Kaze Hikaru Vol. 25

Kaze Hikaru Volume 25 by Takeo Watanabe

Every August I’m always happy because another volume of Kaze Hikaru comes out, but I’m also a little bit sad because I wish it came out more frequently! But I’ll be happy with what I can get. As always, whenever I pick up a volume I am amazed at how well Watanabe combines romance, action, and intricate historical detail.

The first part of this volume continues with the flashback that was introduced in the previous volume, as the reader is treated to seeing the Shinsengumi leadership when they were young and struggling in a different way, not yet in the leadership positions they would later attain. Most of the volume is centered on a financial forensics detective story, as Sei is assigned to help out with the accounting division.

She discovers that 50 Ryo is missing, and the chief accountant Kisaburo begs her not to report the problem until he can send for more money from his parents. He notes that times are tough for the men in the Shinsengumi and they’ve tapped into the saved funds before. Sei isn’t happy about this, but wants to help out and tries to discover who the culprit is. As the slowly building romance between Sei and Soji continues, it is fun to see them growing more and more conscious of each other. Soji is worried because he thinks Sei is hiding a crush on Kisaburo, while Sei is being her usual intrepid self and trying to resolve the problem on her own.

As the secret gets out, the vice captain uses his trademark harsh methods for dealing with the theft, and Sei doesn’t understand his judgement and reasoning. As with most issues with the Shinsengumi, the resolution very much depends on the Bushido code, and consequences coming to people who aren’t acting in accordance with it. Kaze Hikaru is such a pleasure to read, I always enjoy the clarity of Watanabe’s art and how well she is able to handle such an extended cast of characters and the relationships between them. I wish it came out more often than once a year!

Kaze Hikaru Vol 22 and Happy Marriage?! Vol 7

Kaze Hikaru Volume 22 by ´╗┐Taeko Watanabe

So much of Kaze Hikaru deals with repressing emotions, since Sei has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the Shinsengumi and Soji has agreed to keep her secret. While Sei and Soji are clearly in love with each other, there’s a long way to go until any actual romance occurs. This volume revolved around so many feelings, as Sei has been newly assigned to Saito’s troop and Saito harbors some suspicions of Sei based on his past friendship with Sei’s brother. Saito has disturbing dreams and isn’t sure what is happening with his involuntary reactions to Sei. Saito finally figures out that Sei is a girl, and his reaction is that he’ll simply maker her quit the Shinsengumi and marry her. When Saito goes to Soji to discuss his plans, Soji encourages the marriage, telling Saito to “Make her happy.” It is interesting how effectively Watanabe explores the points of view of the characters, while Soji cares for Sei the idea of pursuing marriage with her isn’t in his worldview. He’s just going to support her while thinking of her as the man she pretends to be.

Saito’s plan begins to evolve as he sees Sei protect Soji in battle and he realizes that she’s more courageous than most of the men she knows. At the end of this volume, Sei is transferred back to Soji’s troop, where I’m sure Soji’s general feelings of uneasiness and his tendencies to lie to himself will grow even stronger. Kaze Hikaru’s detailed historical setting, clear and attractive art, and compelling story make it one of my favorite Shojo Beat titles. I wish the new volumes came out at a greater rate than once a year, because I think the deliberate pace of the story would reward readers who like to stockpile volumes and read a bunch at a time. I read every volume almost as soon as I get it though!

Happy Marriage?! By Maki Enjoiji

I enjoy reading Happy Marriage?! just because romances set in offices give me a break from all the romances set in high schools that I tend to read just because I am such a shojo manga aficionado. Chiwa continues to work in her new job, but has to deal with one of her former friends still having a crush on her. Hokuto continues to be both busy and remote, and his father is still in the hospital. Chiwa attempts to intervene to bring Hokuto closer to his family, without the results she was expecting. One sour note for me in this volume was Hokuto slapping Chiwa in the middle of an argument. While they fight and work through their issues as always, I’m starting to get a little weary of the relationship dynamic in the book. I’m also a bit more interested in some of the newer Shojo Beat series like Spell of Desire or Black Rose Alice. I’m hoping that the next volume of Happy Marriage is a bit better.

