Sakura Tsukaba’s nine volume shojo series Land of the Blindfolded was originally released in Japan between 1998 and 2004 then published in the US by the now-defunct CMX Manga. Trivia note: about halfway through their release, CMX changed how they formatted their manga releases. So the first printings of the earlier volumes are slightly stiffer, have white edges, use a different font/logo, cut off some of the original cover images, and show author’s name in the Japanese order versus Western order. (the cover above is the 1st version). You know…I seem to like a lot of out of print series…
Anyway Land of the Blindfolded is a sweet series focused on the relationship between Kanade and new transfer student Arou. Kanade has a secret: sometimes when she touches people she gets a glimpse of their near future. Arou also has a secret. He can touch people and see their past; though unlike Kanade he has a greater range to his power and can see a person’s past all the way back to their birth! At first he doesn’t understand why Kanade is regularly putting herself in harm’s way to try to “fix bad futures for ungrateful people”, but it doesn’t take long before he finds himself helping her anyway.
I think the word that best sums up the relationship between Kanade and Arou is “cute.” You never doubt that things between them will work, rather you get to just enjoy watching them fumbling their way around the swirl of emotions falling in love brings, especially for two folks with powers that add an extra element to any relationship.
Instead of a series dealing with excessive jealousy, back-stabbing friends, and fifteen potential rivals, you have a simple story about friendship, love, and the way humans relate to one another. The standard relationship series gimmicks are put aside for a character-driven tale that works well. Kanade is a cheerful girl willing to throw herself into the midst of any danger to help anybody so she can change the future. And while she’s not afraid of people themselves, she does live in fear of being touched because she never knows when she’s going to have a vision. Her coming to grips with this fear is one centerpiece of the series.
Another is her friendship with Eri, who has been Kanade’s friend for a long time but has been kept in the dark about her powers. In particular, the very different ways she responds to Kanade’s abilities versus learning of Arou’s abilities make for a powerful moment. There is also a great bit of back story between the two of them that how they first became friends and really shows the strength of their friendship and the depth of their feelings for one another.
While Arou is less afraid of being touched than Kanade, he does find crowded places to be hellish as he has no way to actually turn off his ability. And unlike the others, his abilities have a greater physical cost if he overuses them, an issue that becomes clearer as the series progresses. He also has a bit of the past that has affected his character, something we increasingly realize is important as the series continues on.
Of all the characters, though, it is Namiki who steals the show, especially when he’s with his puppy. Like Kanade, he can see the future, but he delights in waiting to watch people have misfortunes. He also has better control over his abilities, allowing him to use them at will. His back story is, in some ways, even more interesting that either Kanade’s or Arou’s and there are some places where our two main characters almost take a backseat to him. Still it works well because the three of them have great chemistry together and despite his wanting Kanade for himself, it’s clear he needed and wants to retain the friendship he’s found with the pair.
I also really enjoy the art of the series. With relatively simple backgrounds, the characters are kept in the forefront and drawn with a light touch that works well for the feel of the story. Tsukuba also draws the most adorable puppy ever! Even though he just a two-dimensional character, you almost want to reach through the page and cuddle Namiki’s little puppy. She also does a great job of subtly highlighting the differences between how the main characters act with one another and their ability to be comfortable around each other despite their abilities, and the way others are around them who begin to instinctively realize that something is different about them but not wanting to truly know what.
In terms of drawbacks, it was originally just going to be a one-shot title, so the first volume has a slightly different feel than the rest and at first Arou comes across differently than he does throughout the rest of the series. There are also a few elements that I felt were left unfinished by the end of the series like the situation with Namiki’s family. There were also a few elements of the story were glossed over almost too casually, such as the actions of one character that could have had potentially deadly consequences. And while I really enjoyed the series overall, the ending always leaves me slightly dissatisfied primarily because it doesn’t feel like a final volume. There is a rushed quality to it and I’m always left with the impression that there was supposed to be one more to wrap things up, but there wasn’t and in the end Tsukaba does make the primary point I think she was aiming for.
But despite those minor weaknesses, it is still one of my favorite manga series and one I highly recommend! The first three volumes of the series also include four short stories: After the Festival, The Mistaken Man, The Devil in the Flowered Office, and In the Rain. All of them are great stories, but I think my favorite was The Devil in the Flowered Office. I really wish she had taken that and expanded it into a full series as the devil character was very intriguing.
Land of the Blindfolded is out print, but all of the volumes are available for fairly cheap at Amazon and other used retailers.