells his men to take course and acquire legitimate skills to make them respectable. It backfires when rogue elements backed by the Russians try to mess up with the gangs who are now tied by the law.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Any character who is attractive is either good from the start, or redeem themselves later.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis:
    • The baby boomers of the Diet. During the 60s, these youths were ready to change Japan and violently fought for it, but as time went by they became the very politicians they hated, trapped in and working for the system while harboring deep-seated regrets over their inability to change things.
    • Similarly, Isaoka started out as a hopeful politician looking to change Japan by carrying necessary reforms forward, but over the years he found himself unable to bring about real change and turned into the defender of a manageable status quo.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Kyoko and Akira are really attracted to each other, but Kyoko stays stubborn and antagonistic at the surface level until very late in the manga.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: The leader of the Okinawa yakuzas is a seemingly withdrawn sugar cane farmer. Said farmer doesn't hesitate to unpin a grenade and threaten to make himself explode with Tokai and Huang.
  • Big Bad: Isaoka is the longest-lasting adversary both Asami and Hojo face in the series, with ties to many of their other adversaries.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hojo and Asami finally achieve a political and social revolution in Japan, earning both allies who share their dream and the approval of bitter opponents such as Isaoka. However, Asami will soon die and it is made clear throughout the series that "Sanctuary" will feel like a hollow victory if he and Hojo can't enjoy it together.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Mr. Tokai.
  • Born Lucky: How Asami and Hojo survived Cambodia
  • Brains and Brawn: Hojo's brains to Tokai's brawn
  • Cast of Snowflakes: The artstyle idealizes the beauty of men and women of good moral standing, making a good chunk of the cast resemble the same two top models. Averted for the old politicians and yakuzas who's older traits gives Ikegami the occasion of diversifying the look of his cast.
  • Cool Shades: Tokai's glasses of choice.
  • Criminal Procedural: Hojo's half of the plot is his constant conquest of Japan's underworld as he gathers underlings and tackles more powerful clans.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Hojo and Asami had to live through the horrors of the Cambodian communist regime before even reaching the age of fourteen. Notably the two boys were sentenced to forced labor, burying those the regime executed while being underfed.
  • Dating Catwoman: Deputy Tokyo Police Chief Kyoko Ishihara is the "woman" of Akira Hojo, a yakuza.
  • Dirty Old Man: The series is full of sex scenes between old men of power and hapless women/women who must sell themselves to achieve anything.
  • Double Standard: Men Are Tough, whether it is Hojo and Asami or their foes, all men of importance are recognized as being tough and important politicians/yakuzas, the only difference is that Hojo and Asami aren't morally bankrupt and want the best for Japan. In contrast, women are mostly useless, save as Disposable Woman for some, marks of virility for those who legitimately conquer one, or mothers. What then, the main characters adhere to the belief that stubborn women need good sex with a male to be won over.
  • Due to the Dead: In chapter 19, a motorcyclist is killed in a traffic accident before Hojo's eyes. Even the tough Tokai is shaken when he sees the decapitated corpse of the motorcyclist and Hojo is the only one with the guts to go to the corpse, wrap up the head in his coat to put it back next to the body, giving the deceased some dignity in death.
  • Dumb Muscle: Deconstructed with Tokai. Despite being a higher-up of the Sagara Alliance, Tokai realizes that he's ultimately a puppet the don send to perform hits but nothing more. He's then served years of prison only to realize his boss is an Ungrateful Bastard who disregards the risks and sacrifices he's made and forgetting Tokai is the reason the Sagara Alliance became what it is. Hojo decides to shake him out of his current position.
  • Evil Is Easy: Subverted. When Hojo's boss asks him why he's a yakuza, Hojo boldly claims that yakuzas "can do in a single day what it takes an ordinary man thirty years to do". However, Hojo doesn't particularly want to enjoy the stuff yakuzas want, but instead uses illegal means to propel Asami to political importance as they both know the conservative politicians of the country won't allow a young man to become important.
  • Evil Old Folks: Whenever it's a Corrupt Politician or a Yakuza boss the duo are facing, the enemy is always at least sixty yeard old.
