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I was a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin, purchasing every volume of the manga as it was released and watching every episode of the anime, even including the terrible filler ones towards the end. When Kaze Hikaru first came out, and was billed as a shojo version of Kenshin, I was dubious. It’s taken me this long, propelled by the opinions of reviewers I respect and aided by my spiffy local library, to finally check it out.
Kaze Hikaru is set around the same historical period as Rurouni Kenshin, but during a time when the worst of the struggle between factions loyal to the bakufu (shogunate government) and those loyal to the emperor is yet to come. It’s the story of a 15-year-old girl named Tominaga Sei who has sworn to avenge the deaths of her father and brother who were killed for their support of the bakufu. With nowhere else to go, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and follow her brother’s dream of enlisting with the Mibu-Roshi, a group of samurai based in Kyoto that would eventually go down in history as the infamous Shinsengumi.
Many historical figures abound, and it can be kind of difficult to keep track of them (and the relationships between them) at first, since Viz doesn’t provide much by way of notes. One character, Saito Hajime, will be familiar to Kenshin fans, though he’s awesome here in an entirely different way than his shounen manga counterpart. The person with whom Sei (or Kamiya Seizaburo, as her male persona is known) spends the most time is Okita Soji, who learns her secret quickly, but who feels responsible for the deaths of her family and wants to help her achieve her revenge.
This being shojo, there is at least romance, as Sei eventually falls in love with Okita, but that is not the chief focus. Moreso, the story is about the difference between Sei’s idealistic vision of what a bushi (samurai) is and the reality. She had been envisioning all of these honorable men, but instead she finds a lot of “dirty, nasty, stinky” degenerates who love nothing more than getting drunk, visiting brothels, and teasing “Kamiya” about his girlish looks and trying to put the moves on him.
Okita’s slightly better than the rest, at least as far as crude behavior goes, but even he brings forth a troubling realization to Sei: being a bushi means killing people with whom one might be able to empathize. She finds the fact that he’s able to kill and still keep his cheerful demeanor to be very frightening, and it’s not until a conversation with Saito at the end of the second volume that she realizes that a true bushi is not fighting for himself, but to protect something else. And to protect that precious thing, they are willing to do the unthinkable. After several annoying episodes of running off and reconsidering her commitment to the Mibu-Roshi, Sei finally realizes that it’s Okita that she wants to protect, and seems resolved to stick around for good.
This brings up a point about Sei: while she’s undeniably possessed of many admirable qualities, she sometimes takes her desire to be brave and honorable to the extent that she flies off the handle at insults and even involves someone else in a foolhardy mission that ends up getting him killed. Also, though she had blithely claimed early on that she’d be able to kill, no problem, it’s clear she hadn’t really considered what that would require of her. Initially, I found these deficits to be irritating, but the more I think about it, a heroine flawed in this way is infinitely more interesting than a perfect one.
On the whole, I enjoyed these two volumes, even though there’s not really much of a cohesive story yet. Sei deals with some of her family issues, like encountering the courtesan with whom her brother was in love and confronting one of the men responsible for her family’s deaths, but there really isn’t much sense of the overall purpose of the Mibu-Roshi yet. They fight some bad guys, they patrol the town, they earn a bad reputation, but are they actually planning anything big or will the story mostly be small episodes like rousting out a band of imposters or dealing with the new recruit who tries to have his way with “Kamiya”?
Despite my few complaints about it, I like both the art and the story well enough to continue. To anyone mourning the end of Rurouni Kenshin who’s interested in reading about the conflict from the opposing perspective: give Kaze Hikaru a try. I promise it’s not so very shojo-y as to tarnish anyone’s manly pride.
Volumes one and two of Kaze Hikaru are available now.
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