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Manga / The Legend of Mother Sarah

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Sigourney Weaver has nothing on her.

Another Katsuhiro Otomo hit manga, The Legend of Mother Sarah was written by the creator of AKIRA but was drawn by Takumi Nagayasu from 1990 to 2006.

In a dystopian future, the Earth has been utterly poisoned by nuclear warfare and, even though there are still people living there, most of humanity has fled onto satellites to live tranquilly away from the devastated planet, now nothing but a wasteland.

However, one day, a scientist came up with a new invention: a massive but environmentally clean bomb that could actually make the Southern Hemisphere of the planet a land of prosperity for humanity while burying the radioactive Northern Hemisphere under snow and ice. The existence of this bomb initiated the endless war between opposing factions Epoch and Mother Earth who want to decide whether or not to use that bomb. A conflict that slowly but surely contaminated the tranquil space colonies and sparked a massive exodus back to Earth from the people living in the satellites orbiting around the Earth.

Sarah, a mother of 4, used to live peacefully with her family in the satellites that orbited around Earth until one of the numerous terrorist attacks shaking the satellites forced her back to Earth. In the debacle, she got separated from her husband, Bard, and 3 of her children: Harato (her firstborn son), Satoko (her daughter) and Tsumuri (her middle son) but kept her baby boy Kazuki with her.

Flash forward 10 years later. Roaming the inhospitable wastelands of Earth, Sarah is now searching for her children, accompanied by her sidekick Tsue, a truck-riding merchant who took her in. And she won't stop until she has found all 3 of them.

The series is now mostly out-of-print but it can be found online and used copies of it are available. The series was also an oddity for its time since it's technically a Seinen (and not a Josei) but it features an adult woman and covers many themes related to childhood, childbearing and motherhood in general, along with wartime realities, soldier kids, survival and religion.