  • Fan Disservice: From an old Yakuza boss getting it on with some young woman to Tokai having his way with some inexperienced girl, Sanctuary is full of fan disservice.
  • Faux Action Girl:
    • Kyoko — she rapidly degenerates into "Hojo's girlfriend, on the other side of the law". She's presented as an elite policeman but is tricked on her first time approaching Hojo into thinking she's been raped, mistaking tomato juice for blood at that. In a later scene, Isaoka interrogates Kyoko about Hojo and Asami's connection and then remarks she reacted in fear as a woman rather than as the imposing police officer she should be — a far cry from the bold attitude he had just witnessed from Asami.
    • Also Bissett, the visiting American politician, in a way - it isn't long before she's more interested in Asami than in politics. Notably, Asami makes a point of encouraging Bissett to pursue the presidency of the USA while Hojo asks Kyoko to resign from her job so he can protect her more closely.
  • Feeling Their Age: Ogata, boss of the Kobe Sannoh Association. He's very fit and dynamic but is still over sixty years old and conscious that his muscles are partially for show. Hojo pushes him to step down when he demonstrates that he can cut a goza target in one stroke of a sword despite his injuries, while Ogata tries his luck and fails.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm : Occurs quite often.
  • Grin of Audacity: Because of their secret partnership, Akira and Chiaki often sport a knowing smile when planning and executing daring gambits.
  • Groin Attack: Shinichiro Sengoku kicks Asami in the groin during their brawl in the chamber of the Diet.
  • Government Procedural: Asami's half of the plot is about him trying to shake up Japan's political landscape, by notably tackling the Liberal Democratic Party who represent the majority at the Diet and their leader, Isaoka.
  • Gratuitous Rape: As a vulgar and wild yakuza, Tokai repeatedly assaults women on restrooms on a whim, raping them so casually and with no regard for consequences that it can come off as Black Comedy Rape given he's still meant to be seen as one of the good guys.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: After going through the hell that was Red Cambodia together, Akira and Chiaki had developed an iron-clad friendship that makes their partnership in uplifting Japan unbreakable, as they remain friends through the trials that await them.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Asami develops one late in the manga.
  • I Owe You My Life:
    • A collective variant. Tashiro and his family are extremely loyal to Hojo for one reason. He gave them the money for an expensive surgical operation that saved Tashiro's son's life and Tashiro swore loyalty to Hojo out of gratitude.
    • After learning about Asami's illness, Hojo recalls the one time he was sick at the death camp and Asami insisted to go work on biohazardous territory instead of him. Hojo bitterly concludes he was saved in more ways than one then.
  • Kavorka Man: Most of the older politicians and Yakuza leaders; most disturbingly, Isaoka.
  • Klingon Promotion: Subverted. When Hojo shoots the boss of the Sagara alliance in the head and offers Tokai the position, it's then made clear that Hojo intentionally missed a vital spot to allow him to survive just enough so that Tokai can be made the boss as a heir instead of an usurper. Otherwise, the Sagara alliance would be destabilized by a sudden power vacuum and be absorbed by rival clans.
  • The Last DJ: Shinichiro Sengoku, a young chairman of the Diet from from Liberal Democratic Party who's acquired his seat by luck heritage, but comes in the chamber drunk, provokes fistfights and insults the head of his party; on the other part, he shows a great deal of integrity.
  • The Mafiya: Russian gangsters, led by Sokoroff, become one of the last antagonists Hojo has to face. During the second elections, the Russians stir up trouble in Hokkaido to ruin Hojo's candidacy. Hojo tries to make peace with Sokoroff, angering Ichijima in the process. In the end, Ichijima is proven right in that the Russian gangsters aren't trustworthy and Hojo takes Sokoroff out.
  • Magnetic Hero: Both Akira and Chiaki are extremely charismatic to the people around them, effortlessly converting others to their side with their results but also stirring enthusiasm with their grandiose visions of a better world. For instance, Akira manages to convince Tokai, who was ready to kill him, to become his underling. Meanwhile, Chiaki convinces Ms. Bissett, an American politician who was hell-bent on making a one-sided deal on car trades, to adhere to his views.
