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Blue Moon Reviews — Kaze Hikaru, Vols. 1-2

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, Vols. 1-2
By Taeko Watanabe
Published by Viz
Rating: Older Teen

Score: B+

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.


[…] After seeing Kaze Hikaru praised by multiple people whose opinions I respect, I finally got my hands on the first two volumes, courtesy of my local library, and have reviewed them for Comics Should Be Good. You can find that review here. […]

Danielle Leigh

May 31, 2009 at 3:28 pm

This is a very thoughtful review that convinced me to pick up the first few volumes….this and Tail of the Moon were two shojo beat titles I resisted and now I’m sorry I did. I know Tail of the Moon is very different in tone but I feel they cover similar preoccupations from very different storytelling / artistic perspectives.

I’m glad I helped convince you. That’s interesting that you mention Tail of the Moon, because that’s another one that I resisted. :) I’ve since been able to find a lot of the volumes for trade, which is nice, though I still need a few. It’s kind of a low priority right now, though, since there are so many other things I do own in their entirety and still have yet to read. :)

I read the first two volumes a while ago, and I was rather unimpressed. And then there was the mangaka’s note which went something like “if you borrowed this, shame on you”. As it so happened, I was reading a borrowed copy. However, when a mangaka goes out of her way to say that she doesn’t want you reading without buying the book, I am willing to respect that – which means I will never read anything by this mangaka ever again.

Aww, Sara K, have a sense of humour! The series is so amazing once you get into it! I know it could be seen as pushy of Watanabe-sensei to demand that readers should be buying their own copies, but I just admired her audacity and laughed it off… (then again, I don’t have many friends with the same taste in manga, so I’d bought the volumes myself anyway). I understand not wanting to buy manga unless you’re certain you’ll like it, but you really should borrow the rest if you have any interest at all in the series!

I got volume 13 a couple weeks ago, which inspired a marathon-rereading (I’m currently up to volume 9; I keep getting distracted looking up more historical background info on wikipedia and elsewhere…). I absolutely love it. I wasn’t particularly interested in or knowledgeable about Japanese history beforehand—I’d seen some of Kenshin on the Toonami block so I was vaguely aware of the Shinsengumi’s existence; I think it was the art that interested me in this series. It did take me a few reads through the first couple volumes to start to understand what was going on and who was who (the series does throw a lot of characters and organizations and ideals at you all at once! it was probably a little easier for Japanese readers who’d heard this stuff in school before), and even now rereading the early volumes a few years later, I continue to pick up on new stuff. It didn’t turn me into an obsessed Japanese-history-fan, but for those who are interested in the subject, I think the amount of research and detail in this series would make it a satisfying read. Still, I just love how Watanabe-sensei brings the events to life and gives such a sense of who these famous names might have been, as real people. The characterization is excellent. I’ve laughed and cried so many times reading the stories. The attention to details of every-day life is fascinating and helps to round out the “world” of this manga and make it believable. I even love Watanabe-sensei’s approach to the cover illustrations, chronicling the seasons and capturing the moods of different times of the year/day. I continue to be impressed and fall deeper in love with the series with every volume I read. So glad to see it getting more attention lately!

I read and enjoyed the first 4 volumes when I got them from the library a long time ago, and I’ve always meant to go back and give this manga more attention.

Sara K. – I noticed that comment, too. Possibly more so ‘cos I was reading a copy from the local library.

lys – Thanks for your comment! I’ve noticed some of the everyday moments you talk about already, like with the Shinsengumi tending their garden or things like that, though most of the time, so far, the guys seem to be teasing Kamiya and pondering whores. :)

Anna – Aren’t libraries awesome? Mine doesn’t have every Shojo Beat series, but it’s pretty devoted to acquiring all volumes of those it does carry. I’m planning to stop by tomorrow and snag volumes 3 and 4.

Well, if I published a book and I asked in the book that people buy it rather than borrow it, I would want people to respect that. And I understand why she put that note in there – it is her living, and worrying if sales will be high enough adds a lot of stress to the life of a mangaka. If I do borrow the rest, it will be a guilt trip niggling at the back of my mind, which would distract me from the virtues of the manga.

Heh. I really do think she was saying it with a sense of humour (though it is quite a different sort of attitude from most mangaka, who usually seem just ever so thankful and honoured that the great and wonderful reader is willing to bestow their humble work of fiction with more than a moment’s glance, whether they borrowed it from a friend or read it right in the bookstore or picked a dusty copy up out of the gutters…). At the least, I don’t think it has quite the same weight for readers of the licensed version as it might’ve for the Japanese readers (plus it was said toward the beginning of the series, when its popularity was probably less established). Do mangaka get royalties on these books, or are they paid a one-time licensing fee…? I’m not sure. But I think it’s totally legitimate to borrow manga first to try it out and not something to feel guilty over. If you borrow it and decide to start collecting the volumes, that’s more sales the series wouldn’t have gotten if nobody ever borrowed it. I’m sure the mangaka would understand :D

(and I just want more people to read it so that there are more people to talk about it with. hee! I never seem to fall this hard for the really popular series that do have lots and lots of fans to share enthusiasm with (though I think the fans Kaze Hikaru does have are all pretty dedicated!))

Michelle, thanks for posting this review! It was perfectly timed to coincide with my current KH-fangirling, so I’m afraid I got a bit rambly in my comments. The series gets so much more fascinating and wonderful in future volumes, though. I hope you get to enjoy the rest soon!

I love getting comments, so there’s no need to apologize! I’m glad to hear it gets better in the future; as I said in the review, it’s hard to see just where the story’s going at this point.

Reviews for following volumes will most likely be on my personal blog, which you can find here.

Kaze Hikaru has become my favourite series right after Kenshin! I was like you at first, doubting wether I should try it or not, but while I was in Japan last spring, I decided to give (the Japanese version no less! I can only understand so much and just read hiragana) the series a go. So I’ve collected volumes 17 and up in Japanese (you get most of them used and quite cheap in Japan!) and 5 in English and then I’ve read the first 6 volumes in English. And the story gets REALLY interesting in some points. My favourite volumes so far being 20-23. :)

Like I said, I don’t understand everything in there, but I usually get the context of what’s going on and mos tof the time that’s enough, until I can read the English version to understand the depth, or until my Japanese gets more skilled. hehe

But it’s a great series, and I’ve become one the great Shinsengumi fans in the world, visited many Shinsengumi related places in Kyoto and Tokyo (Kondo Isami-senseis grave included) and bought many KH, RK and Shinsengumi related things. I love the Bakumatsu! :D

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