Spoiler warning. Want recaps of the earlier volumes? They are helpfully collected in the archive.
Now that we have the prequel out of the way, it’s time to dig into the meat of the series proper. The heroine of Tail of the Moon, Usagi, is the complete opposite of Sara from the prequel story. Where Sara was very feminine with her long hair and her elegant kimono disguises, Usagi is almost boyish. She has very short hair and if not for her super large eyes and the slight swell of her bust, you might even mistake her for a young boy. She shares the same name as the main character from Sailor Moon and they have the same general personality – clutzy, cheerful yet kind of a screw-up.
Well, a big screw-up in ninja Usagi’s case. She can hardly run without tripping over something (she face plants right into the ground on the second page) and can’t throw a shuriken straight to save her life. She skips ninja training to get fuffle about the countryside with her best friend and follower, a young boy named Mamezo. The elders won’t let her out of the village to go on a ninja mission because they know she’d muck it up.
Her grandfather, the ancient leader of ninja village, calls her over to his hut because he’s finally found a use for her. Already in her middle teens, he despairs that she will never make a good ninja but maybe she can make good ninjas. By marrying Hattori Hanzo who is still looking for a wife to make little Hanzo ninja babies with.
Usagi is not thrilled to be given this job and tries to cry off, citing her general fragility and lack of energy, but granddad guilt trips her by saying he is old and he worries what will become of her after he dies. Usagi’s milkshake isn’t bringing all the boys to her yard and she sucks as a ninja so he figures that she’ll starve to death if she doesn’t have someone watching out for her. Usagi is still not sure about this until granddad tells her that Hanzo is the hottest guy around and marriage to him comes with three hots and a cot. This perks Usagi’s interest and she heads for Hanzo’s village with the idea that she’ll have it made in the shade as the pampered wife of a hot guy.
She takes Mamezo with her but almost immediately gets into trouble when she gets chased by a dog. She trips and falls is about to get mauled until Hanzo, who happens to be the hound’s owner, calls it off. Hanzo washes and bandages her skinned knee. Usagi’s heart is racing but when she asks if he is the famous Hattori Hanzo, he denies it. They part ways.
She isn’t alone long before Hanzo’s ninja underlings come searching for her because she is so late getting to their village. Usagi says she isn’t interested in being Hanzo’s wife anymore. She’s infatuated with the ninja she just met, but they force her to Hanzo’s estate anyway. Hanzo arrives in time for the grand feast the household put together in celebration of his bride’s arrival and Usagi is over the moon to learn that the ninja from before and Hanzo are one in the same. But Hanzo is not as thrilled and tells her to hit the road.
As it turns out, all of this was arranged behind Hanzo’s back as the clan is eager for him to part pumping out mini-ninjas. Hanzo is vehement that he has no interest in marrying anybody after the first botched attempt to find a wife. Usagi is undaunted and tries to work her feminine wiles on him. Unfortunately, her idea of feminine wiles is to leap on him and try to kiss him. She chickens out at the last moment and Hanzo gets a good look her puckered-up, unattractive guppy-kiss-face. Usagi remains steadfast and tells Hanzo that she’s not leaving until they’ve made a little ninja baby together. He lets her stay but he tells her that he wants nothing to do with her.
Usagi lets it slip that she is not qualified to do ninja work and this sends the retainers into a tizzy. They try to put her through remedial training but Usagi screws up everything and ends up getting put in the same ninja class as the little kids. While walking on a tight rope, Usagi gets a stomach ache. The reason she comes across as so lazy about her training is she finds it so humiliating and anxiety-inducing that she has a mental block and makes herself sick at the thought of doing ninja stuff.
Usagi trains on the rope until her feet are bloody. She’s powering through like never before because she wants Hanzo so bad. Hanzo has noticed that she’s trying hard and comes over to tell her that he won’t accept her no matter what she does to impress him. However, he saves her when she falls off the rope and is still undeterred by his stated desire to be alone.
The next day, Usagi gains a rival with arrival of Yuri, yet another ninja sent to marry Hanzo. Yuri is everything Usagi is not – womanly, beautiful, graceful and a very talented ninja. She even brought a dowry as her family is loaded. Usagi runs off to the forest to find a wedding offering she can give Hanzo and comes back with a wild boar cub that she thinks would make a good stew. Unfortunately, Hanzo is a vegetarian and turns down the gift. Piggy becomes Mamezo’s new pet.
Hanzo turns Yuri down too, but that doesn’t stop Usagi from getting into a catfight with her. They both intend to live on the estate until Hanzo picks a bride. That’s fine with Hanzo as her grandpa has decided that she can stay in Hanzo’s village for one year in the hopes she completes her ninja training. Yuri decides to remove her from the competition by poisoning her food but the poison has no effect on Usagi.
Yuri accidentally poisons herself while trying to hurt Usagi and Usagi treats her so she doesn’t die. As it turns out, Usagi is a talented apothecary and she’s immune to most poisons due to building up an immunity. Soon she gets acknowledged for her ability to make medicines after she cures one of the village elders. Hanzo is pleased to have a herbalist in the village but in her fervor to win him over, Usagi bites off more than she can chew and commits to making too many tonics.