Kaze Hikaru, Vol. 21

Kaze Hikaru Volume 21 by Taeko Watanabe

Kaze Hikaru is one of those titles that makes me feel happier just because it exists. The new volumes come out very slowly now, so when one appears it is always a good excuse to celebrate! This volume was particularly rewarding for any long-time reader of the series, as Sei and Soji begin to acknowledge their feelings about each other although they remain very much constrained by Sei’s disguise as a male Shinsengumi recruit and the customs of the times.

In the aftermath of Sei’s mission, it is announced that she’s going to be reassigned to Saito’s troop. Soji decides to create more distance between him and his young protegee by telling her that he requested the transfer and abruptly ordering her to leave him alone, saying “I got sick of your chasing me around like a girl.” Sei assumes that Soji thinks her feelings are burdensome and decides to run away. She leaves, fortunately during her rest period so she won’t be executed for desertion. Soji is relaxing, assuming that he’s fixed everything but he’s alarmed when Saito informs him that he’s in love with Sei.

Sei travels to a nunnery where she’s taken refuge before, learning about village healing from the head nun Suigetsuni. Sei has decided to sever the ties to her old life and join a nunnery, because it is the only way to sever her ties with her previous life. Soji becomes more and more worried as he realizes that no one knows where Sei is, and with his position in the Shinsengumi he can do nothing but sit, wait, and be forced to execute her for desertion if she doesn’t come back. The parallel stories shifting back and forth between the couple were particularly effective in this volume, as Soji’s growing concern forces him to confront his own feelings about Sei, and Sei grapples with her thoughts about healing and death as she learns more about Suigetsuni’s life story.

Watanabe is a master at spinning out a story, as 21 volumes into Kaze Hikaru, I’m in no hurry to see it wrapped up. Even though so much of this manga revolves around the characters being unable to express their emotions to each other, it is easy to see just how much Sei and Soji have changed each other through their unconventional friendship. As always, the author notes manage to distill an incredible amount of research into a few pages focusing on an element from the historical setting of the manga. This volume focuses on clothing and her reasons for depicting the Shinsengumi a certain way. If you aren’t reading this manga yet, give it a try! This is such a thoughtful, well-executed historical series that really stands out as having much more substance than most shoujo manga.

Kaze Hikaru Volume 20 by Taeko Watanabe

A new volume of Kaze Hikaru is always refreshing, so I was happy to see what happens next for cross-dressing Kamiya and her adventures in the Shinsengumi. Kamiya and Okita endangered her not very convincing masculine disguise when they were photographed together as a man and a woman. Kamiya wants to destroy the photograph and Okita tells his pupil not to because she looked “so cute.” When Okita looks at the photo he remembers his impulse in having it taken in the first place – that it might be a keepsake for one of them and it would be nice to leave something behind. Okita suddenly realizes that the photo looks like a portrait of a young married couple and he’s suddenly embarrassed. They decide to hide the photo for protection at Yamanami’s grave, but the vice-captain finds it and concludes that Kamiya’s convincing feminine appearance will make him the perfect spy to detect an assassin as a woman! So Kamiya is in the unenviable position so immortalized in the movie Victor Victoria, where she is a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.

Kamiya sees this mission as a confirmation of her manliness in a way, since she is finally being sent on a mission like a real Shinsengumi. Okita is worried that he won’t be able to protect her when she’s on her mission. Kamiya manages to integrate herself into the group of people that run the inn where the suspected assassin Sakamoto Ryoma is staying, but is the odd man with glasses that hangs out with the family actually a cold-blooded killer? Kamiya is able to observe more of the interpersonal relationships between men and women at the inn, and that causes her to reflect a bit on her own life. The tension grows as Kamiya is unable to signal her backup contact and Okita grows more and more anxious, causing the vice-captain to question his feelings for Kamiya. As always, the romance in this manga is moving forward very slowly, but the rich historical detail and crisp illustrations always make Kaze Hikaru a pleasure to read. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, because if Kamiya and Okita are separated, they are going to have a more difficult time maintaining Kamiya’s secret.

Review copy provided by the publisher.