The series presents the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Sarah, obviously, whose build is indeed appropriate for this trope, being unusually tall and jacked for a woman, in addition to being beautiful.
    • Action Mom: A sweet mother of 4 children who throws a particularly mean right.
  • Action Survivor: Satoko, Tsue and many other secondary characters qualify. They don't fight directly but they're still capable of handling themselves in a dystopian world and surviving the ever-present violence.
  • After the End: As could be expected of a Dystopia, the whole story takes place after the "end of the world".
  • All Men Are Perverts: Or more specifically, Men Of Power are perverts, other men are usually decent.
  • All Women Are Lustful: And that goes for women too.
  • Ambiguously Brown: It is not known whether Tsue is African or Indian.
  • And the Adventure Continues: When all is said and done, Tsue asks Sarah So What Do We Do Now?. Realizing that she has nowhere to go, that her husband is dead, that she may probably never see Harato again, that Satoko is now moving on with her own life and ignoring that Tsumuri is probably still alive, Sarah ponders for a while, realizing that another journey awaits: fulfilling her husband's wish. She will now go to where Satoko lives, and then to where she buried Kazuki and then to where Tsumuri supposedly died and make all of these areas "green", as Bard wished.
  • Author Tract: Katsuhiro Otomo is quite known for his dislike of the military and anything nuclear, as AKIRA already displayed quite clearly. The Legend Of Mother Sarah is likewise quite unapologetic in its negative portrayal of both things.
  • Badass Long Robe: When she's on the road or when she wants to remain unnoticed, Sarah wears a long beige cloak, which she wears niqab-style. Makes sense since she mostly cruises deserts and Arctic zones.
  • Badass Normal: Sarah doesn't have superpowers. She's just trained and determined enough to fight off the countless attempts on her virtue or the ones who oppose her in her quest.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: How Sarah makes it out of the City of Children alive, thanks to Kebu, a mentally retarded teenager whom she left sleep at her side because her smell reminded him of his own mother.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Claus qualifies big time, using his appearance and apparent clumsiness to fool people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the story, Sarah has lost her husband, her infant son and her younger son (but it's hinted that he's actually alive). Her daughter is a mother too, but chose to stay where she was as a nurse/nun and her eldest son is now a Rebel Leader doing his own stuff. In the end, she resolves to continue journeying, planting the seeds of peace of Bard's potatoes along the way.
  • Breast Attack: Self-inflicted. After having had to kill her own infant, Sarah was forced to work in a labor camp near the desert. Being naturally much stronger than the average female, she was forced to work alongside the men in a tough, physically demanding manual job. The scorching heat got her to be shirtless, exposing her lactating right breast. Guilt-ridden and forlorn, Sarah decided to punish herself for what she had done to her son by thrusting a wooden stake through her right breast. She is now wearing a permanent prosthetic right breast made of steel.
  • But Now I Must Go: Constantly driving across deserts and steppes, Sarah never stops anywhere very long. She usually stays in a place until she finds a valuable info to locate her children. And eventually resolves to continue her journey with Tsue, since she's got nowhere left to go.
  • Cat Fight: Averted. Sarah doesn't Cat Fight when she battles a female opponent. She fights, period. With punches, kicks, headbutts and other serious blows.
  • Children Are Innocent: Zigzagged. While the younger ones may be described as indeed helpless and innocent, the older ones (10 and older) are sometimes just as corrupt and selfish as adults.
  • Corruption by a Minor: The City of Children Arc reveals that children aren't always the innocent angels people want to believe they are, especially when said children's goal includes manipulating adults into obedience to their every whim.
  • Cyberpunk: The whole series is laced with these visuals and references, much like AKIRA was.
  • Death Seeker: Harato just believes himself a monster and now just wants to be killed in battle by someone with a better heart than him. He just cannot bear the guilt of having left Tsumuri and Satoko behind to become a ruthless guerillero, saying that he didn't live up to his mother's last words before they all got separated.
  • Death of a Child: In this war-torn setting, children are likely to die just as gruesomely as adults.
  • Determinator: You can't do much to stop Sarah in her search for her children.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Too many instances to keep score.
  • Enfant Terrible:
    • Zach, a merely 8-9 years old who uses his hypnotic abilities to manipulate others to do his bidding, even though the strong-willed can break the spell.
    • Claus, the boy Harato saved on a whim during a tribal genocide because he reminded him of his borther, turns out this way in the end as well.
  • Expy: Sarah was modeled partially after Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley.
  • Foil: The female sargent that opposes Sarah in the City of Children arc is a complete opposite to Sarah who is caring and nurturing and does her best to help people, especially the kids she meets on her quest. Said sargent uses kids for her own amusement and remorselessly corrupts them with alcohol and pornography.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Double subverted. In the Mother-Daughter Reunion arc, it's explained that abortion is sometimes the only option, especially in this kind of setting where being pregnant is dangerous in and of itself, since you must be able to run away anytime due to bombings and gunfights happening anytime and anywhere. Double points when being a woman doesn't grant you any special immunity. However, it doesn't stop Satoko from carrying her own unplanned pregnancy to completion, as her newborn will also be a memento from her dead lover.
  • Green Aesop: The whole series has a message about the dangers of nuclear energy but since it was written right after the Tchernobyl catastrophe, you do the maths.
  • Groin Attack: Sarah seldom uses this but when push comes to shove, she may use a kick to the nads to get herself out of some guy's grip.
  • I Am a Monster: Harato, upon having the long overdue heart-to-heart with his mother, says that he's no longer the good boy he once was and that he has killed way too many people to deserve Sarah's motherly love.
  • Important Haircut: Upon returning to Byron City, Harato reappears before his paramour with his hair cut short.
  • Incest Subtext: It's heavily hinted that Zach and his "mother" had an incestuous relationship.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Tsue, who roams the Earth in his merchant's truck, buying and selling rare items such as medicine or more daily-use stuff such as food, clothes but also weapons, war gear's magazines.
