Manga-ka: Taeko Watanabe
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: January 2006
Synopsis: “Into this fierce milieu steps Kamiya Seizaburo, a young would-be warrior who, though lacking in combat experience, possesses a fiery enthusiasm to both aid the Mibu-Roshi in their mission and to avenge his wrongfully murdered family. One of the Mibu-Roshi’s most gifted (and immature) swordsmen, the legendary Okita Soji, agrees to take Seizaburo under his wing. What no one suspects, least of all Soji, is that Seizaburo is actually a girl named Tominaga Sei in disguise!”
A samurai-to-be out for revenge after the murder of his family, Seizaburo may be young and small in size but that won’t stop his determination to become a man strong enough to defeat those in his sights. The greater problem however would be that ‘he’ is actually a ‘she’. Entering a man’s world for justice against those who killed her father and brother, Sei struggles against the pain of her loss, the weight of her lie and the weird assortment of characters she finds herself among.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate about hidden gender-identity stories is when the decision is made to let the proverbial cat out of the bag early on. Sei’s charade doesn’t last long with the astute Soji around. He suspects something fairly early on and then discovers the truth concretely during a short bout between the two. It eliminates the difficulty in accepting that no one would be able to figure it out, while at the same time assuring Sei has some support in the cover-up department. She’ll need it to because her adorable face attracts more than her share of attention despite any preconceptions about being her actually being a boy or girl.
This volume works to introduce the current lead characters of the story and sets up the simple but potent cause behind Sei’s current situation. It’ll be really interesting to see where she’ll go from here, not to mention how, as the severeity of her cause seems currently outweighed by the earnesty of her youthful ignorance and compassion.
The artwork in Kaze Hikaru was an instant winning feature for me also. I love the rounded features of the characters and Sei’s androgynous appearance, one that doesn’t sway too much in either gender-direction, makes it easy to believe she could be mistaken for a boy without losing too much femininity in the process. I found all the characters likeable in appearance from a design-prospective and I didn’t have any problems telling them apart, always an important part of artwork for me when reading in sequential.
I was easily enraptured by this book, which caters to so many of my interests, and I wholeheartedly look forward to catching up on the remaining published volumes. Kaze Hikaru takes classic manga plot elements and fuses them together for a read that I found nothing short of engaging in its first installment, a read hopefully indicative of equally compelling volumes to come.