Some series I find immediately appealing and others grow on me over time. In the case of Kaze Hikaru, I liked it well enough when I read the first volume but it wasn’t until I was able to check out a bunch of volumes from the library at once that I was completely won over and decided to slowly collect the entire series. I worry a bit about this series, because I get the impression that it isn’t a very strong seller and it is 29+ volumes in Japan. Kaze Hikaru is a meticulously researched romantic adventure about a girl named Tominaga Sei who decides to disguise herself as a boy with the alias Kamiya Seizaburo and enter the ranks of the Shinsengumi (shogunate special police) to avenge the deaths of her family. She quickly falls in love with her mentor Okita Soji who knows her true identity but remains willfully oblivious to his own feelings for her.
In the 15th volume Kamiya struggles with the idea of undergoing the male coming of age ceremony called Genpuku. She’d have to shave off her bangs, and then she’d lose the ability to occasionally dress as a woman by rearranging her hair. Everything gets thrown into even more confusion when a visiting doctor shows up who used to train with Kamiya’s father. Soji and Kamiya struggle to protect her identity, sending her into town when the doctor announces that he’s going to give everybody at the compound a physical in order to improve the health of all the men. Kamiya accidentally blurts out “Uncle Droopy Eyes” when she sees the doctor, and wonders if he’s recognized her from when he saw her before as a little girl.
Doctor Matsumoto ends up finding out Kamiya’s secret through some trickery by suggesting to Soji that she’s sick. Soji runs off to find her and rushes her to the doctor, not realizing that his extreme anxiety is due to the fact that he loves her. The doctor promptly starts trying to arrange her marriage to Soji. She says that she’s content to stay by his side to support him as a colleague. Matsumoto quickly diagnoses with the terrible disease of “feminitus,” which causes regular men to grow feminine characteristics, and her colleagues are instructed to support her manly efforts and avoid mentioning her girlish looks. This has the fortunate effect of throwing off the suspicions of some of Kamiya’s colleagues, at least for a little while.
Matsumoto appears again in the next volume, this time to give Kamiya perspective on her lost family. When she was a little girl she almost never saw her father because he spent so much time away pursuing his medical training. Kamiya still feels betrayed and resentful, and her closeness to her older brother was largely due to her father’s absense. Matsumoto points out that Kamiya’s father and Soji share similar characteristics. Both have entirely dedicated themselves to their studies, leaving little time for personal attachments even though they both feel deeply. Other romantic entanglements are highlighted, as Sanosuke wishes to make a merchant’s daughter his bride and a woman is coming to Soji with a marriage proposal. Kamiya is filled with anxiety. Soji’s attitude towards meeting a woman is that he’ll do it if it is a direct order from his superiors. In keeping with his continued obliviousness, he speculates to Kamiya that it might be better for him to marry a woman that he doesn’t love, because it won’t get in the way of his duties.
It was nice seeing Kamiya’s relationship with Matsumoto continue. She doesn’t really have any confidants so it was good to see that she finally had someone she could go to to talk with, even though his general reaction to her situation and decisions is disbelief that such a stubborn girl could exist.
The next two volumes move away from romantic angst towards political issues with the Shinsengumi. In Kyoto a troop captain is managing to alienate the locals with his policies, and his extremely suspicious nature is damaging towards morale. When Kamiya goes to visit him along with Soji and Kondo, Sanjuro promptly fixates on Kamiya as a possible spy since she seems so friendly to men in different troops. Sanjuro tasks his younger brother to spy on her, and Kamiya yet again faces her secret being revealed. Soji comes to the rescue, but Kamiya decides she has to figure out what on earth is wrong with Sanjuro to cause him to act in such an extreme way.
It seems like factions among the Shinsengumi are being set up as an even bigger problem, as the sneaky Ito has decided to set himself up to subvert the leadership of the troop by recruiting the men to his side. We see Kamiya training on firing a gun, and the philosophical differences between those who prefer the way of the sword to gunpowder and bullets are explored. Soji tries to help the woman he has a long-term relationship with. Kohana served as a cover for his vow of celibacy, he visited her and used his time to take naps. He explores the possibility of setting her up in a house with her daughter, but she’s come to have feelings for him and refuses. Kohana doesn’t want to be with Soji due to his sense of duty, if he doesn’t actually see her as a woman. Kamiya finds out what’s going on, but as usual the unarticulated feelings between her and Soji mean that their relationship will continue to function mainly as mentor and mentee. While Soji is trying to look out for Kohana, he also commissions a special lightweight sword for Kamiya. The next problem everybody will face is the love of the Captain for a mysterious woman. Kamiya is tasked by the Vice Captain with finding out about her true nature, as the Captain suffers in silence.
I think Kaze Hikaru is best read in multiple volumes like this. The story unfolds at a measured pace, and even though plenty of things happen, it doesn’t usually have any real end of volume cliffhangers to incite anxiety in the reader. I always enjoy Watanabe’s notes at the end, where she’ll clarify some of the historical information and point out where she took artistic license with known people and historic practices. Except for a few stray volumes, I’m all caught up with the English release for this series! Kaze Hikaru might not be the flashiest series out there, but the rich historical detail and slow building romance reward the patient reader.