>> Saturday, May 21, 2011
In the interest of adding something I didn't have before, I will be mixing some new reviews and commentary with the transplants, starting with this one for Hana-Kimi. Note that, for the reviews on this blog, I won't be addressing individual volumes but whole series. I just don't think a volume review gives the whole picture. And, besides, I'm a completist.
Hana-Kimi (aka Hanazakari no Kimitachi e) by Hisayo Nakajo should have been a "gotta have 'em all." There were a number of delightful main and side characters, some beautiful drawing and a story I could like even if the premise wasn't the best. I even have the whole set. Unfortunately, the manga that had me reading it to all hours of the night ended entirely unsatisfactorily. I, in fact, hated the ending so much I dread reading the last few volumes. It flavors how I feel about this otherwise charming manga so much that it affects how I view the main protagonist and may even have me bump this down at some point to just "Okay." [Updated - had to do it]
Part of the problem is that I liked aspects of the manga so much that I'm offended at the wasted potential, which is the real pity. I liked it from the very start and it still makes me sad that this isn't one of my favorites.
Anime? No (but drama CDs and live action drama exist in Japan and Taiwan) Volumes of manga: 23 Status: Complete
My rating: Okay
Age range: It's listed for older teen and probably should be, but I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation giving this to my high schooler and probably not my middle schooler. I'm a bit progressive. The rating is probably for some near nudity and some pretty suggestive scenes (mostly between males). Still violence is a minimum and our main characters are impossibly pure as the driven snow.
Taboos and "warnings": Open about homosexuality and comfortable talking (non-graphically) about sex. Male on male kissing for those who are bothered by that (I'm not). Some nudity without seeing anything (male and female) and some pretty suggestive images.
Premise: American ditz (Japanese parents) becomes obsessed with a Japanese high jumper from watching him jump, convinces her parents to let her go - alone - to high school in Japan in the same school with him so she can meet him and see him jump in person. She manages not only to talk her parents into this but to hide the fact it's an all-boy, and boarding, high school from them, so she has to pretend to be male. As if that stream of unlikely events wasn't enough, fortune smiles on her by making the object of her obsession her roommate. I almost didn't even bother trying to read this manga because I thought the premise was so stupid.
What works: Overtly beautiful almost entirely male cast with beaucoup the personality. Hisayo Nakajo has, in my opinion, a real gift for drawing beautiful men and boys and making them likable.
Of all the aspects of this mangaka's art, I think she did outdid herself in making the men a joy to look at, pinup quality, in fact. How often do you say that about pen and ink drawings? Bodies are in nice proportion and our men wear their clothing as if they just stepped off the runway. Given the high school stresses academics, arts, and sports, we needn't worry about any pot bellies or unsightly forms here. And she arranges her story to maximize the opportunities to see them at their best, including having them hired as models. High jumping, naturally a significant part of the story, is shown beautifully and quite realistically (as far as this amateur could tell).
In addition to making these many male characters physically appealing, the artist did a fine job with making faces wonderfully expressive, which is good because her dialog was largely unremarkable. The body language and facial expressions were spot on and very effective in expressing a fair gamut of emotion and a pretty varied set of personalities especially noting that many of the faces were built on the same lines.
What's more, the personalities of these characters themselves were equally diverse, behaved in ways that felt believable and were, almost across the board, delightful. Whether they were of the highly beautiful set (Nanba, Sano and his brother Shin, Dr. Umeda and his father and Akiha, notably, though Sano's archrival wasn't bad either), or one of the many other boys at this private school, nearly every character had an individual charm. In fact, with only a few deliberate counterexamples, they all came across as natural and just plain nice people, even wonderful people. Nakatsu, who just missed being on the beautiful people list, was a real sweetheart as was his psychic roommate in a completely different way. It was a pleasure to interact with them.
Favorite character: In a rare instance, my favorite character was a side character. Dr. Umeda, the moody gay sarcastic doctor for the high school is second to discover our heroine's secret and inexplicably becomes her accomplice and confidente. He manages to be degenerate, shameless, lazy and violent while maintaining his dedication, beauty and sharp-tongued charm. He is, undoubtedly, the worst role model possible in his position and I just loved him.
I loved Sano, too, but he was almost too good to be true, too patient and tolerant in many ways. He gets a great deal of pity from me given how much he has to put up with from our heroine, but then, he let her get away with it so I guess it's his own fault. There were, in fact, a plethora of likeable characters here. Sadly, almost all of them were male. The girls, in general, left me bored or cold, with Ebi as an exception.
Dialog, in general, wasn't memorable to me. Nothing came to mind when I was trying to remember favorite quotes.
What I didn't like: Ashiya Mizuki. Aside from being an unabashed stalker (aided and abetted by her absent parents), she is quickly established as a clueless airhead with no judgement, intelligence, foresight, prudence or, oddly enough, womanly charm. Within days, her gender is discovered by no less than the school doctor and the object of her obsession, who then spend the rest of 23 volumes protecting her from herself and her thoughtless imprudent actions, usually fruitlessly since she never follows any of the good advice she receives. The doctor she knows knows her secret. Her roommate's insight, though painfully obvious to nearly everyone else in on her secret, she never notes for a year and a half and 22 volumes.
Although overtly dedicated to Sano (her idol), friendly and compassionate, she is hot-tempered and doesn't hesitate to intrude in things that don't concern her. Her reckless disregard for self-preservation drag her protectors (those that do and don't know her secret) into all kinds of trouble and inconvenience. Her artless friendliness and unwillingness to be mean make things uncomfortable for at least two classmates, causing considerable discomfort for her roommate in the know and considerable soul-searching and conflict for another classmate who isn't in the know. She goes blithely on even though she has ample reason to know better. Mizuki's strongest asset is her helplessness so overt that everyone is driven to protect her, not the kind of thing this reader looks for in a female protagonist.
Fortunately, the preponderance of likeable other characters and side stories meant that we could mostly overlook Mizuki and just roll our eyes at her idiotic antics, much like our male protagonists. Still, what a waste.
In addition to the unappealing female protagonist, there are also far too many contrived situations to convince boys to cross-dress at this school. Ironically, those boys considered "cute" and most girl-like (and Mizuki herself) have nowhere near the physical beauty or compelling presence of the overtly male counterparts. They are all also stupid, including Mizuki, which is insulting to women in general. The few other women in the manga tend to either be hard in a bad way, nonentities, or catty.
There were a number of inconsistencies/incompatibilities in the manga like Sano at first offering to let Mizuki spend the summer at his house and yet later on making it clear he didn't get along with his family at all. Osaka High is also the weirdest school I've ever read about with nothing making a damn bit of sense, really, from the weird RA council and the whacked dorm arrangements to the really strange festival traditions.
Toward the end of the series particularly, the pacing became painfully slow with more than three volumes dedicated a single ten day track meet (with no consequences or significance, other than mending Sano's family situation without really changing anything). And the drawing style, particularly for our main characters, changed in the last few volumes. Not, in my opinion, for the better.
However, I would have tolerated ALL of that, with no complaint because of how much I liked what I liked if the ending hadn't sucked big time. I hated the ending so badly I'm going to have to make it its own post.