I have a weakness for stories about cross-dressers. There, I ve said it. Hana-Kimi? Check. Ouran High School Host Club? Check. Tenshi Ja Nai? Check. Love em all. Combine that with my love of historical romance and how could I not enjoy Kaze Hikaru?
Set in 1863, Kaze Hikaru is both a girl s coming-of-age story and a history of the Shinsengumi, one of the most famous (and tragically heroic) bands of warriors in Japanese history. When 15-year-old Tominaga Sei s father and brother are killed by Choshu supporters, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the Mibu-Roshi to aid them in their support of the Shogunate against the Choshu clan and to better her chances of avenging her family. When Okita Soji, the youngest and most talented of the Mibu-Roshi, allows Sei to stay with the group, Sei begins her journey, learning about strength, loyalty, friendship, obedience, and love.
The mangaka has done extensive research and, as a result, the story develops slowly as both Sei and the reader learn about daily life in 19th century Kyoto. Although slow to develop, it is in no way boring, as each history lesson serves to move the story along as Sei works to become bushi, a warrior, while at the same time keeping her identity as a girl a secret. Soji, in the meantime, continues to try to convince Sei to go back to her life as a girl, especially after he sees Sei struggle with the realization of what she ll become after killing her first opponent. Overarching all is the story of the Mibu-Roshi and how they become the heroes known as the Shinsengumi. In addition to rolling out history in easy to digest bites, the slow pace of the story also serves to make the growing romance between Sei and Soji flow naturally. It’s not love at first sight for these two, and it isn’t until volume three that Sei realizes that she would be able to kill a man if it meant protecting Soji.
There are a lot of characters in Kaze Hikaru, primarily because so many of the characters depicted were real people. Fortunately, the art work is clear. Each character is drawn with easy-to-recognize quirks (a topknot here, some bangs there), and, starting with volume two, a list of the major supporting characters are listed at the beginning of each book. What is also clear is the day-to-day violence faced, and sometimes provoked, by the Shinsengumi. The mangaka has not dumbed-down the fact that these men were soldiers who killed, and some scenes are bloody. The black and white illustrations mute this somewhat, but the acts are not hidden, earning the book its T+ rating. Making the violence even more jarring are the typical shoujo-manga hearts and flowers found on other pages, slamming home the fact that Sei is a girl living a life she was not prepared for. The events in Kaze Hikaru are based on fact. There are any number of books and sites you can go to if you want to read about the real Okita Soji. He and other members of the Shinsengumi are popular heroes in Japan and have been used in manga before, in titles like Peacemaker and Rurouni Kenshin, so it is easy to find the historical record of what happened to this band of warriors. But, for the same reason I watched the movie, Titanic, knowing all the while that the ship was going down, it is the sweet love story of Sei and Soji and the day-to-day lives of the rest of the doomed heroes in the Shinsengumi that will keep me reading Kaze Hikaru.
Volume 1: Sei joins the Mibu-Roshi and meets Okita Soji, who becomes her mentor. She also meets Saito Hajime, another member of the Mibu-Roshi, who was a friend of her dead brother.
Volume 2: Sei travels to Osaka where she finds the man who killed her father and brother. A friend is killed in front of her as he attempts to help Sei confront the murderer.
Volume 3: Soji is not happy Sei has decided to stay with the Mibu-Roshi and it is only after Sei is able to score a hit on Soji that he allows her to stay. In the meantime, Soji is asked by his superiors to kill a member of the group.