  • Invincible Hero: Averted. Sarah is unusually powerful for a woman but, against a highly trained male fighter or, worse, several ones, she can only hold her own for a time before getting overcome.
  • I Will Find You: The driving force of Sarah is her need to retrieve all of her kids.
  • Knight Errant: Sarah is a variation, since she usually solves the problems of the places she visits before saying goodbye and leaving for another place.
  • The Legend of X
  • Mama Bear: The whole point of the series, in case it wasn't clear enough just from the title.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Averted partially. While more men than women are seen dying on panel from gunfights or on battlefields, in any other context, women get no special treatment and are killed with no more thought than men are. Best example being shown right after Sarah's fall from space, where she and other refugess not only had to survive famine and drought but also the mercenary militias whose goals included wiping off said refugees, women and children included.
  • Mukokuseki: Averted. Much like Otomo, Nagayasu exquisitely detailed art draws his characters with convincing ethnic features.
  • Never Found the Body: Even though Harato contends Tsumuri is dead and was suffering from malnutrition in one of the countless orphanages of war, he never really found any grave or ossuary to confirm it.
  • Nuns 'n' Rosaries: Averted. While Satoko eventually became a nun, she doesn't wear the usual Catholic garb.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Inverted. Being the protagonist, Sarah has no one to thank for her position in the story, not even her children. And even though she may sometimes fade in the background so the story can focus on the side-story of Harato, it's him who owes her his importance in the story, not the other way around.
  • Offing the Offspring: An incredibly tragic instance. Sarah, soon after she escaped the wreackage of the capsule that brought her back to Earth, had to deal with a lot of mercenary militias that would pillage and kill the survivors of the wreckage. One night, as she was hiding from a patrol of mercernaries, she found herself next to a little family, her baby in her arms. Her baby started to cry and would have had her and the family next to her spotted and killed. She had no other choice to survive but to smother her own child to death, all while crying.
  • Rape as Drama: May explain why rape is Sarah's Berserk Button, along with mistreatment of children, of course.
  • Red Herring Twist: In the last chapters, a young boy asks Harato if he could fill in the dissident army's application form for him. The boy looks a lot like a grown-up Tsumuri. It's only implied that it's him indeed.
  • Replacement Goldfish: On a whim, Harato saved a random boy during a tribal genocide because he reminded him of his brother. And he never should have done that.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The militia led by Harato, Sarah's eldest son is actually working against both Epoch and Mother Earth.
  • Road Trip Plot: Sarah and Tsue drive from town to town, all through the story, making business and finding clues to the location of Sarah's children.
  • Scenery Porn: Nagayasu's drawings are exquisitely refined and precise, both in depicting the horrors of a war-torn earth and the beauty of some locations.
  • She-Fu: Averted. Sarah doesn't fight in an acrobatic style, she fights in a rather academic punch-kick style.
  • Shirtless Scene: A deconstructed Rare Female Example. In the work camps she was forced to work in, Sarah had to work shirtless and bra-less. As most prisoners looked on her perfect body, Sarah also starts to lactate. None of this ends well.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Subverted. Tsue may sometimes use a Honest John's Dealership technique, most of the stuff he sells is actually useful.
  • So Proud of You: Sarah is genuinely proud of how Harato and Satoko have proven being strong enough to make it on their own.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hadn't Lt. Tomaru ruined everything by assuming the corpses in Bard's space colony were victims of an outbreak, none of the Peace Conference fiasco would have happened.
    • Harato's girlfriend of sorts also ruined it all by preventing him from shooting the military heads of the Peace Conference. She said she acted out of love, but in the end, Harato would have left her anyway and only used her to get what he wanted.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Sarah is a beautiful woman in her late-30's/early 40's... who towers over many characters and is often tall enough to look most men she meets right in the eyes.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Tsue isn't always very bright but he's cunning and resourceful enough to work his way through most situations.
  • Stripperiffic: Averted. Despite being an attractive Action Mom, Sarah wears convincing combat clothes and, while she may sometimes strip, it's more out of practicality (like exploring underwater premises) than showing off her otherwise perfect body.
  • Take That!: The Mother-Daughter Reunion arc is a big one towards religion. Sarah isn't afraid to call religious figures "gurus" and is usually quite sceptical towards organized religion.
    • Mother Theresa's portrayal is a direct criticism of the real Mother Teresa's obsession with death (who was more concerned with letting people die to be with Jesus than investing the massive amount of funding she gained to actually try and cure even basic diseases, see here for further criticism).
  • Taking the Veil: The whole point of the Mother-Daughter Reunion Arc. Satoko chose to be a nun after having been separated from her parents and siblings but it's also subverted since, in order to survive and take care of the orphans she and the other nuns had taken in, they would survive on the good will of other people, their own cultures (until the soil was too barren to cultivate) and exchanging sexual favors for goods from the soldiers. It doesn't help that the Mother Superior is a former brothel madame.
  • That Man Is Dead: Harato eventually renames himself "Latz" after his girlfriend of sorts ruined his plans of revenge against the Mother Earth and Epoch governors. It's hinted that Tsumuri did so as well and renamed himself "Zabel".
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: A big point of contention between Sarah and Harato is that he holds this view about the world. To be fair, so do the people he opposes.
  • Vanity Is Feminine: Most female antagonists of the series display this, especially the female sergeant who Zach appointed as his "mother" and who spared Tsue because he offered her gorgeous ballgowns and dresses.
  • Walking the Earth: A Rare Female Example, especially a solo one since Tsue is much weaker than Sarah is.
  • Womanliness as Pathos: A meta-example. Otomo uses the trope purposely to close the cycle started with Domu and AKIRA, since it gives another perspective on the tropes and questions raised by its predecessors. That perspective isn't feminine per se, but it just conveys itself better if the story is centred around a woman.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Comes with the territory.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Most military figures, even female ones, are not above using violence towards kids.