Hana-Kimi, Vols. 1-2
Story and Art by Hisaya Nakajo
Translation by David Ury
English Adaptation by Gerard Jones
Rated T+ for Older Teen
(First published in 1997)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59116-329-9 (Vol. 1)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59116-398-5 (Vol. 2)
Japanese-American teen Mizuki Ashiya has admired youth high jump champion Izumi Sano ever since she saw one of his competitions on television. Now she’s transferring into his school in Japan in order to meet him, but there’s just one catch: it’s an all-boys’ school. Mizuki can cut off her long hair and wear a chest-flattening vest, but how long can she really hope to keep her sex a secret in the close quarters of private school dorm life?
Hana-Kimi takes two of the classic plot devices of shojo manga—the new transfer student and the girl-disguised-as-a-boy—and smushes them together in the hopes of producing even more drama, hijinks, and laughs. It’s a formula that could have been brilliant if done well, but here it only works intermittently.
The main characters are generally appealing. Mizuki is an average shojo heroine with her energetic outlook and her knack for getting into scrapes, but Sano turns out to be a remarkably sane for a student enrolled in a school full of oddballs. He does have his obligatory share of secret angst, but he doesn’t wallow in it as other shojo heroes have been known to do. There’s also Nakatsu, Mizuki and Sano’s outgoing classmate, who quickly develops romantic feelings for Mizuki; these leave him quite confused, since he doesn’t know Mizuki is a girl and hasn’t thought of himself as gay. Other characters of note include the school doctor, who has a rather unconventional bedside manner; the gorgeous dorm resident advisor; and one very cute dog.
However, the characters can’t make up for the frenetic pace of the plot. The twists come fast and furious in the ten chapters collected in these volumes, as if Nakajo is rushing to cover every clichéd predicament that Mizuki might face as a girl-in-disguise as soon as possible. Readers can only wonder if Nakajo will be able to maintain the dramatic tension at the same level for the remaining twenty-one volumes.
The art is fairly typical of older shojo series; both the character designs and layouts might appear a bit dated to readers more accustomed to recent series. Some of the panels are very crowded and thus a bit difficult to follow; that’s less of a problem in volume two than in volume one.
In the end, there’s not enough here to make me eager to read much further, especially now that I’m reading Ouran High School Host Club, which is a lovingly revisionist take on the cross-dressing trope. Now that I’ve read the deconstruction, the straightforward version in Hana-Kimi loses some of its appeal. That said, many fans of high school shojo romantic comedies will find Hana-Kimi to be a good fix for their manga habit even though it is occasionally mediocre.
Some other shojo manga series with cross-dressing protagonists are:
- Girl Got Game, by Shizuro Seino
- Kaze Hikaru, by Taeko Watanabe
- Ouran High School Host Club, by Bisco Hatori
- W Juliet, by Emura
I won’t attempt to list all the high school shojo series out there, but that’s another angle for identifying read-alike series.