Mizuki Ashiya is one determined girl. At seventeen, she leaves America to return to Japan, where her family is from, and go to boarding school – a boarding school for boys! While in America, Mizuki devoured all the press on Izumi Sano, a Japanese high jump champion who is her own age. On discovering that Sano attends Osaka High, Mizuki cuts her hair, moves to Japan on her own, and enrolls, disguised as a boy. It seems like a dream come true: not only is Sano in some of her classes, he’s her roommate!
But Mizuki’s real dream – seeing Sano jump – may be a little more difficult to achieve. After being injured in an accident, Sano quit the high jump. He’s since recovered, but not taken the sport up again. And the more time Mizuki spends around him, the more she wonders whether seeing him jump is all she really wants. But how can she hope to win him over when Sano thinks she’s a boy?
What she doesn’t realize is that Sano already knows she’s a girl; he’s just not telling. Though Sano is prickly at first, the two slowly grow closer in what looks like a schoolmates’ friendship but with a lot more lingering eye contact and “b-bmp” heartbeat noises. Mizuki makes other friends, too, like the emotional and protective Shoichi Nakatsu, who is unnerved by the feelings he finds himself developing for the new “boy.”
As you’d expect, much of the drama comes from threats to Mizuki’s secret. The school doctor discovers it, but agrees to keep quiet; Mizuki’s brother, who doesn’t know Osaka is an all-boys’ school, comes for a visit; a boy figures it out at her summer job. Then there are the other girls who are interested in Sano, and the question of whether he will get back into the high jump – and does he still have what it takes to be a champion?
The English translation here is skillful enough to provide the characters with slang and convincingly casual speech. There is a small amount of mild swearing. Relatedly, the characters show a variety of reactions toward people they perceive to be gay, ranging from Mizuki’s brother’s outright homophobia (which is played for laughs – it is so extreme that he actually GETS A RASH in the presence of gay people) to Nakatsu’s insecurity at the thought that he might have a crush on a boy to Sano’s rival who, while an arrogant jerk in general, is refreshingly indifferent on the matter when he decides that Sano and Mizuki are boyfriends.
The art is classic shojo, with smiles summoning up flower-filled backgrounds amid lots of dramatic and romantic moments, mostly between Mizuki and Sano. The artist includes many fun asides, explaining where she got a character’s name or confessing that if the dog she’s drawn looks funny, it’s because she’s never owned one and is drawing from memory. There are also profiles of some of the major characters, offering their birthdays, favorite foods, and so on. The volume includes an unrelated short manga wherein a girl’s charms make a womanizing jerk change his ways.
Putting together the first three volumes of this classic manga is, I think, a good idea. It gave me time to get attached to the major characters (and to keep straight the names of minor ones). Occasionally, a few letters do get lost in the book’s gutter – not sure whether this is a binding issue related to the fat 3-in-1 volume, or whether it was the case in the original volumes – but I didn’t find this really affected my reading.
I’d offer this to fans of Ouran High School Host Club. I don’t find Hana-Kimi quite as funny, but it’s a bit more down-to-earth in some ways – talking more about how Mizuki pulls off her disguise, for example – that give a different spin to the girl-disguised-as-boy-among-other-boys-at-fancy-school premise.