Exhausted from working all day and with dwindling supplies, Usagi has to slump out to the forest at night to gather more herbs. She bumps into Hanzo out the woods who takes pity on her and helps her get the plants. Usagi gets to hold hand with him in the dark and they watch fireflies dance together in a clearing. She blurts out that she wants to get closer to him but he is always so distant. Hanzo notices that she’s teary-eyed and hugs her to make her feel better.
Usagi wakes up the next morning with a sack of herbs in bed with her and no memory of picking them and coming home. She figures that she must have fallen asleep while hugging Hanzo and scrambles to finish making all the medicines. She meets Hanzo in the hall and notices he’s all dressed up to go to the big city. Usagi is afraid that Hanzo will be identified as a ninja and captured as the local lord has ordered all ninjas arrested if discovered.
After she finishes the medicine orders, she ends up breaking a vase while cleaning her room. The maid scolds her for destroying a priceless family heirloom. Usagi rushes off to sell more medicine and tonics because she thinks she can mitigate the damage if she’s able to repay Hanzo for the vase. She isn’t at it very long until she gets into a row with some gangsters, but Hanzou comes to the rescue.
Hanzou takes pity on her and takes her to town to buy her nice new kimono. Usagi thinks she’s being kidnapped and taken to the big city to meet a bad end. After getting dolled up, Usagi is able to walk around and see the sights. At dinner, despite her gross table manners, Hanzou starts to mack on her. Usagi flips out and leaps off a second floor balcony to get away from him and ends up landing in front of Hanzo.
Usagi confesses about the broken vase but he is more annoyed that she’d think he’d be so petty as care about a babble than anything else. He is more angry at his cousin for groping Usagi’s tiny bewbs when he already has Sara. Forgetting Hanzou’s wandering hands, they team up to follow Hanzo. He came to town to meet Princess Sara who has offered to return the stolen gunpowder recipe. Sara confides to Hanzo that she’s put off by Hanzou’s horn dog behavior and Usagi starts to suspect Hanzo’s reluctance to wed might because he has a thing for Sara.
A group of samurai bust in on the meeting, forcing Hanzou and Usagi to intervene. They want to kill Sara, but she throws off her kimono to reveal her sword and ninja gear beneath. After making short work of them, Usagi gets to meet Sara and notices that she’s nice on top of being beautiful and strong. Hanzou begs Hanzo to let Sara hide out at his estate as many of Sara’s father’s enemies are looking for her. Hanzo refuses and storms away with Usagi.
Even though Sara makes her feel like a slob by comparison, Usagi is confused by his callous behavior when he’s been nothing but chivalrous to her. After she scolds him, Hanzo gives in and they all return to the estate. Hanzou confides to his cousin that his father is opposed to his marriage to Sara which is why they haven’t tied the knot.
Later, Sara walks on Hanzou flirting with Usagi (to both women’s dismay) and they have a blow up. They break up and Usagi is beside herself with guilt. This has been a long running problem with the couple but Usagi thinks it’s her fault and begs Hanzou to make-up with her. He leaves the estate without talking to Sara. Usagi tries to get Hanzo to talk to them, but says that they fight and break up often and it’s not worth getting in a tizzy over. That just leaves Sara for Usagi to try to convince, but Sara thinks that with all the problems they have maybe they weren’t meant to be.
After seeing how protective Hanzo is of Sara and how Sara admires Hanzo, Usagi wonders if they are really secretly attracted to each other. To make matters worse, one of the household servants tells her about their fake marriage that happened back in the prequel story. Usagi is crushed because now she’s certain they have feelings for each other and Sara really is the perfect ninja and would be a good wife.
She gets so depressed that she stops attending the training sessions because she thinks it’s worthless to become a ninja if she can’t win over Hanzo. Hanzo comes to get her and gets pissed at her stubborn refusal to train. He carries her to the gates surrounding the estate and tosses her out on her arse. Usagi instantly regrets everything and begs to be let back in. She sits in front of the gate for a long time, hoping that Hanzo has a change of heart.
When it starts to rain and get dark, Hanzo goes to get her only to find that she’s already taken off with Mamezo. Hanzo chases after her and when he catches up with, Usagi says that she’s had enough. Watching him moon over Sara is too painful and she hates training. He lets her go home. Usagi collapses in the mud and has a nightmare where Hanzo marries Yuri. She wakes up to find grandpa looming over her. He berates her for having failed to seal the deal with Hanzo.
Usagi stalks off to her room only to stumble over her hot, shirtless pal Goemon giving seduction lessons to a room full of ninja girls. Goemon has taken over training the girl ninjas since he hurt his leg while on assignment. After dismissing the class, he tries to cheer up Usagi but she tears up when she thinks of Hanzo. Goemon has it bad for Usagi. He pounces on her and says that he wants to marry her and make her forget all about Hanzo… in a very sexy way no doubt.
Yes! I totally remember why I liked this one back in the day. Usagi is a relatable main character because she is so flawed. She comes across as character in her own right and not some every girl vehicle that the reader is supposed to live vicariously through. But at the same time, her antics stay on the right side of funny and endearing.