'Hana-Kimi' manga by Hisaya Nakajo
Girl infiltrates and all-boys school and becomes roommates with her crush
This the yaoi-est shojo manga I’ve ever read, and that’s counting Kiss Him, Not Me.
Hana-Kimi is a manga series from the ’90s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to attend the all-boys school where a semi-famous high school athlete she admires goes. The setup should make it fairly obvious that this is at heart a romance between her and the guy, but it isn’t as much of a romance as I would have liked.
The characters in this story are pretty underwhelming. Even if we discount the fact that the main girl is just like so many other manga main characters, the characters in this story just aren’t as interesting as those in many other similar mangas. Usually, with these kinds of stories, I really enjoy the supporting cast because they’re all interesting and help to flesh out the slice of life aspects of the story. Here, I just couldn’t care about most of them. My favorite side character ended up being the guy who could see auras, but even that took a while because of how long it took to give him much page time, and I would have been much happier if he’d had more one-on-one interaction with the main character (due to secrets he knows about her).
Arguably the most interesting character in the story overall is the school doctor, whose character trait is: gay. To put it more generously, his character traits are: gay, promiscuous, and “don’t mess with him”. Another character who gets (in my opinion) way too much time spent on him is the loud, obnoxious friend who falls for the MC while still thinking she’s a guy. At the beginning of the story, his struggle with his feelings made him interesting, but as soon as he embraced them, he became an annoying guy who constantly tried to get close to her despite her showing zero interest in him. The actual male lead is likable enough (in a generic, manga sort of way), but he takes so little action of his own (at least until very late in the series) that he’s too often given a back seat in the plot, especially whenever one of the two above characters (who typically steal whatever scene they’re in, and not necessarily in a good way) are around.
It also got annoying how persistent the one guy (who liked her while thinking she’s a guy) was. He was totally open about being in love with her, to the point of being pushy. Even though she never gave him any indications she was interested, he kept forcing himself into her space. Not in a sexual/harassing way, exactly, but in a “get a clue, dude; she’s not into you” way. Like, at one point, there’s a dance where the main character is playing a girl (because they’ve made some of the more petite, cuter guys play girls, which is a whole other problem in itself), and she needs to get a partner. This guy is so incredibly pushy, and yet not only does she not say no, no one else steps in and suggests that she shouldn’t be forced into being this guy’s partner just because he’s pushy and she’s not willing to say no (but is clearly, visibly uncomfortable with the idea). The whole way that relationship was treated was really uncomfortable, as if it was totally okay for this guy to be insanely pushy just because he wasn’t getting a firm put-down (because she valued him as a friend). He does eventually get more serious and let up on her, but only when he learns that she’s in love with his best friend, which only reinforces the harmful idea that a person is only allowed to reject someone’s advances when they already have a romantic partner or someone they’re in love with. As if a person must be “claimed” by someone or else they have “no excuse” for rejecting a person’s advances, even if they have no interest.
One other thing I did not like about the series was the amount of sexuality. The US version I read says on the back that it’s rated for older teens and up, which I think is appropriate, and I definitely wouldn’t give it to younger teens. There is a good amount of casual underage drinking, for example. There is talk of sex and sexual issues (again, very casually). One of the more disturbing sexual aspects of the manga is in the backstory of one of the major secondary characters. When he was 14, he had a year-long sexual relationship with his tutor, a woman who was a college sophomore (so, probably between 18 and 20). We’re even shown this relationship (including the sex) in its own side story. (Incidentally, we are shown way steamier stuff in this backstory and in other scenes with the doctor than ever happens with the actual main romantic pair.) This is treated as a sort of painful lost first love thing for him, and the fact that he was way too young for that at all, let alone the fact that (at least in America) this would have been considered statutory rape (among other things) goes completely unremarked-upon and unanalyzed. No one ever says a word against this relationship, either when it happened or in retrospect. (Not to mention the fact that, as we see in the flashback chapter, when he expressed an interest in getting long-term serious with her, she pretty much immediately skipped town on him, which implies he was never more than a boy toy to her. And this experience does have negative long-term effects on his outlook on sex, as it’s noted that he became a womanizer immediately after she left, when he was 15.) The casual acceptance of such an unhealthy and predatory relationship is something that really puts an ugly stain on this whole series for me.
The art in this manga was really not the best, either. I don’t like the style that manga had in the ’90s to begin with, but in my opinion the style of this one got noticeably worse from the beginning to the end of the run. By the end of it, everyone has horse faces. YMMV, of course, but I thought it was pretty underwhelming by the standards of today’s manga.
Even though this review is mostly negative, there were enough positives to keep me reading through the whole run of the manga. Mostly, the central relationship between the main girl and the main boy, as well as the moments that would happen just between the two of them. The humor, sweetness, romance, or awkwardness worked very well at those points. It’s just too bad that they were such a small part of the overall story, and that the side characters and side plots, on which a great deal of time was spent, were not very interesting to me. I think there was maybe five volumes worth of a cute, funny romance between those two characters in this whole 26+ volume manga. If this manga had stayed much, much more focused on the main pair and the main concept of the story, it could have worked quite well as a short-run, satisfying romance read.
I wouldn’t really recommend Hana-Kimi unless 1) you like the art style from the ’90s and/or aren’t too picky about art style in general, 2) you like a large dose of yaoi in your shojo, 3) you’re not going to get very bothered by the level of sexuality or sexual predation (including ignoring of personal boundaries) that often crops up, and 4) you read enough manga that you don’t have to be picky about which ones you choose to spend your time on. For most people, though, I’d say give this one a pass.