Manga-ka: Taeko Watanabe
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2012
Synopsis: “Hijikata decides to make use of Kamiya’s feminine features and sends “him” out dressed as a woman on a spy mission. Her assignment: to ascertain the whereabouts of the notorious enemy leader Sakamoto Ryoma. Soji, left in the dark about the secret mission, sets off to find Kamiya. The two get more than they bargained for when they come face-to-face with the enemy himself!”
Be still my beating heart and gleeful cheers; after a long year of waiting we finally have a new volume of Kaze Hikaru. The decisions in the previous volume set in motion potentially dire events for Kamiya as a photographer arrives to deliver the finished product of her day out with Soji. What it results in is a volume full of humour and heart, most notably both from Soji, who is being forced to confront his own feelings a lot sooner than he’s likely ready for. We’re quite ready for it though!
Usually the wishy-washy thoughts that govern Soji would drive me nuts, but in Kaze Hikaru I find this approach to the romance absolutely charming. He obviously loves Kamiya a great deal romantically but he just can’t see it clearly, something mentally tripped over again and again before he’s distracted or wills away such thoughts. It’s been cute watching him discover these feelings over time and now elements of sexual attraction and jealously are starting to weedle their way into his thoughts as well – something he’s not dealing with terribly well. He’s even directly asked if he’s engaging in a potentially sexual male-male relationship with Kamiya, stemming from their role as teacher and student, so there was no question if Soji understood the context. That we’ve watched his feelings for Kamiya progress in such baby steps for so long makes these ‘do-I-don’t-I’ moments feel well fleshed out. Perhaps not realistic in the level of naivete, but certainly well built up to. Do I want him to finally openly realize his feelings for Kamiya? Of course! But I’m happy to patiently read as things play out their natural, creator decided path. It’s just too fun.
Kamiya’s honest affection for Soji also makes for an endearing contrast. She has to hide her feelings, but as readers we’re privy to her thoughts and thus know how aware she is of her love for him. That she questions and even fears the different facets of Soji’s personality (happy go lucky but still a killer), and the way her feelings play into how she handles them, is another element that makes it feel that much more real. I continue to really respect Kamiya, something I lose too often in shoujos when the lead girl becomes openly aware of her love for a boy and suddenly loses her individuality. Kamiya loves Soji, but she’s still Kamiya and a warrior, and as muddled as love can make her thoughts, she still maintains a strict focus on other things that need her attention.
Soji and Kamiya end up spending most of this volume apart but it’s these moments where Soji’s feelings move forward, where as Kamiya’s are more driven by them being together. A catalyst to the dramatics of Soji’s actions comes from seeing the photograph he pressured Kamiya in joining him for, one where Kamiya is dolled up in a kimono, wig and make-up. This makes for one of the cutest Soji panels to date, showcasing another moment he becomes more self-aware. Another romantic player who remains ever present, and ever sympathized with, is Saito Hajime. He’s very much in love with Kamiya, something he keeps to himself while also being painfully aware where both Kamiya and Soji’s feelings lie. I feel so bad that I giggle at his pain so often. He’s so dedicated, but hopelessly frustrated and flustered beneath that stoney exterior.
Kamiya’s mission here is one of espionage so it makes for a volume of little action but a lot of humour, suspense and evolution of Soji’s feelings. The bulk of the book takes place in the inn Kamiya is told to infiltrate ‘in disguise’. She quickly finds herself at home with the patrons and the strange, exuberant man staying with them who she realizes is the one she was sent to investigate. While the painstaking efforts that Taeko Watanabe obviously goes to writing Kaze Hikaru with such political and historical depth, it was nice having a volume a bit lighter on that aspect, just for a break. Much as I adore Kamiya in her role as a bushi warrior, it was also a surprisingly nice change of pace watching her live a few days as a girl and staying with a new group of characters who treated her purely as one without any inkling otherwise or connection to the Shinsengumi.
The artwork in this series is still fantastic. It’s outwardly simple but handles the drama, occasional violence and humour really well. I laugh out loud so much reading this and cringe when appropriate at other scenes. Plus I can tell characters apart, which is no easy feat in a story starring all asian-men in top knots and ponytails. Taeko Watanabe can also draw really, really good hands. They’re so appropriately round and well-shaped. Hands are so hard!
The thought of waiting another year for more Kaze Hikaru breaks my heart. With earlier volumes difficult to come by, it doesn’t have many chances to really bolster a larger audience for itself as easily either. Still, I wish dearly that it would. This series is one of my absolute favourites, a combination of great art, adorable characters and historically hard-grounded storytelling that always leaves me clamouring for a new book. There’s no date yet set for volume twenty-one but you can bet I’ve already got it pre-ordered at my local comic shop and will continue recommending the series to anyone who will listen as I wait for more.
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Book purchased from Strange Adventures