Sanctuary tells the story of two men who escaped the killing fields of Cambodia as children into Japan to try build a safe haven for themselves. Except wait, they’re not actual Cambodian children. They’re handsome young Japanese children trapped in Cambodia because their parents were doctors. Don’t want to be like those smelly Cambodians with their funny coloured skin and wonky teeth. Asami, the glasses-wearing handsome young fellow, gets into politics to try build them their ‘Sanctuary’, while Hojo, the spectacle-less but still incredibly handsome young fellow, joins the yakuza to help Asami from behind. But not actually from behind because that would be gay and we’re too busy making love to hot babes to be gay.
So begins the tale of glorification of organised crime and laughably immature approach to politics. The yakuza is where men with honour fight for their turf. They don’t get involved with drugs or protection money. We just catch out people who are being unfaithful to their wives. And then we fuck their wives. Because we are so irresistible what with all this power and fancy suits we have. Meanwhile getting elected to a political office is easy. All you need to do is yell really loudly about how Japan needs CHANGE and the people inside are WRONG and we’re young and handsome and never mind that we literally have no policies whatsoever, we’re DIFFERENT and that will get us elected…actually maybe that’s not so far from the truth.
All right fine, I’ll drop the spitting sarcasm for a second. Sanctuary is sort of a cross between Legend of the Galactic Heroes, James Bond and The Godfather. The main appeal of the manga comes from the mind games and twists as Asami and Hojo try to claw their way to the top of their respective fields. The political battle is mostly about getting the right people on your side, uncovering scandals and proving your mettle when it really counts. The yakuza story is largely the same except with more killing. Getting people on your side, forming alliances and making speeches and shows of force to get the right people to follow you. Sanctuary is at its most fun when it embraces its more over-the-top characters and dramatic facial expressions. My favourite is the mind games between Asami and the big boss politician dude Isaoka, because there’s so much hand-wringing over every action and each twist is greeted by someone bursting into a room yelling “OMG OMG OMG DID U C WUT ASAMI/ISAOKA DID!?!?”.
The artstyle goes for a very photo-realistic approach with an incredible attention to detail on shading. Don’t let this trick you into thinking this makes the artwork great though. Because the manga is all politics, each chapter is usually just pages and pages of talking heads, with the occasional shot of someone opening a door or wielding a gun dramatically, or maybe some hot lady sucking one of the yakuza’s dicks because that happens an awful lot. After a while you start to notice that the facial expressions the characters pull don’t change a whole lot. Hojo in particular has this one pose of his head facing slightly downwards with a upturned corner of his mouth and a ‘come hither’ look on his face that I swear must be his exact same pose with exact same smile and exact same ‘come hither’ look in roughly 20% of his scenes. The art style does actually suit the story, with its masculine features enhanced and bedroom eyes, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of variety.
And then there’s the treatment of women. Whenever you see a woman, it’s because they’re prostitutes, or a sexy lady one of the main characters have picked up, or models the politicians are having sex with, or ladies the yakuza are raping. There are a grand total of 2 named female characters. One is the police officer who is supposed to be tracking Hojo but unfortunately Hojo is just so totemo sexushii desu~ that she abandons her job for him. The other is a female politician from America who’s over to tell Japan to drop their high import tax on American cars. Asami and his politician buddies are discussing how to deal with her, and one of them suggests giving her a good dicking and that solve everything because that’s how you deal with all women. And then THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT ASAMI DOES! He woos the American politician, has sex with her, and then she drops her demands and leaves the country because the sex was just that good.
The treatment of women is so baffling that it starts to create plot holes. If the police are really trying to get these yakuza on some charge, why don’t any of the women they rape press charges? Asami is trying to get the younger population to pay attention to politics, citing that they’re not connected because the diet is only full of old men. He’s gets half of the problem solved by being a young man, but what about the ‘men’ part of ‘old men’? Women consist of half of the voting public and yet nobody considers that maybe having a young woman running would get the younger female generation to pay attention? It’s here that I realised what the trick was: Sanctuary does not consider women as people. Once you realise that, everything falls into place. Girls to fuck are just part of the glorified yakuza lifestyle, along with good food, nice suits and fast cars. Women are simply not part of the political equation, and if they are you just need to give them a right hard shag amirite guys!
I read all of Sanctuary so I guess I did enjoy it on some level. The political mind games and plot twists were very entertaining in their own right, particularly because the story kept the pace fairly quick. Plus the politics got a bit better as the story went on. The policies became less ridiculous and more plausible, and when something ridiculous was suggested it was treated with the right amount of shock in-story. But it is a male power fantasy through and through. It’s the most sexist thing I have ever read, getting the otherwise completely dormant feminist side of me to go “ah come on now, this is just silly”. It also manages to cover plenty of other offensive bases like racism and glorification of violence. All those other wish-fulfilment harem, magical girlfriend, maid, super power, giant robot, chuunibyou fantasies shrivel in the wake of the amount of wish-fulfilment Sanctuary provides.