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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/07/2006 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Kaze Hikaru, Vol. 1"

Kaze Hikaru, vol. 1
by Taeko Watanabe
published by VIZ

Review by Tom Good

I rarely read shojo manga, but the cover art for Kaze Hikaru caught my eye and I decided to give it a try. "Kaze hikaru" means approximately "the wind is shining," and the winds in question are the winds of change. The story takes place in 1863, during the turbulent Bakumatsu period of Japanese history, the same era that serves as the backdrop for Rurouni Kenshin. But in this story, a young girl named Tominaga Sei disguises herself as a boy, and in her male identity "Kamiya Seizaburo," she joins a group of samurai. These are the "Wolves of Mibu," a group loyal to the shogunate, and in their ranks Sei hopes for a chance to avenge the murder of her parents.

Like many shojo manga, this one displays a bit of a fascination with male homosexuality. The Wolves of Mibu rarely have a conversation that does not include some kind of gay innuendo or flirting, either sincerely or in jest. In fact, when Sei first arrives, she feels betrayed by the fact that the group seems like nothing more than a bunch of drunken perverts. Of course, things are not exactly as they first appear, or the story would not be very interesting. But it is funny that while the guys admire their new recruit "Seizaburo" as an especially feminine, attractive young boy, they are unwittingly developing heterosexual crushes on Sei. Though at times I wondered if this would turn into a strange, reversed version of The Crying Game, I should point out that there is no explicit sex in this book, it is all only implied. (The book is rated T for Teen.)

Visually, Kaze Hikaru has a pleasantly retro style. Watanabe draws some of the characters' facial expressions in a way that reminds me of Osamu Tezuka's art. The page layouts are straightforward and emphasize the characters' emotions. Sei has shaved the top of her head to better pass as a boy, which makes her look goofy, but at the same time this serves as a visual reminder of her dedication. Obviously out of her element among the samurai, Sei works hard to fit in, help her comrades, and keep her secret. The story succeeds because Sei is such a sweet, innocent, and instantly likeable character.

Far from being just a remake of Rurouni Kenshin, this manga crafts its own unique look at the time period, with its own style and cast of characters. In many ways it seems more down-to-earth, focusing on human relationships rather than fantasy elements like giant enemies and superhuman combat abilities. Some of the historical and cultural terminology here may be unfamiliar to readers, but VIZ has supplied a glossary and a few footnotes to help explain things. All in all, I liked this book enough to want to read Volume 2.

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