  • Manly Tears: Akira sheds some for Wong when he sees his corpse.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Isaoka is one of the shortest characters of the main cast, contrasting his absolute power over the diet. It is shown that he was already short when relatively young.
  • Murder by Mistake: Because of him cutting off illegal funds, Asami is briefly the target of a hit, but one of his assistants is the one being thrown out a window, "thanks" to the dark appartment preventing the assassins from properly identifying their marks. Subverted in that the assistant Matsushita survives the fall.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Tokai nearly has his way with Kyoko before noticing a photo of Hojo on her bedstand. He immediately goes limp and gets away, realizing that Kyoko simply "needs" Hojo to be disciplined.
  • Odd Friendship: Asami quickly become friends with Shinichiro from the opposing Liberal Democratic Party who's a violent but honorable diet chairman, as well as with Hidemaru Yoshikawa from an independant party, as young and as ambitious as Asami himself but very short.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Asami is the most openly patriotic character in the manga although with a twist on his sentiments. He proudly shows to Bissett the strengths of the Japanese people, but is also savvy of their weaknesses. As such, his endgame is the uplift the Japanese people further to make their democracy work and make them able to challenge the whole world in all areas.
  • Police Are Useless: The police has zero weight in the story, with Kyoko among others simply having to read the headlines about Hojo's far reaching actions in the underworld.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Wong's futile attack on the Kobe clan's compound is presented as his personal redemption and final step from ruthless ambitious gangster to a more moral one. Unfortunately, he takes a bullet to the head.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Two flashbacks to young Hojo and Asami's travel to the Cambodia-Thailand border shows them being forced to abandon one of their fellow refuges by a tree, with the second one showing Hojo turning back and trying to carry the boy along. At the end Hojo and Asami are back in Cambodia and sitting by a tree. They have achieved Sanctuary but Asami will soon die from illness and Hojo can't do anything to save him.
  • Running Away to Cry: After Asami successfully negotiates with Bissett and sees her off, Kariya storms off to a toilet stall in the airport and cries over being so outclassed by a freshmen. He then decides to flush down his pride and cooperate with Asami.
  • Sigil Spam: The Kobe clan are very proud of their triangular sigil, whose broad strokes surrounding the kanjis for "mountain king" is reminiscent of the real-life Kobe clan Yamaguchi-gumi, also based in Kobe.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Tokai. He works for Hojo and is nominally a "good guy". He's also a violent thug, and sexually harrasses the women he doesn't outright rape by taking advantage of his status as a yakuza.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Asami is already quite the hunk, so his glasses make him look even more classy and collected. They can quickly become Sinister Shades whenever he's planning something.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Hojo stirs up the Hong-Kongese Triads through Hojo so they become a proxy gang to take over Japan's underworld with. He does respect Wong for being an ambitious and dynamic youth like him.
  • ‹bermensch: Hojo and Asami — the plot can be described as the duo's plot to take a Japan filled with Last Men of various kinds and remake it in their image. They inspire many of their True Companions during the story, and even Isaoka seems to approach the Ubermensch while creating and defending the status quo.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Quite notable for being a work that condones it. Hojo and Asami want to create "Sanctuary", a Japan were the politicians are dynamic and patriotic and where the citizens are mindful to their duties to the democracy, compared to the old stagnant politicians and the political apathy of the populace at the start of the story. To create their Sanctuary, Hojo and Asami do not hesitate to commit murder, blackmail and other crimes.
  • We Can Rule Together: After discovering the link between Hojo and Asami, Isaoka offers to let them work with him. They refuse.
  • Where It All Began: After achieving their dream, Hojo and Asami travel back to Cambodia and end the story sitting next to a tree to watch the sunset.
  • Worthy Opponent: Isaoka develops a healthy respect for Asami after he learns that they have similar backgrounds and ambitions for Japan, and goes as far as proposing a truce between them. Asami and Hojo immediately refuse.
  • Zen Survivor: Hojo and Asami